When I reached out to Chris Vaccaro, Editor in Chief for Topps Digital Apps, I was hoping to get some time to walk through his thoughts on the 2014 season of Bunt and how much success has been had. Bunt has become bigger than ever over the course of the year, and from what he is saying, things should continue to expand.
He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, which has provided some great opportunities to see what is coming down the road for the app. To also get a peak behind the scenes is awesome, and I must say that I am that much more excited for the second half of the year now reading his answers.
A huge thank you to Chris for all the work he put into answering these questions.
SCUncensored: Chris, thanks for doing this for the readers of the site. Many of us are familiar with TOPPSIAN and TOPPSMIKE, talk to us a little bit about the scope of how you work with the Topps Digital App team?
Chris Vaccaro: I’m the Editor-in-Chief and Head of App Operations for Topps Digital. I oversee the daily operations of what’s happening in Topps BUNT, Topps HUDDLE and Topps KICK. While we really do work as a team and use a collective approach to ideas and operations, I handle daily planning and strategy and guide our team. I have a traditional journalism background, so my experience with content and creative are valuable for the workflow we operate with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I’ve been with the company for more than two-and-a-half years now and have seen our apps grow from their launch to present day. In the app, you can see me as TOPPSCHRIS. I also write in the news feed almost daily, and especially when I travel or find myself in unique baseball situations.
SCU: Bunt has been relatively re-imagined to begin the 2014 season, what has surprised you the most about this year?
CV: We’re quite pleased with how the 2014 season has unfolded on Topps BUNT. Most of the things we envisioned in the off-season are coming to life more and more each week. We are constantly growing, learning and evolving. Everyday is a new day in digital and we’re fully committed to making the experience work for our fans and for our team. I don’t think there are any surprises for us. We are all working very hard to make this a wonderful experience for our users and we hope they’re enjoying the 2014 baseball season as much as we are.
SCU: What has been your favorite thing this year about the game? I see you ask the fan of the week each week what they love, but let’s turn this one around on you?
CV: One of my favorite aspects of our apps is the ability to print digital media almost in real time. As a team, we can react rapidly to produce cards, and other content immediately after a game or historic moment takes place. So the milestone cards are one of my favorite features of the app. You saw it with the Josh Beckett and Tim Lincecum no-hitters this season, or the Albert Pujols 500-home run, or even with Tony Gwynn’s passing, and all of the milestone cards we were able to create to honor their achievements and careers. Additionally, I grew up a big card collector and sports memorabilia fan. I still have every card I’ve ever purchased or owned from when I was a kid. I have a bobblehead collection that soars near 300-plus, I have countless autographs and other items in my collection. So for me, to work for Topps and represent a brand so ingrained in American sports culture, it’s both a privilege and a major responsibility. The specialness of releasing cards with the Topps logo and representing this company is very real for our team.
SCU: New rookies this year like Tanaka and Abreu have been a huge focus for the app, not to mention another huge year in the making for spokesperson Mike Trout – what has it been like to have them to play off of?
CV: Mike Trout is a super star. We’re so fortunate to have signed Mike to a deal and have him represent our app while being the face of baseball for years to come. It was a pleasure hanging out with him in Tempe, AZ this year to film our BUNT commercial during spring training. As far as the rookies you refer to, that’s just a product of special things happening in baseball every year and our Topps Digital staff reacting to what’s hot in the game. Tanaka and Abreu are doing very well this season, so you’re going to see more cards of them whenever it fits. The same can be said for players like Troy Tulowitzki, Dee Gordon or Nelson Cruz. If you’re hot, you’ll end up in BUNT in multiple ways. It’s unique because they’re earning their way into sets by being on top of their games. For many sets, we come up with the players just a week or two before they are actually released so we can utilize players who are doing very well at release time.
SCU: Where do you see Bunt going over the next few years? What would you like to see that could be on the horizon for all the digital apps?
CV: I see us progressing, getting bigger and better. I tell people often that we’re only in the early stages of what’s to come for Topps Digital. Our development team is top notch and giving us tools on a daily basis to make the experience that much better for our users. I hope that Topps BUNT becomes a major fabric of sports lifestyle in American sporting culture. Just as Topps is part of what baseball is today with physical cards, I’d expect that to be the same case digitally speaking for years to come. If you’re watching a game, have BUNT out on your device. If you’re at a game, check BUNT. Need to know something about baseball or a player? Check BUNT. What else would I like to see? More multimedia and new, cutting-edge cards that push the boundaries of the mobile experience.
SCU: I have always thought Bunt parallels real card collecting in almost every way, even down to the way signature cards are the most valuable to all the fans, was this something you guys aimed to do more with this year?
CV: Absolutely. The trading card experience is at the core of what we’re doing, only we’ve digitized the experience. Collectors crave certain sets, players, teams, rarities or whatever suits their specific needs. We release cards in packs that combine to make sets and offer a chase just as you can get with our physical product for so many years.
SCU: Sets like Ginter and Gypsy Queen have always been favorites of collectors, and to see them come to the app is a really amazing concept – are we going to see more of the marriage between digital and real cards?
CV: Hopefully. We’re Topps and between the physical cards that are released and the growth in digital we’d expect to see more similarities to benefit the fans and the overall trading card experience.
SCU: The community has always been Bunt’s biggest strength. To say they have been expertly engaged this year is an understatement. What do you take away from their rabid fandom and how that may also lead to challenges when things go down that not everyone is a fan of?
CV: First and foremost we’re VERY thankful for each and every one of our fans. The community is what helps all of our apps come alive. The conversation is real, the trading is real, and the back-and-forth talk about issues that are important to the fans is very important to us. The more rabid fans we have the better job we’re doing. It means people care about the product and want to see it grow.
SCU: Through my site, I have tried to provide a huge resource to the thousands of new Bunters this year, only because the game can have some lead time to get into the nuance and become a competitor. What are you all looking to do to provide a more easy onboarding process for the new users?
CV: We’re always talking internally about onboarding and trying to evolve that process as much as possible with our development team. It’s come along way and we’ll continue to make adjustments from app-to-app and season-to-season.
SCU: With the All Star game coming up in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, what are some of the double secret plans you can give us some hints about? This is the midsummer classic and lots of events are going to be going down! Lots of us are extremely excited to see what Bunt has in store.
CV: I’ll be in Minnesota covering the event and helping to bring the action live to our fans. Without giving too much away, keep a look out for All-Star cards of both modern stars and legends. Sticking with the roots of baseball history that we try and bring into the app as much as possible, there will also be odes to the 1965 and 1985 All-Star games that were held in Minnesota.
SCU: I am a huge fan of things like the VIP program, FOTW and Friendly Fan Awards that tend to recognize the users that really go to big lengths to keep the app going strong. Do you have plans to build around some of the other areas of the community that do similar things for Bunters?
CV: Without getting too specific, yes. As I’ve said before we are constantly involving, and that means in EVERY area of the app experience. We have thrown around ideas to bring in awards and programs for various activities; some you’ve seen, others we’re still developing and thinking about. Stay tuned and check in everyday!
SCU: If there is one thing in the app we should all be excited about for the second half of the season – what would you say it is?
CV: More cards, more inserts, more sets, more chases … and most will be new to BUNT or new to Topps. You never know what’s going to be released or become available in our apps!
SCU: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me, it’s always a great thing to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Anything else you would like to say that I haven’t covered?
CV: Thanks again to our fans! We’re working extremely hard to make sure this experience stays true to the Topps name and brand, and create a unique experience that you can’t find anywhere else.