2015 National Sports Collectors Convention: Wrap Up and Commentary

Another year, another show, another very interesting week. The NSCC rarely disappoints, and this year was no exception. I think this was definitely one of the more unique versions of the convention over the years, especially with such a greater focus on newer elements of the hobby taking center stage. Being that this was the first based Chicago show I havent attended in the last 5, it was bittersweet to see how much fun everyone seemed to have.

Panini’s Show Presence

It seems like Panini exists at the national show solely to make themselves look they throw money around just because they have a bunch of it. They had a bunch of packs to give away, they had a crazy expensive VIP party at Soldier Field, and they made it look like they were on top of the mountain. The problem is, this image only exists during the NSCC, even to spite the success of many of their products during the course of the year.

Although their Italian sugar daddy has a ton of money to throw around, it would be naive to think that Panini has an unlimited budget. That means that all that money they spend on their presence at the National Convention has to come out of somewhere. The rumors around the show floor was that product content was sacrificed so that these things could happen, only further impacting the reason these giveaways and parties exist in the first place.

The cost of running a program like this alone is very expensive:

2015 Panini NSCC VIP Marcus Mariota Auto 1/1

2015 Panini NSCC VIP Karl Anthony-Towns Red Auto

2015 Panini NSCC VIP Andrew Wiggins Red Auto

2015 Panini NSCC VIP Kris Bryant Red Auto

One could argue that Panini’s lack of product quality is responsible for a need to do these types of things to help their distributors and group breakers sell their stock. In fact, from what everyone was saying, the people at the VIP party were predominantly from those groups of people. Fewer and fewer collectors are attending the events, especially as the product content continues to be below Panini’s competition. To think that the NSCC’s cost possibly contributes to this getting worse, is just inexcusable to me. I guess we will never know, as there is no way Panini would ever come out and say “Yes, Clear Vision had one auto per case, because we chose to fund VIP instead.”

From what I heard from the people who opened the Panini packs, they said the silver packs were “Meh” at best. Content was watered down, autograph content was reduced, and the injection of NCAA cards into every facet of the program prevented more return from being generated. Panini seems hellbent on forcing their new NCAA exclusive down our throats, which is only going to sour people in this respect. Because they overpaid dearly, taking a relaxed approach may not be available. Really too bad, as UD really seemed to have this down pat during their turn at the wheel. Sad.

I actually didnt hear as much about the fabled VIP party this year as in years past. The roster of attendees seemed lackluster at best, with the top draw being Mike Tyson and Jabari Parker. Considering many bought $7500-$10000 worth of crappy product to get in, not having a current huge name is a miss. One of my followers suggested the show take place in March so that there is no sports in progress, and more signers can attend. Not a bad idea at all.

Panini should be scared that product releases werent the story of their 2015 NSCC. National Treasures Basketball remains late/unreleased and did not hit shelves in time for the show. Adding insult to injury, people (rightfully) forgot that Prestige even came out right before the show opened. They deserve a big F for this effort, as I am sure that many of the people who previously used National Treasures to get to their VIP status were pretty unhappy that they had to settle for what was already out.

Remember, this is the company that may end up being the last one standing. Great future there.

NOTE: ALL PANINI NSCC PACKS ARE EASILY SEARCHABLE. You can feel the relic and stickers through the back of the packs to find out if you got a hit or not. Only buy packs from people you trust, as its clear that eBay sellers can take advantage of this when getting their packs. There are decoy base cards with thick packs, which can look like hits but are actually not. Keep this in mind.

Another interesting note – anyone remember that its been almost 1 year since Panini announced their NFLPA exclusive? No mention of an NFL properties exclusive to match yet. Hmmm.

Topps’ Show Presence

It was clear that 2013 and 2014 were kind of rough for Topps, especially as their customer service and redemption fulfillment took a hit thanks to a few different situations. During the 2014 show, it really seemed like the Topps booth might need some extra staff to ensure that the angry customer base got their chance to vent.

Since this time last year, its almost like a complete 180 has been achieved, with more positivity surrounding their presence than the previous two years combined. One of the main reasons for the turnaround focuses on their levels of communication through social media, the launch of a new Topps Blog, and redemption fulfillment / customer service taking big steps to head in the right direction. It might even be worth mentioning that Panini has taken a number of steps back in all those departments, save social media through their adver-blog, and that doesnt hurt either.

Topps’ booth was also a lot more active thanks to a few very important components. The first was Topps Digital’s presence, which from what everyone was saying on social media, was one of the better manufacturer interactions one could have at the show.

The team was said to be very helpful and willing to answer questions, and giveaways were great. This makes me incredibly happy, as using digital as a way to reach out to new collectors is a big deal. Topps’ apps have an active user base of over 100,000 users daily, something the current industry would go bonkers over.

If I am Topps, I am taking every opportunity to try and make the digital portfolio as close to business as usual as possible. The fan base is more rabidly passionate than the hobby has been in decades, and the growth is off the charts. Physical card collectors still have a negative stigma that they apply to the games, and they need work on overcoming that situation as quickly as possible. The crossover program in Topps Series 2 is a way to start that, but it needs to be bigger in the future.

Another contributing factor for Topps’ success this year was giveaways being more attractive and events taking place that hadnt ever happened at a Topps NSCC booth before. Videos of the daily pack wars were insane, as it looked like hundreds of people were showing up to participate. Topps’ giveaways were also a bit more attractive as well, with the Ginter die cuts looking great and selling very well.

The social media presence for Topps outdid Panini at the show the second time since the Rookie Premiere, with live coverage, breaking and content delivered through the weekend. It even looks like the Topps Q and A went well, with collectors seemingly asking a bunch of more universal questions about licensing and redemptions.

Topps said on a few occasions that they would still be producing football cards next year, and its going to be very interesting to see how that works out. Although they wouldnt be able to use current players, they COULD still be able to use logos and retired players to make some products. 2016 Topps Chrome NFL Legends does sound pretty awesome.

Group Breaking

After all the hype last year to not much fanfare, the group breaking was definitely a focus at the show this year. Over 40 breakers attended, and many spent the entire weekend selling through their entire roster of breaks. Because of the need to hit the cap for VIP, more Panini product was broken than anything, although I did double the Topps and Upper Deck breaks than I expected to see.

The biggest story of the weekend was that one of the group breakers pulled the 1/1 Odell Beckham National Treasures NFL Shield RPA on stage, which led to rampant speculation that the fix was on. Im of the group of people that says nothing is a coincidence in this hobby anymore, especially on the biggest stage there is. Considering the shit ton of problems that Panini had with Treasures collation this year, pulling the biggest card in the product while on stage at the NSCC isnt a stretch of the imagination.

Either way, one thing was becoming more and more clear, and that is the group breakers becoming the new ambassadors to the hobby’s population. Love them or hate them, they are reaching more people through their sites than a hobby shop could dream of at this point. Even some of the smaller group breakers opening a case online can attract over 100 viewers, something that just doesnt happen live in shops anymore. Smaller shops are in dingy strip malls in flyover states, where group breakers are in everyone’s house at the push of a button. The world is getting smaller by the day, which doesnt spell as fruitful of a future for the hobby shop as once thought.

Remember when Panini spent all that time dedicating attention to hobby shops back in 2013? Yeah, all of that has switched over to group breakers.

Show Size

Although the actual floor of the show and amount of dealers was said to be down from 2013’s Chicago national convention, the traffic from show goers was reported as much higher. There are a few guesses as to why this might be the case, but its still a positive sign that things might not be doom and gloom as much as we thought.

Personally, the actual “show” part of the convention seems to become more and more obsolete with each passing year, especially as eBay and other online sites continue to dominate the way collectors buy cards. Why travel any distance to pay to attend a show where every dealer has their stuff on eBay 24/7? The manufacturer presence is a helpful way to drive traffic, as are autograph signers, but the actual show floor is more of a museum than anything.

If I am the show organizers, its time to consider ways to entice people to attend, other than just having a bunch of people setting up tables trying to sell singles. There needs to be more collector interaction involved, whether that is panel discussions on a grander scale, a bigger social media involvement, and more live coverage.

I have often wanted to set up a lot of this stuff independent of the show, but with attendance becoming more and more costly thanks to travel and accommodations, setting concrete plans is a huge risk. Nothing would make me happier than for all the card bloggers to get together next year in Atlantic City and blow it out. We need to have more content that isnt based on buying things. More content that is focused on furthering the education and interest level of the hobby. Pipe dream, I know.

There is a lot up in the air for next year’s show being at a new location, but I am definitely trying to figure out a way to go. I think this is still the biggest and most accessible card event of the year, and hopefully it continues to grow. You never can predict, unfortunately.

On the Radar: 2015 Topps Museum Collection Football

When Museum Collection was brought over from Baseball in 2013, the set contained a lot of the cool high end cards that made it so popular with collectors. Although the 2013 rookie class was a dud, and the product tanked as a result, it set the stage for 2014, which was one of the better products of the entire 2014 calendar. The combination of non-rookie hard signed cards and cool designs were great. Its back for year 3, hoping to continue the tradition.

The set offered on card autographs and the trademarked framed cards as well, which have been highly sought after by people looking to collect the set. They are literally some of my favorite cards that Topps makes, and I dont think I am alone in that feeling. This year, it looks like they will be back, along with many other on card autographs as well. If they add inscriptions as depicted on the sell sheet, I might have to take some time off work to chase the set. Here are some examples from 2014 to give you an idea of the finished product.

2014 Museum Collection Teddy Bridgewater Logo Patch Auto 1/1

2014 Museum Collection Dan Marino Framed Auto /25

2014 Museum Collection Odell Beckham Triple Patch Auto

2014 Museum Collection Peyton Manning Framed Auto /25

Im not a huge fan of how busy some of the designs are this year, especially the John Elway card, which is absolutely hideous. With so much border work and other embellishments, the distraction is too great to appreciate the true subject and content of the card. The sticker makes it worse, as it looks like Topps had to take a shoe horn to fit it in among the other parts of the design. With how many on card autos were in the product last year, this should be on card too.

Im also not a big fan of the Mariota card, although it might be an oversized example that is hard to judge in sell sheet format. It looks like it includes the entire bill of the hat, which obviously cannot be displayed in a regular sized card. I would have liked to see Mariota much more prominently displayed, but its all relative to card size.

The rest of the cards look very much like 2015 Topps Five Star Baseball, which has its ups and down. The framed cards remain the main draw of this product, but the approach on the other cards looks mediocre compared to what Topps has put out in previews to this point. They have done some GREAT work in their sets so far, maybe this is just one of those dips. Not previewed are the jumbo patch autos, which will be on card for the rookies, one of the nicer parts of the 2014 set.

2015 National Convention – Giveaway Cards Hit eBay

Some collectors go to the National Convention for one reason, and one reason alone. Although its completely the wrong reason, its going to happen. The giveaways draw people in, especially now that the card companies have developed exclusive sets for the show. The reason I say its the wrong reason to attend is not because the cards arent cool, its because of all the other reasons to attend. Giveaways are just the cherry on top. Either way, I digress.

Topps Giveaways

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of one of the most popular baseball sets of the year, Topps has designed an exclusive set of die cut Allen & Ginter cards. The cards are a combination of baseball and football players, including some of the top NFL rookies like Winston and Mariota.

Here are some of the cards:

2015 NSCC Allen & Ginter Tom Brady 10th Anniversary Die Cut /10

2015 NSCC Allen & Ginter Anthony Rizzo Auto Die Cut

2015 NSCC Allen & Ginter Kris Bryant Die Cut RC

2015 NSCC Allen & Ginter Jameis Winston Die Cut RC

In the past, Topps’ giveaways have been less about the packs themselves, and more about a straightforward smaller set, but this year, its much different. The set is bigger (100 cards), there are low numbered parallels, and nicer autographs as well. Instead of giving away one card per day like they have in the past, Topps is offering sealed packs for boxes opened at their booth. As far as I can see, you can pretty much bring over whatever current product to get the packs. MUUUUUUUUCH different than Panini, who has a specific list of products that you must break. Ill get to that in a second.

They are also doing some cool Gypsy Queen exclusives for Bryant and Buxton, which look awesome, and like the Ginter parallels, it looks like they have low numbered versions available.

Topps has done a set of Allen and Ginter at the NSCC for as long as I can remember, which has usually included a mix of players from many different sports. I find the cards extremely attractive for that reason, as Football never really makes the licensed cross over like it does for the NSCC.

The cards have sold very well for the first days of the show, going to be interesting how they continue to sell as the show gets busier and more packs are opened.

Panini Giveaways

For reasons explained many times prior, Panini has to create a huge program for the NSCC each year. Although it creates a fanfare unlike any other manufacturer on the floor, many collectors fail to see the true motives behind why it exists. Go read through my previous posts on Panini giveaway programs to understand the reasoning behind the program’s existence, as its clear that this was not done by choice originally.

This year, Panini’s program is a combination of NCAA licensed cards and league licensed cards. They have a large base set, combined with relic and autograph content as they have in previous years. Some of the more interesting examples are baseball cards featuring players like Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston, both of which were drafted for their proficiency in the sport.

Here are some examples:

2015 Panini National Convention Stephen Curry Auto

2015 Panini National Convention Russell Wilson Baseball Auto

2015 Panini National Convention Todd Gurley Towel Patch – I have always hated these. Why towels?

2015 Panini National Convention Andrew Wiggins Tools of the Trade Patch

Although the design isnt as strong as it has been in previous years, the program looks like it has a good mix of cards. You can also buy packs if you want – although I would advise against paying more for thick packs despite relics. Thin packs might be longer odds on the autos, but there have been decoys inserted in other giveaways, and many of the relics are shit. Most of the stuff will be forgotten in a matter of weeks, so dont go paying 40 dollars for a relic or thick pack that will be 5 bucks after the show. Just wait. I promise.

There will also be two versions of the program that will not be available to the general public, including a special version for VIPs, and another for Group Breakers. These other versions will have much more high quality cards, which may include rip off Superfractors like last year’s did. The access to the packs is severely diminished, so the cards tend to be worth more.

Upper Deck Giveaways

Despite losing another league license this year Upper Deck’s promos still offer a lot to be chased. Their Prominent Cuts set is back, with likely the last of its NCAA cards ever to be produced, including autographs from their main exclusive signers and more. The autographs are REALLY tough pulls, but if you can walk away with Gretzky, Jordan, Lebron or Tiger, it might pay for your plane ticket and hotel. I do have to give them a ton of credit for getting them signed on card. WOW.

Here are some of Upper Deck’s cards:

2015 Upper Deck Prominent Cuts Wayne Gretzky Auto 3/5

2015 Upper Deck Dinosaurs Preview Card

The design is nice looking, and it makes me long for the days when Upper Deck had both MLB and NFL cards to giveaway at the show. Its been a long time.

Leaf Giveaways

As they have done in the past, Leaf has a lot of giveaways for the show, including some really nice autographs from Legends of Sport. They have a big base set, as well as parallels and autographs from what it looks like, which are always impressive to see in their giant booth.

Here are some examples:

2015 Leaf Legends of Sport Roger Federer NSCC Auto 1/1

2015 Leaf Legends of Sport Lionel Messi NSCC Auto Plate 1/1

Leaf’s recent acquisition of In the Game and other companies under the same banner has gone over well for them, and I would guess that new alignment will be on display.

Overall, these giveaways are all about volume and luck. However, as mentioned before, dont go out of your way to buy something you dont want or dont need just to get access to the packs. If something is being offered for packs or boxes you would open normally, go wild. You can get some nice stuff.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2015 Panini Prestige Football

You know a product is bad when I have to start this post with “I just dont know why this product still exists.” That’s Prestige in a nutshell, and its sad that we have gotten to this point after how good the product was back in 2012. To see what Panini had the opportunity to do with 2015’s edition, and then what actually came out of it is a bigger question mark than the gigantic text they use on most of their cards.

Here are the big hits up so far:

2015 Panini Prestige Jameis Winston Auto Purple Parallel

2015 Panini Prestige Marcus Mariota Auto Purple Parallel

2015 Panini Prestige Giovani Bernard Vet Auto Purple Parallel

2015 Panini Prestige Devante Parker First Impressions Auto

For a while now, Prestige has been the first sets where true NFL team affiliation was available for depiction in the product. With the rookie premiere now almost 2 months ago, the time is available to create and print cards with NFL uniforms and OTA shots for most rookies. For the 40 attendees of the photo shoot, full NFL branding is available. Instead, Panini opted to use a combination of NCAA and NFL branding for the set, some of which is understandable.

What completely baffles me, is the lack of on card content that is showcased in Prestige. With the available usage of NCAA uniforms, Panini had EVERY opportunity to get on card autos done for the big rookies who they were granted access to for an entire weekend in March. Topps used this oportunity to get tens of thousands of cards hard signed by the class, where Panini obviously thought better of that opportunity. Any card that depicts Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley and others in their college uniform, could have been hard signed. I know this is the case because that is what Topps chose to do.

To provide context, Topps Inception will be on shelves August 12th. In this product, which will cost about the same as Prestige’s sticker fest, there will be a combination of on card autographs and sticker relic autos. Among the on card autographs will be booklet cards, logo cards, inscription cards, and all sorts of other amazing looking content. There will be no college branding or players without logos on their cards. In fact, many of the first 5-10 Topps sets will be similar, some even featuring non-rookie on card content. So far, nothing of the sort from Panini. Its also worth mentioning that Inception will be redemption free.

There is one on card set in Prestige, and boy is it worth your time to check out. Panini thought it was a great fucking idea, to get the rookies to don their Panini shirts, hold the helmet of the team they are playing for, and sign the cards the next day. Besides the fact that this makes for some hilarious looking shit, the design is even more puzzling. Everything about it screams Panini, with giant text everywhere, and nameplates obscurring the bottom fourth of the layout. What a fucking joke.

Topps is making a huge push to put out some of the best sets in their last year of a deal with the NFLPA. Panini has had their exclusive in place for one year, and we have yet to hear of an exclusive with NFL properties, who owns the brands and logos for all the teams. Even if the exclusive with NFLP was in place, Topps is making a case for why they are so much more worthy of a license than Panini, and its not even close. Right now, based on what we are seeing, Topps is running the race like Usain Bolt, and Panini hasnt even gotten to the track to get suited up.

This is a wholly scary situation that puts a lot of things into perspective for 2016 when the NFLPA exclusive takes effect. You may wonder why I bring this up at every chance I get, only speaking to the importance of the matter. No company should be able to operate with lower quality without recourse. That’s exactly what is going to happen, unless Topps can find a way to keep their NFLP license and continue to produce football cards.

On the Radar: 2015 Topps Strata Baseball

I am a huge fan of everything Strata. From its inception in football back in 2012, to the eventual transition to Baseball as a high end hit in Topps Series 1 and 2, it has consistently been a concept that works extremely well. Now that it is becoming its own standalone product for baseball, there are a few things at play that make this set even more interesting than it was in its previous incarnations.

Strata’s cards have always been great looking, including a huge improvement on shadowbox technology that has permeated all sorts of facets of the hobby after its creation in 2009 SPX. Although Baseball wont have all the elements from its sister NFL product, its worth checking out some of these awesome examples:

2012 Strata Andrew Luck Clear Cut Auto Patch BGS 9.5

2014 Strata Odell Beckham Strata Signature /50

2014 Strata Sammy Watkins Strata Signature Patch Auto

Funny enough, despite all the hobby circle jerk around acetate lately, the main draw for this product is actually not the designs or the cards themselves. Instead, the big news is around provenance associated with the relics that this set utilizes to create the cards. For a long time, collector questions over swatch authenticity have contributed to a decrease in confidence and value. To combat this sentiment, for the first time ever, all swatches in Strata Baseball will be MLB authenticated. This includes a label on every swatch that can be tracked through the MLB authentication database. According to the sell sheet, in addition to tagging each relic, each swatch will be able to be tracked to a specific game. This is huge for a few reasons, even though game dated swatches have been available in prior products with little added value.

MLB authentication offers a third party confirmation that many collectors will consider to be absolute in its authenticity. Even though there are individuals who have more questions that are created by the inclusion of tagged relics, 99% of the people who open Strata will not hesitate to assign certainty. Previously, all game matched swatches have not had this third party involvement, relegating collectors to trust the company's guarantee. Obviously, this still presents more trust that needs to be applied, and trust is always in short supply. As a whole, collectors will be more likely to trust a “disinterested” third party, even more so if that party is the league’s program. Im very curious to see if Strata’s popularity will be influenced solely by this tagging.

I am pretty disappointed that the clear cut auto relics are not included in this set, and also that the Strata signatures dont all seem to have relics in them. This takes away two elements of the set that have made it so attractive to me in Football, and I was really hoping that they would make the trip across the sports. The cards that replaced them are cool, dont get me wrong, but its just not the same. If they are trying to build a separate brand identity in baseball, I dont think that is a bad idea. However, I would have liked to see more of the traditional elements ported over with the set. Its not the same Museum collection without the framed autos, and its not the same Strata without Clear Cuts. At least the rivet cards are included, and as we learned in football, the Rivet cards are bad ass.

The biggest victory of the product has to be the price, which looks to be very low in cost compared to what is being offered in the new elements. This should end up being below the 80 dollar mark in MSRP if the sell sheet cost holds up – something that means you can buy boxes without breaking the bank. All the autographs are on card, and the new relic authentication adds some great intrigue to an already popular product.

With Football on its way out for Topps in 2016, this might be the only way the Strata format carries on. Really unfortunate that is the case, but im glad this is looking like a great addition to the baseball calendar.