On the Radar: 2015 Contenders Draft Picks Football and Prizm Draft Picks Football

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:

2009 Contenders Matthew Stafford College Uniform Variation

2008 Contenders Darren McFadden College Uniform Variation

2008 Contenders Joe Flacco College Uniform Variation

They also had college uniforms in other sets before UD took over:

2007 Absolute Peyton Manning College Relic Auto

2007 National Treasures Jay Cutler College Auto Relic

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.

SCU Go Live Report: 2014 Panini Spectra Football

Usually, when Panini releases a shitty set, there is some redeeming factor that makes it worth cracking a pack or two. This year, there have been a lot of those, and some that are even worse. Hot Rookies, Totally Certified, and others were so bad, its not even worth opening a single pack. Spectra is so far beyond that because unlike the previously mentioned products, its one pack for 275 dollars. Let me say that again – 275 dollars. Good fucking god.

Check out how much of a disaster this shit is:

2014 Panini Spectra Blake Bortles Gold Auto Patch

2014 Panini Spectra Peyton Manning Auto Relic /5

2014 Panini Spectra Kelvin Benjamin Auto Relic

2014 Panini Spectra Derek Carr / Jimmy Garoppolo Dual Laundry Tag 1/1

It would be one thing if the cards looked good. They look awful. It would be another thing if you can buy a pack and walk away if you need to. Nope, just one pack. It would give it some value if the on card veterans were back and looked good. Nope, all stickers. This product is a fucking dog, and Panini should be ashamed of themselves.

The rookie patch autograph cards are easily some of the worst rookie cards Panini has done this year, and that is saying something. They must have modeled the design after 2010 Topps Finest, because they look almost identical. Even worse than that, 2010 Finest was a joke all by itself! To start, the relic covers up a lot of the player, and the rest of the card is covered up by a separated signature area and nameplate. Even moving the swatch to either side would be an improvement, but to have both the centered relic and the opaque signature area covers up over 60% of the surface area.

As if that wasnt bad enough, they took it to another level with the horizontal version. Instead of the player being covered up vertically with the signature area and the swatch, they did the exact same thing in horizontal fashion. So much of the card is obscured, that the player is jammed into a tiny box at the top. Someone needs to be fired, its that bad.

The other autos in the set are just as poorly designed, including a veteran set named "Leading Men." No, this isnt a way to describe the male lead in a chick flick, its for football cards. I just dont get how these things make it past the conference room where they are suggested.

I hope you guys all love this set, because your shops will be forced to order cases of it to get Black Friday packs and Fathers Day packs. Its going to rot on dealer shelves until someone gives up on it or it drops to under 100 per box. Thats where this is headed.

At least in 2013, they had hard signed autos of a number of different veteran big named players. They also had a design that wasnt great, but it also wasnt terrible. People could buy a 50 dollar pack and get something reasonably worth getting. This year that is all gone. Even the veteran autographs that are stickers induce vomiting on many levels.

Awful product. Just fucking awful.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Museum Collection Football

Other than the Chrome style products that Topps has made a staple of all sports and non-sports they own, its rare that an established brand from one sport crosses over to another. Topps is very determined to build equity in brands separately in each sport, and that is why they really only choose the best to make that jump. We saw it when Inception and Five Star were brought to baseball from Football, and also in Museum Collection coming back the other way. Now that Museum is back for another year, I am really interested to see how it has improved.

Here are some of the bigger hits up so far:

2014 Topps Museum Collection Teddy Bridgewater Framed Auto /25

2014 Topps Museum Collection Kelvin Benjamin Auto RC On Card

2014 Topps Museum Collection Frank Gore Dual Patch Auto

2014 Topps Museum Collection Brandin Cooks Jumbo Patch Auto On Card

There is a big reason why I think Museum stands out for me, and it has to do with the autograph content and the way it is set up. Unlike many of the other Topps products, not only are there a lot of veteran autographs in the product, but there are a lot of on card ones. Even better, there are dual autographs and other fun things as well, all based around non-rookies.

Additionally, the metal framed rookie and vet auto cards remain some of my favorites from the year, and I love that they are almost presentation pieces all on their own. Though they are easily searched out due to their weight, the cards themselves are exactly as promised – Museum style pieces. I already have a few from last year on display, and I am eager to get this year’s to do the same thing. They just look awesome. My only complaint is the thick silver/gold pens, which can ruin one of these cards very easily. The pens have a tendency to streak, so they can look very faint in some cases.

Another rock star from this set is in the presence of some serious chops in the art department, as the Canvas Collection is always a treat. They have commissioned artists to put together some sketches and pieces, and man do they look amazing. They have 1/1 works included in packs, so you can actually pull the card that inspired the subject in the set.

Overall, I think the design improved year over year for this set, and many of the cards look pretty fucking cool. I think that as we start to close out the license in 2015, sets like this will either go out with a bang, or fall by the wayside. I hope we get more of the wow factor, personally.

Topps Digital Set to Brave New Territory in 2015

As we are slowly approaching the 2015 Major League Baseball season, I wanted to write a post about something that has become a favorite past time of mine. Digital Card collecting through the Topps Digital apps is a borderline obsession for me, as it satisfies both my love of card collecting and fantasy sports.

The Topps Bunt 2015 season is quickly approaching, and it is a great time to download the apps as the game ramps up for the new season. I have become so engrossed in the game, that I even started writing another blog that details news, tips and tricks as well.

Now, I get what the normal reaction is going to be – why would I want to collect digital cards that I cant purchase or get in physical form? Most collectors have trouble getting past that part of the game, as they are so used to being able to enjoy the physical aspects of the card. With digital cards, it becomes as much about gameplay as it does about collecting – so much so that the digital cards are bought and sold frequently at high prices on eBay:

2014 Topps Bunt Derek Jeter Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt Madison Bumgarner World Series MVP Card

They even have legends and autograph cards, just like we see in the regular sets:

2014 Topps Bunt Babe Ruth Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt Ken Griffey Jr Signature Card

Topps also has a Football app that functions in a very similar fashion, although the offseason is in full swing. Huddle is not NFL licensed yet, but Topps has some great digital producers that make up for it in other ways. You can still get all your favorite players and play along when the season starts back up later this year.

Its very clear that Topps is making a significant investment in their games, including the release of a new app coming soon. They see that fantasy sports and freemium models are lucrative at the moment, especially when you can bring the collecting aspect along with it. They recently hired a new VP, a transplant from sports video game giant EA Sports, who is tasked with taking their digital portfolio to the next level.

After reading some of the doom and gloom I have posted about the industry as of late (and there is a LOT of doom and gloom), this is one part of the industry that I am actually very optimistic about. I have posted previous interviews with Digital Editor in Chief, Chris Vaccaro, as well as the producers behind the apps as well, and its clear they have a plan to make the apps the new frontier of card collecting.

Here is some more reading material if you are interested:

Are Digital Cards the New Frontier of Collecting?

Interview With Topps Digital’s Chris Vaccaro

Interview with Topps Digital’s Mike Salerno

To be able to trade without worring about shipping delays, lost cards, or condition issues, and to have a card shop in your pocket 24/7 is a big deal for people like me. Sure, the cards arent able to be delivered in physical fashion, but the gaming element more than makes up for it. Unlike regular cards, they also reward collectors with fun cards, VIP programs, and there is no delay from big events.

For instance, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl, it wasnt even 24 hours before MVP Tom Brady had a commemorative card in Huddle. Same thing with the recent death of Minnie Minoso, who was immortalized in Bunt after his passing. These things make the game fun, and its only going to get better from here.

As Topps continues to find their way through the digital marketplace, they will be able to create more compelling content. They already use physical card sets as inspiration, and their digital design team is second to none.

I am writing this because I think there are a lot of people who are unfamiliar with how much fun the games can be, and I could always use some competition. There are rumors of friendly leagues being a new feature in 2015, and you can guarantee there will be an SCU league for all the readers to compete.

Check them out on Twitter and in the app stores for both Apple and Android. You will not be sorry.

2014 Topps Chrome Mini: What Regular Chrome Should Have Been

After writing this blog for what seems like a lifetime, there are a few things that are always a constant with me. One of those things is that a Chrome branded set will always been worth breaking a few boxes, a situation that was called into question this year. 2014 Topps Chrome was plagued by overproduction and terrible box breaks, and as a result collectors have become apathetic over any new Chrome style product, including the recent releases of Bowman Chrome and Topps Chrome Mini. After a few days since the release, Im starting to think that if Chrome was structured the way the Mini set is structured, we would be singing a very different tune.

We also get to see how the biggest card in the product is going to perform against the biggest card in regular Chrome, as the Odell Beckham Superfractor Auto Mini 1/1 was listed recently:

2014 Topps Chrome Mini Odell Beckham Auto Superfractor 1/1

The superfractors are not the only cards that people are chasing in this product, as there are quite a few nice pulls that are generating prices reminiscent of the regular set:

2014 Topps Chrome Mini Odell Beckham Pulsar Refractor Auto /15

2014 Topps Chrome Mini Sammy Watkins Auto Red Refractor /5

2014 Topps Chrome Mini Blake Bortles Gold Refractor Auto /10

2014 Topps Chrome Mini Teddy Bridgewater Pulsar Refractor Auto /15

Personally, I am pretty excited that a product like this is performing the way it is on the secondary market. There were a lot of individuals who thought this product would tank, and they had every reason to believe that was going to be the case. However, we are seeing that there are quite a few examples that are showing a 60 dollar investment in a box is not only going to be a fun time, but maybe a pretty good likelihood of a solid return.

Chrome is one of the only products on the market, where the hit in the box isnt necessarily the end all and be all of what your experience is going to be. Rare parallels can bring enormous prices, and even pulling a low numbered refractor of a veteran can make up almost 50% of the box cost. That is something to be missed come 2016 when Chrome goes away with the pending Panini exclusive.

Bottom line, I remain in line with the statement that Chrome mini is what regular Chrome should have been. If that was the case, Topps might have saved some of the criticism of one of their biggest products of the year.