Topps: Iconic Trading Cards Brand Goes Beyond Cardboard With First-Ever Mobile Apps

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Topps, the company best known for its Bazooka bubble gum and for essentially inventing and popularizing trading cards in the 1950s, is today releasing its first-ever mobile apps in conjunction with the start of the 2012 Major League Baseball season. That’s right. People of all ages may remember collecting and trading their favorite players’ cards as youngsters, and though trading cards don’t quite enjoy the same level of ubiquity as they did in decades past, Topps’ cards remain iconic for most sports fans.

Over its 60 year history, Topps has moved beyond baseball, not only producing trading cards for all the major sports, but comic books and games as well. Yet if the trading cards and chewing gum company is ever going to get serious about becoming part of the digital era, mobile has to be a part of that strategy. And trading cards may just lend themselves well to a digital reincarnation — or so the company hopes, as today it moves beyond cardboard with the launch of its first iOS apps, Topps BUNT and Topps Pennant.

With its new iOS apps, Topps aims to leverage the sizable inventory of statistics, images, facts, and figures it has developed over the years, combining the history of the game with modern tech. Topps Pennant, the company tells us, presents a “modern box score” on both the iPhone and iPad, allowing fans to recreate more than 60 years of baseball — every team, season, game, and play going back to 1952.

Topps Pennant enables baseball fans to view box scores and live play-by-play of games from this season as well as from over 115K games from the past. While this is something that ESPN and others have been doing now for quite some time, Topps offers users the ability to view its exhaustive catalog of historical stats in good-looking, interactive infographics. The company has taken its time in developing apps that leverage all the capabilities of the iPad, so that even if you already have an app you use for box scores, this one’s worth checking out.

Topps BUNT, the company’s second iOS app, aims to bring fans a more user-friendly, accessible version of fantasy baseball, with a social game meant to act as a companion to the ongoing baseball season. As to how it works? Users create an account with Facebook or Twitter, pick a name and a personalized avatar, and then choose nine of their favorite players.

Users earn points based on how well those players perform, competing against other players, with scores being presented in a giant, multi-zone leaderboard. Users also get to check out game updates to track how their players are performing on the field in realtime, and trade the players that are batting below the Mendoza line.

Topps BUNT is really designed to be fantasy baseball for more casual fans, those who aren’t ready to commit to the more demanding, 162-game fantasy season. The team describes it as a mix between fantasy baseball, and popular iOS apps Turntable.fm and Draw Something. Having tested it out, the app definitely offers a fun, quirky baseball experience that could appeal to younger fans, especially those having grown up in the ubiquity of casual, Facebook-based social games.

To help bring its brand into the smartphone era, Topps hired the former Head of Product at Nokia (and five-year product veteran at Microsoft) Michael Bramlage. The VP of Digital tells us that, in the sports media landscape, most of the apps out there are from broadcasters or the leagues themselves, so that once fans get past MLB and ESPN apps, there’s not a lot quality outside of geeky, fantasy baseball apps. In other words, apps for the number crunchers and serious fans.

In my experience, this is true; there’s plenty of room for new and better ways to explore stats and interact with the game, especially for younger audiences who spend a lot of their time on mobile devices. For MLB.com, for example, more than 50 percent of traffic emanates from mobile.

Topps is leveraging its close relationship with the MLB Players Association and unique archive of player data and photos to go after newer, more casual fans in what Bramage calls a big “game mechanics play.” In that sense, Topps is not just looking to digitize baseball cards. The company put a lot of research into what cards represented to baseball fans emotionally and is reconstituting the figurative elements on the iPad — not just porting, but trying to re-imagine what player cards will mean to a younger generation.

In terms of the apps, Topps Pennant will be priced at $3.99 for a universal app that includes optimized versions for iPhone and iPad. However, Apple is currently running a launch special that puts the app at $2.99. Topps BUNT is available for free (on the iPad).

For more, check out Topps at home here, or the videos on the apps below: