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Sports Greats in Miniature: A Guide to McFarlane SportsPicks Figures

by Rob Bertrand (09/24/12).

A McFarlane NCAA Football figurine of University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

In the wake of the demise of the once-coveted STARTING LINEUP sports figures produced by Kenner, a new player entered the figure market in the form of toy and comic book creator Todd McFarlane. In the year 2001, McFarlane produced his first line of figures, which were called SportsPicks. McFarlane is a sports fan and former partial owner of the NHL Edmonton Oilers franchise. So it came as no surprise that the first SportsPicks series were comprised of hockey players. McFarlane was able to secure a license from the player’s association, the NHLPA, but not the league itself (NHL). As a result, the represented players are dressed in team colors but without team logos.

The more lifelike renderings, durable material and larger size—in comparison to SLU’s figures—made them an instant hit with collectors. Since that time, McFarlane has secured licenses with all four major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) and for a short period of time, capitalized on the popularity of NASCAR by producing figures of the circuit’s marquee drivers from 2003-05. In recent years, the company has also added NCAA football to its extensive sports roster as well.

To insure that their figure line maintain some sort of collectible status and value, despite distribution through major “big-box” retailers, SportsPicks have incorporated the popular “chase” element in their product configuration. These chase figures are produced in a much smaller quantity and usually feature an alternative color scheme to that of the primary figure. While the regular figures often result in being priced as commodities, the chase figures can see realized prices on the secondary market in excess of 10 times their manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

A 2001 Patrick Roy SportsPicks figurine. While McFarlane was able to get the rights from the NHL Players Association, the NHL refused to go along. Therefore, the figurines were made in team colors but without team logos.

Of interesting note is that once the practice of including random chase figures into retail cases became known, it was not uncommon for traditional sports card and memorabilia dealers to seek deals with big-box stock personnel to alert them when new cases were getting ready to be put out on the shelves so that they could gain quick access to the chase figure, purchase it at retail and then mark it up commiserate with secondary market demand at their own stores.

Other factors that have played a role in insuring that the SportsPicks figure line isn’t relegated to simply being a toy is the limited production of figures coinciding with specific league-sponsored events, such as All-Star games and championships. This practice started in 2003 with the creation of a Barry Bonds figured produced for Major League Baseball’s annual FanFest. With an estimated production run of just 200, these figures were once selling for as high as $825. The piece was so popular that McFarlane continued producing event-specific pieces, albeit with much larger production numbers. Despite the increase in supply, these figures typically sell for anywhere between $40 and $60 which is still two to three times their original MSRP.

In 2009, the company unveiled an aggressive program to add further collectible value to their product line. Appropriately called the “Collector Level” program, the goal was to add an even more limited parallel to each figure at various production levels. These extremely limited chase figures incorporated elements previously unutilized in the mass figurine market including: alternate uniforms, different bases, trophies, awards, accessories, autographs, authentic or replica sports memorabilia, or pieces of actual uniforms or game equipment.

This NBA Basketball Series 17 Collector MVP Level Kobe Bryant figurine, numbered 26 of 50, sold on eBay for $12,600 in March of 2011. Click photo to see details.

As a complimentary added value to this already bolstered concept, Collector Level figures are sequentially numbered and include the player’s last name and the production series name on the base. Production numbers for the six levels are as follows:

• MVP Level: 1-50
• All-Star: 50-100
• Premier: 100-250
• Gold: 250-500
• Silver: 500-1,000
• Bronze: 1,000-3,000

While not all figures will attain any sort of collectible value whatsoever, some will. It is up to you, the collector, to find ways of making the “chase” work out in your favor. In addition, the regional nature of sports fans lends itself well to locating out-of-market figures in your area and reselling them to dealers in those locales. This is especially true when it comes to standard chase figures.

While it may be tempting to remove the figure from its package for display purposes, if your thought process in collecting is to attain future value—as with any other toy or collectible—the condition of the package is paramount in importance to that of the figure itself. One trick many collectors of McFarlane SportsPicks employ is to purchase a standard figure to display and keep the chase or collector level piece in the packaging, thus providing the best of both worlds.

Barry Bonds’s 700th home run.

2006 Fan Fest Roberto Clemente.

2006 Fan Fest Willie Stargell.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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One Response to “Sports Greats in Miniature: A Guide to McFarlane SportsPicks Figures”

  1. sanjosefuji says:

    Huge fan of McFarlanes! But if I had to choose between them and SLU’s, I’d go with the Kenner figures. They don’t have the same level of detail, nor are they as collectible. But SLU’s come from that era of collecting that I just don’t want to let go of.

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