For Sale: The Short Story of Cosmic Baseball Collectibles, LLC
by Helen Cowan
In October 1981 when the Cosmic Baseball Association (CBA) was first created, there was no consideration given to its potential as a commercial enterprise. CBA was initially conceived as a loose confederation of members who paid membership dues optionally. Items for sale were not part of the original plan. In fact, one of the catalysts for the formation of the CBA had to do with the greediness of the reality world of professional baseball. Since money appeared to be at the root of the greed reflex that paralyzed Major League Baseball in 1981, the early members of the Cosmic Baseball Association viewed things commercial as unpalatable. During the 1980s there was little attention given by the Cosmic Baseball Association to the generation of income for operating expenses or profit. |
During the 1990s the Cosmic Baseball Association made the transition to the Internet. In July 1994 the CBA inaugurated a World Wide Web (WWW) presence with its website initially at www.clark.net/pub/cosmic/. Despite the growth of the CBA's website, no concerted commercialization efforts were undertaken until the end of the decade.
Actually, the first rumblings of commercialization were detected in 1997 when CBA's Board of Directors approved the locating of a bottom dwelling "banner ad" on the Pete Rose Hall of Fame Controversy Plate. Several months later a request to locate another bottom dwelling banner ad on the Casey at the Bat plates was authorized. (A request to put a similar banner ad on the Allen Ginsberg Memorial Plate was, however, rejected by the Board.)
When the membership program was restructured in 1998 (the Board of Directors again ratified the long-standing policy of making dues payments optional), a Personal Cosmic Game product was briefly offered for sale to non-member friends of the Cosmic Baseball Association. A study group was also formed by the Commissioner of the Cosmic Baseball Association to investigate the implementation of a real-time interactive cosmic baseball game module at the CBA's website. Preliminary reports from the study group suggested that the concept was feasible, potentially profitable and laden with expensive developmental and start-up costs.
In 1999 the Board of Directors authorized an earnest experiment in the commercialization of the Cosmic Baseball Association. The experiment was under the direct supervision of the Executive Director. Approximately 30 custom designed Casey at the Bat T-shirts were manufactured and sold during a three month period. Each shirt was sold for $20 (the price included all shipping and handling fees). The gross profit on the sale of each shirt was in the neighborhood of $10 or 50%. The shirts were marketed and sold from the CBA's website. Customers paid for merchandise by personal check or moneyorder since the CBA did not have the capability of processing secure online credit card transactions. Other interactive consumer-based shopping enhancements such as virtual shopping carts and checkout modules were not used during this initial commercialization experiment. Nevertheless, sales were brisk and in three months the inventory was depleted.
This experiment in Internet commerce was encouraging for those who supported commercialization. Others were less sanguine and reproached the leadership for taking the Cosmic Baseball Association in a problematic direction. The Board refused to allocate additional funds for the re-supply of the depleted T-shirt inventory. This decision was based partly on economic grounds (at the time CBA was in serious and dire financial circumstances with little available cash to spend on T-shirt inventories) and partly on political motives (the so-called "anti-commercials" are well-represented on the Board and historically influential at the staff level.) In any case, the Casey at the Bat T-Shirt experiment ended and so did the CBA's lurch towards commercial enterprise.
In early 2001 two investors with a background in the legal profession approached the Cosmic Baseball Association with a business plan that involved the creation of an e-Store to sell cosmic baseball t-shirts and caps. The investors would provide capital and management resources for the new company, which was to be called "Cosmic Baseball Collectibles, LLC." A Limited Liability Corporation with this name was incorporated in the State of Delaware on April 2, 2001 (See CBC Historical Document No. 1).
As part of the investment deal one investor was installed as the Commissioner of the Cosmic Baseball Association. The other investor became President and Chief Executive Officer of Cosmic Baseball Collectibles, LLC. A store manager was retained. The electronic store would be integrated into the existing Cosmic Baseball Association website.
At this time the Cosmic Baseball Association's website was in a state of flux. As a result of Diaspora 2000 the files of the website were dispersed over seven different hosting organizations. One immediate advantage of the appearance of the investors was the availability of funds to consolidate the website at one location. This was accomplished in April 2001.
According to Group Message No. 156 dated April 18, 2001 the "Casey at the Bat T-Shirt" component of the Cosmic Baseball Collectibles e-Store was opened for business online at 10:18 PM EST at the Cosmic Baseball Association's website. According to Group Message No. 183 dated April 22 the Cosmic Baseball Logo Caps component was online. According to Group Message No. 239 the first order, for a Casey at the Bat T-Shirt was received April 30 (See CBC Historical Document No. 1058 and No. 1088). This was a pay-by-check order for $30. The T-shirt was shipped May 7. The first Cosmic Baseball Logo Cap order was received May 9. This was a $25 order paid for by a credit card transaction through the e-Store's link to the PayPal Company.
Cosmic Baseball Collectibles did not make available any specific financial data regarding sales figures, revenues or profits. Perhaps sales were vigorous because in November 2001 a decision was made to open an expanded more consumer-friendly store with virtual shopping carts and more convenient credit-card processing capabilities.
On December 1, 2001 and synchronized with the holiday gift buying season, a new upgraded e-store was opened. Features of the new store included the shopping carts mentioned above, gift order and wrapping options, and more sophisticated inventory, sales and customer tracking information applications. At least two sales transactions took place between the opening of the e-store and its sudden closure on December 6.
The reasons for the sudden shutting down of the new upgraded e-store remain unclear. However, sources inside the company and inside the Cosmic Baseball Association suggest that a clear separation now exists between the commercial interests of Cosmic Baseball Collectibles and the less pecuniary focus of the Cosmic Baseball Association.
An explanation for the closure of the e-store and the apparent end to the Cosmic Baseball Association's experiments with its "commercial potential" will have to wait to be written until the fog of the moment clears.
Access to the historical documents associated with Cosmic Baseball Collectibles was generously provided by the company. I am grateful to the management of CBC, LLC for letting me review the historical documents and message archives. CBC however would not permit a review of their financial records, therefore some of this story is necessarily incomplete.
I would also like to express my appreciation to the many people who helped me both at CBC and at the Cosmic Baseball Research Alliance (COBRA). A special thanks goes to Mr. Bartleby, Chief Librarian at COBRA, who never waivered in his willingness to help me, in several important ways. --H.C.