A few months ago, Panini continued their plan of manifest destiny across the hobby when they secured an exclusive CLC (NCAA) License, pried from the capable hands of Upper Deck. As expected, they are looking to use the license in combination with their existing licenses, including the NFL. Today they announced the creation of their first two collegiate licensed products in Contenders Draft Picks and Prizm Collegiate Draft Picks. Aside from the fact that these are basically the same concept in two different products, Im a little shocked that this is the way they chose to move forward. They have had many other popular college centric product lines that would have worked very well instead.
Just for reference, Contenders used to have college uniform tickets back in 2009 and before:
They also had college uniforms in other sets before UD took over:
Let me start by saying Panini will have to build a bunch of new products to support their vast overpayment for the NFL license. They will also have to support the exclusive licenses that they purchased from all the different schools and the exclusive license from the rest of the CLC group of schools. In case it isnt already clear, they need to go balls out to even come within the same zip code of the money they spent to acquire all these properties.
As far as I can understand, there are only a few ways to make that happen. Expand out print runs and try to sell more of what you already have, or make new products. They will probably do a little bit of both, but the latter really scares the everliving shit out of me. Panini has shown they are COMPLETELY fucking inept at building new products in the NFL space. Sure, they have had recent success in Immaculate and Flawless, but both were carry overs from Basketball. Home grown sets like Playbook, Spectra and others have literally fallen on their ugly faces, and its mostly because they really dont know what they are doing. Design is a big part of it, but so is format and content.
Right now, they really only have true equity in a small handful of products, most of which resides in National Treasures and Contenders. There are arguments to be made for Elite and Certified, but the brands are very inconsistent year over year. Outside of these sets, no true star products really exist at all. Immaculate and Flawless are on their way, but only if the consistency remains in tact. That is no guarantee when it comes to Panini.
To attach a top brand name like Contenders to a draft picks product is a REALLY risky play. Not only are you intentionally diluting the brand name to get a free lead in, but you also apply a set of standards. Panini wants you to lend consideration to Contenders Draft Picks just because of the name. What they dont seem to get, is that any under performance in the product is probably more damaging to the brand than it is worth.
Here is what I am referring to, mainly in the way this product is structured. Collectors already have a very strong reaction to college uniform cards. Its either strongly positive or strongly negative. Where Contenders once had a unified public perception, it now does not. Similarly, Upper Deck is going to be releasing pre-draft products to close out their CLC license, and Panini will need to outperform their products to avoid stigma. UD Inscriptions looks really good, only making it more of a tall order for Panini to compete with. This means on card autos and lots of cool content. Let me say, its going to be hard for this to happen, and now the Contenders name is further damaged.
Secondly, to release Prizm a very short time later only further puts the Contenders product on notice. It may be Chrome style vs non-Chrome style, but I can see how both products might be very similar in configuration and content. Plus, this Chrome product will be going up against Leaf Metal, Trinity and a few others that have been proven as collector favorites.
The question remains, what is the best way to do this? Honestly, I think its to start from scratch. Start a new brand identity and try to build the equity that has long been lost from Panini products. The last thing you want is for an established brand to sit on dealer shelves unable to be cleared. They havent been in this game before, and you dont want to send your best soldier out there to be killed unless you KNOW its safe. Even a product like Elite Extra Edition has roots in the MLB college market, why would they not go that direction?!?
I expect Contenders draft picks to depend on two things – on card autos and design. Content will be big because they want to sell it. However, we have seen that content can only take a product so far. If its stickers while Bowman Chrome, Leaf, UD and other products are all on card, good luck. If its on card but the typical ugly shit that we normally expect from new Panini brands, again good luck. Panini has its work cut out for them, and Im not sure they understand what they have gotten themselves into.