SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Flawless Football

The day of reckoning is here for all those Panini fans who are salivating over the release of Flawless football. This is the first time in football that a box of this nature has been released, and from what the early results are showing, singles arent white hot like we expected. In fact, I have no reservations in saying this may be one of the better singles products of the year. However, I still think it is a pending disaster to put it at 1350 a box.

Here are some of the hits up so far – BIN prices seem awfully low for first day:

2014 Flawless Tom Brady Auto

2014 Flawless Drew Brees Auto Dual Jumbo Patch /15

2014 Flawless Brett Favre Auto Patch /10

2014 Flawless Johnny Manziel Auto Gold /10

2014 Flawless Jerome Bettis Auto Patch /10

2014 Flawless LeSean McCoy Auto Jumbo Patch /15

2014 Flawless Jerry Rice Auto Jumbo Patch /15

There are people who are going to cite the fact that there are some cards in the product that will sell for above 1350. That is true. These same people will cite success in basketball as an indicator for success in football. This is not true. When you consider the complete checklist, and the normal shelf life (or lack there of) for football products, the prices for the boxes and singles will not meet the hype at all. A price tag of this magnitude puts Flawless in a category that is usually reserved for mortgages and car payments. Basketball’s international market and hobby composition is much more suited for this type of release, and in its second year, it is already failing to meet expectations. That should say a lot about prospects for football.

High end has always been a huge risk. Always. Since 2005, you could open a box of Exquisite football and lose your ASS on the cards inside. However, that was a 500 dollar bath, not a $1350 bath. Those are two very different things. In all reality, with a case, you could end up losing on the ROI so badly that it would be equal to a case of 95% of the other products on the calendar. That is just insane, especially in a sport where there is no international support or as many collectors with deep pockets.

The bottom line is that contrived scarcity, or purposefully limiting supply, can only take something so far. There has to be a level of chase above all that, and Basketball is reeling this year from that situation. Football is in a bigger jam with a rookie class that isnt playing up to the expectations set early in the draft year. Obviously, Panini has ZERO control over these factors, and from what I am hearing, they are also not the ones to jack up the price upon release.

Dealers were able to purchase flawless at 800 dollars per. Mock distributors like Blowout and Dave and Adam’s likely got it even cheaper. Panini intended this to be a 1000 dollar product, which is still insane, but not "toss you in a padded room and throw away the key" insane. For whatever reason, one of the distributors decided it was a good idea to arbitrarily mark up the price 350 dollars above the intended price and set it at $1350 per box, effectively RUINING the potential it had.

I think if you set the price at $1000, and let demand climb to a 1350 tag, you create a different perception of what the VALUE of the box really is. An increase of 350 dollars from MSRP suggests that there is something worth DEMANDING in those boxes, so much so that the price has gone up. If you start it at 1350, the perception is different. It changes things. Look at 2012 National Treasures, which climbed to about 150-200 dollars above the release price at one point. Everyone was clamoring to get it, because Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and RGIII were playing out of their mind. It was STILL moving at 650 a box. If the dealers had started it at 750? Not a chance would it have performed the same way.

It is abundantly clear that the on card autographs for this set are incredible. The cards look great, save this stupid "Team Panini" bullshit. That has value in itself. However, the market at its current point cannot sustain a product like this. I HOPE I am wrong. I want to be wrong, because it will be a sign that the market isnt in as bad a shape as I thought. All signs so far point to the fact that Flawless was not done the right way after the cards were already in the boxes. I cant blame Panini for that. At some point you have to try to make Flawless work in another sport. Your 20 million dollar license depends on creating brand equity that Panini does not own anywhere but Contenders and Treasures. On a calendar of 24-30 products, you had better fucking figure out how to build a good set.

When the dealers take it into their own hands, with borderline collusion to make it work, that’s bad for everyone.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Topps Supreme Baseball

For the first time in the US, Topps is putting out Supreme in baseball after some initial success with an Asia only release last year. Since its release in football back in 2010, Supreme has quickly risen to be one of Topps’ better products, and it should not be surprising to see them try to port it to Baseball. I think the international market is a bit more high end focused, so this will be more of a test of how the US can handle it this time around.

Here are some of the bigger hits up so far:

2014 Topps Supreme Yasiel Puig / Mike Trout Dual Auto

2014 Topps Supreme Madison Bumgarner Auto Patch

2014 Topps Supreme Jeff Bagwell / Craig Biggio Dual Auto

2014 Topps Supreme Jacob deGrom Auto RC

2014 Topps Supreme Geroge Springer Silhouette Style Auto Relic

When you look at the cards, I think there are two very different sentiments that the designs can elicit. Some of the work looks clean and REALLY nice, with a focus on using the swooping lines and whitish gray backgrounds to highlight the players. Others look about as hideous as they can be, with Gold Foil boxes taking most of the fun out of a product that has a history of these type of signature presentations.

Baseball and high end can be a real fickle bitch, as it is clear that there is a growing separation between the dwindling amount of set collectors and the ever growing portion of the remaining collector base that chase hits. Supreme has always been a top singles product, because when you hit it big, you can definitely make some bank. But, there are also circumstances that prove otherwise – leading to a really bad break.

Topps has said that there are a lot of rare cards in this product, with no autograph numbered over 50. Im guessing this is a pretty short run, as Topps is trying to gauge if a one pack higher end release can survive in a hobby where the victories in high end can be few and far between.

Pairing Supreme with Baseball is definitely a risk, but nothing like the upcoming release of Dynasty, which takes it more to the extreme part of the spectrum. Although I think many of the Supreme cards are well designed, im just not sure how the collectors will react. This could end up dropping like a rock if the experiment fails, but I think there is enough really nice content in the product to leave collectors wanting more.

Ill be interested to see how it plays out.

Five Reasons to Love and Hate 2014 Flawless Football

With the pending release of Flawless Football, I feel torn between to very different feelings of sentiment surrounding the product given its history. As much as I want to hate this stuff, there are a number of reasons why it deserves some of the hype it is getting. In basketball, it made an indelible mark with the highest price tag for a licensed product, albeit not really doing much in terms of special content. In football, its doing the same thing, but in a league where rules may hamper its ability to be a sustainable product. Here are my reasons to love and hate Flawless.

1. You Should Love the On Card Content

In football, we have become accustomed to sticker based autograph content. Its literally a part of every product except Five Star. Panini is one of the worst offenders, but some how got their shit together enough to make flawless happen. There will no doubt be redemptions, but you have to give them credit for making this work as early as they have. They have had the foresight to add more non-rookie on card assets to National Treasures, but nothing like this has been done by Panini. Although it doesnt make up for the tidal wave of stickers they have unleashed on the hobby, it is definitely a reason to love the product.

2. You Should Hate the Checklist

If there is one reason that Flawless is destined to be an unsustainable format at the price it is at, the checklist is one of the reasons. In fact, checklist quality has always been an issue with high end Panini products. They have gotten a lot of big names with hard signed cards in the boxes, but they also have a shit storm of autographs that most collectors will be hard pressed to know who they are. Add this in with autographs from ALL 40 rookies at the premiere, including guys like Devonta Freeman and potentially Connor Shaw, and all of a sudden it becomes quite the uphill battle. In Basketball, they were not required to have a certain percentage of rookie content the way they are in the NFL, and the impact will be palpable when you see the checklist.

Here are just some of the low tier names on this checklist: Danny Amendola, Torrey Smith, Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Michael Floyd, Paul Warfield, Doug Martin, Zach Ertz, Carl Eller, Jan Stenerud, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins.

Hell, that is just from one preview. I didnt even go back through!

3. You Should Hate the Cost of the Boxes

Basketball is a sport that thrives in a super high end market. International collectors increases demand for nice cards, which means that the market can withhold a lot of the pressure a high end product creates. In football, there is an ever dwindling pool of collectors, and many of them have been conditioned to give up on a box after a week. Dealers got to buy in on Flawless football at 800 bucks. Add in the normal 16% markup that Panini MAPP requires, and you get 928 bucks a box. Lets call it 950 for the sake of argument. Although that price is still off the charts, its not even close to 1350, which is the price dealers arbitrarily put on this release.

Additionally, the rookie class’ big names are playing mediocre at best, with the exception of Sammy Watkins, who is not a QB. Unless the Browns make some uncharacteristic type of move, the box price will be a joke. Even if Manziel was playing well, it would still be a joke. Football is not basketball.

4. You Should Love the Design

Flawless has looked good in Basketball for a few years, and football is no different. I mean, its not hard to copy and paste, and that’s exactly what happened. If this had been left to the current design team to come up with all on their own, I know it would have been as bad as the other crap from early this year. I think there are a few dogs in the set in terms of the design, but many of the cards look quite impressive.

The fact that Panini has not used A) Any foil board stock, B) goofy studio pictures, and C) horrrendously busy designs show that they are invested in this product. I cant say the same for their other “attempts” at designing good looking cards.

5. You Should Hate What This Does to the Market

Exquisite started in Basketball in 03-04 and was the perfect set for the perfect rookie class at the time. To this day it remains one of the most sought after products in Basketball history. Upper Deck ported it over to football in 2005 with minor initial success, mainly due to the class of rookies at the time and Football collectors willingness to accept a high end product that cost that much. However, it did have Upper Deck’s brand, which to this day remains the best in all of sports cards. Panini has none of that, but they do have a mediocre class that could end up being great in the long run. Flawless is swimming in a sea of products that will be diluted as the year moves on, and we should not be excited for what precedent may be set by this release. There just isnt room for a product who’s content doesnt offer something that isnt available in Five Star or National Treasures. If Panini thinks they can ramrod this through, they might have to learn the hard way. Not a good thing considering their exclusive will kick in come 2016.

Flawless is shaping up to be a great singles product in a buyers market. Never a good thing for sales prospects of the boxes which cost about 400 dollars more than they should.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Playbook Football

I have already posted a few articles about Panini's most recent attempt to make Playbook a viable brand, but I wanted to go a bit further into it now that it is live. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of these cards are cool and deserve some positive attention, but for some of these other cards, they go without available adjectives to describe my hatred.

The Good

It should be an odd situation that the best sets in this entire product have no autographs on them. A top subset without autographs rarely happens in this hobby, and Panini has hit it out of the park twice with some really cool cards. There are a few other nice cards that can fall under this as well:

2014 Playbook Richard Sherman Nickname Jumbo Patch Booklet

2014 Playbook Peyton Manning Armory Six Piece Booklet

The first of these two is the Game of Inches set, which features a dynamic action shot of the subject spread out over two slhouette style booklet cards. I know this was a difficult card for Panini to pull off, and man do most of these look like some of the better display pieces that I have seen. My one complaint is that for some of the players, they are STILL using photo shoot event used jerseys some 2 to 3 years later.

Here is what they look like:

2014 Playbook Russell Wilson Game of Inches Booklet Jumbo Patch

As for the Down and Dirty subset, which is now on its second year, the cards again look amazing. This was one of the first sets that I can remember focusing on unwashed game used materials and they continue to impress me with these awesome cards. I absolutely love them, and to this day, I am curious if they smell as much as I think they will.

Here are the new ones for this year:

2014 Playbook Giovani Bernard Down and Dirty Nike Logo

2014 Playbook Marshawn Lynch Down and Dirty Patch /10

I think that once we get a better look at some of the other cards from each of these subsets, its going to be much more apparent how cool some of them can be.

The Bad

Now we are getting into the meat of playbook, as it is very clear that Panini has made some terrible decisions with this set. First off, they moved away from the white bordered booklets, which was a mistake all in itself. However, to add in single card acetate autographs is about as bad as you can get, as they were unsuccessful in presenting it in a way that looks good.

Here is the acetate in booklet form, which works with the silhouette style player on one side, and auto/relic on the other:

2014 Playbook Paul Richardson Auto Patch Emerald /25

2014 Playbook Richard Sherman Auto Patch Emerald /25

Here is what Panini tried to do with these as single cards – barf:

2014 Playbook Johnny Manziel Auto Acetate RC

2014 Playbook Blake Bortles Auto Acetate RC

Similarly horrendous is the player selection on some of these cards, as it should come as no surprise that practice squad lifers Connor Shaw and Asa Watson are back for another go around. Imagine opening a box, and your autograph booklet is a guy that has no real reason to be in any product. I would be fine with another Michael Sam card over this crap, as Sam at least has a claim to fame.

The Ugly

Ohhhh boy, there is some ugly here. I mentioned in a previous post that Panini inexplicably used reprinted cards from one of the worst products of the year in their new Orange Hot Rookies autographs. Not only did they use a set that never should have made a first printing, but they didnt even use players that collectors might actually want. Nope, more guys destined for an NFL career spent with a butt attached firmly to a bench.

I honestly cannot elaborate on any reason why this choice was made the way it was, as every excuse I can come up with is met with piles of laughter larger than the new Cowboys’ mecca in Dallas. You just have to wonder who decided this was an idea that was worth putting on the calendar the first time around. Good god.

In fact, the whole player checklist can be considered ugly, as there are more turds on this checklist than one could ever imagine. If they want to have autographs of crappy rookies, save it for Contenders. That’s why Contenders exists. Dont waste my fucking time with third string scrubs in a product like this.

Playbook may have its moments, but I still dont have a good explanation for why it was brought back for another go around after three abysmal years prior. Panini sure has a great understanding of how to run a sport license, right?

The Worst Investments in the NFL Today

I mentioned yesterday about how there are only 4 real sure bets left in the league, which may have been a bit short on guys like Drew Brees. That being said, there is another side to this coin, which includes some of the worst ways to spend your money if you are looking to make a few bucks. Here are my worst investments you can make.

Eddie Lacy

The Packers are really good, and they always will be. They draft well, they play the Vikings twice a year, and they seem to have the best QB in the game. When the QB is great, the RB takes a huge hit. Rodgers is that type of guy. All that being said, Lacy is not the guy I would be spending money on. Sure, Packer running backs have had success, but they always fall victim to the system that Green Bay runs. Lacy was a top fantasy pick this year, but hasnt really found a way to put it together. Will he be terrible? No, of course not. But he plays a position that many collectors are moving away from, and his production has suffered with Rodgers playing every game so far.

You can see where he is already a guy people are paying for:

2013 Contenders Eddie Lacy Rookie Ticket Auto

2013 Museum Collection Eddie Lacy Framed Auto

2013 National Treasures Eddie Lacy Jumbo Patch Auto RC

Johnny Manziel

People are POURING money into Manziel, and though his prices have dropped because of lack of playing time, its still insane how much people will spend. Let me be perfectly clear that the jury hasnt even been brought to the courtroom on his skills thanks to Brian Hoyer playing well, but that is part of the reason he is such a bad way to spend your money if Cleveland is not your team. He could be great, but there is a greater chance he could also be terrible. Busts that are also famous tend to be twice the bust in the collecting world – as we have seen with guys like Tim Tebow. Collectors buy because they love the fame, and then they run for the hills when they dont perform. These types of players can just as easily be hobby pariahs.

Manziel is commanding nice prices still:

2013 Exquisite Johnny Manziel Rookie Auto /10

2014 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Jumbo Patch Auto XFractor

2014 Topps Inception Johnny Manziel Auto Gold /10 BGS 9.5

Cam Newton

After a record breaking rookie season, and a great year last year, Newton has struggled now in 2014. He hasnt exactly been bad, but he isnt living up to the standards he set in his first few years. Is this saying that Newton isnt going to be good? No, he can still be good, but if you are looking for a safe investment, this is not the rock you should look under. His prices are already high, and if you think that you should buy in, think again. If he succeeds, his prices wont get that much higher,  but if he falls on his face, they will plummet. Its too big a fluctuation year over year.

Here is where Newton sits with collectors right now:

2013 National Treasures Cam Newton Logo Patch Auto Booklet 1/1

2011 Exquisite Cam Newton Bowl Logo Patch Auto RC

2011 Five Star Cam Newton RC Auto Patch

Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski

There is no doubt that both Graham and Gronk are some of the best TEs in the league. However, they are oft injured, beat up, and play a position that no one collects. I think that there is as good a chance that both could end up injured as much as the chance they both play well, and that does not spell good things for their cards. They both came in during one of the worst design years in recent memory, so their cards are not going to have that same cool allure that other rookies have had in recent years.

2013 National Treasures Jimmy Graham Auto Patch

2010 Topps Chrome Rob Gronkowski RC Auto

Robert Griffin III

Yeah, yeah, I know, obvious choice. Even so, this goes without saying that RGIII has demons surrounding his injury prone behavior and a team who has more ups and downs than a celebrity on drugs. There is just way too many variables that could play into whether or not RGIII is worthy of spending money on.

2012 National Treasures Robert Griffin III Rookie Auto Patch BGS 9.5

2012 Topps Chrome Robert Griffin III Auto Black Refractor BGS 9.5

Austin Davis

Lets give credit where credit is due. Austin Davis has made the most of his season so far. So much that he will end up as a solid backup somewhere for the next few years. However, he WILL NOT be a starting QB, so collectors should not go and dump money into the one card he has on the market. That wont stop Panini and Topps from adding him to every late product this year, but it will all be for naught.

2012 Bowman Draft Austin Davis RC Gold

If you have your own, feel free to share, but these are my picks. A lot of moving pieces have to fall into place for these guys to stay or become successful.