Breaking Down 2014 Elite Football

I did something today that I rarely do – I busted a lot of a Panini product. I was excited that Panini had added a ton of on card content to this year's product and I thought it was worth a shot as I had some Birthday funds at my disposal. I was surprised to see the way the product turned out, and I think it is likely one of the better examples of the product we have seen.

Here are some of the top hits you can pull from one of the boxes:

2014 Elite Johnny Manziel Auto On Card Red Ink SSP

2014 Elite Johnny Manziel Auto On Card Acetate RC

2014 Elite Teddy Bridgewater Acetate Inscriptions Auto

2014 Elite Jerome Bettis / LeVeon Bell Dual Passing the Torch Auto

2014 Elite Sammy Watkins Gold Status Auto Die Cut /25

I started into my lot of boxes at Sports Cards Plus here in San Antonio, hoping I was going to come away with something remotely nice after watching lots of junk surface online. I had watched a few boxes before mine, and not very much nice stuff had come out. You are guaranteed two autos per box, but 2 out of my 4 boxes had 3 autos which was nice to take away the sting for a bad box. The third auto was one of the relic autos from the New Breed set each time.

My on card autos ended up being Tajh Boyd, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews and one Ill save until the end. My sticker autos which were one per box to match the on card per box were Ha-ha Clinton-dix, Kony Ealy, Ryan Shazier, and one other scrub all out of 199 gold die cut like this one. I also hit Paul Richardson new breed auto relic which was nice, and a Connor Shaw new breed auto patch. Here is where I get REALLY pissed off.

Connor Shaw was invited to the premiere as one of five players who were part of the NFLPA bowl. These scrubs are LATE LATE round picks and most will likely not make the team. As far as I am aware, Topps chose not to use Shaw as a box hit for any of their products, but Panini obviously thought otherwise. Seriously, this guy was there as a favor to the NFLPA and from my understanding was only required to take some pictures. No jerseys were required, but I had heard that the NFLPA supplied some if there was a desire. Panini really wasnt thinking when including him in their products, and to pull him as a box hit is not even close to acceptable.

Now, I couldnt stay pissed for too long, as I also pulled a Teddy Bridgewater 3 color jumbo patch (which was cool), an Emmitt Smith jersey card, and the big finale of a Johnny Manziel On Card Auto RC Blue. To be into the year 3 products and have pulled 2 high value Manziel cards so far is awesome, even if I have already sold them both.

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 8.30.18 PM

I also pulled three very low numbered parallels in an EJ Manuel Base 1/3, a Jace Amaro clear acetate RC 8/12, and a 1/1 of the face2face insert of Ladarius Webb and Antonio Brown. Not bad.

Oddly enough a secondary highlight was the Clarity insert cards which are on a thick plexiglass stock. The cards look awesome, and I might need to pick up a few after pulling Russell Wilson, Ray Rice x2, and Jamaal Charles.

Overall, Elite is definitely a big improvement over 2013, but still isnt up to where I would put a product like Inception or Base Topps, which will be out in the next few weeks. With the National Convention coming up, it shouldnt be hard for Panini to move it, which is demonstrated in the lack of redemption packs that are being given for it. Buy the product that you can move? No redemption packs. Buy Spectra which NO ONE can move? 10 redemption packs. Still think these programs are all for the collector? Welcome to the future of NFL Football cards ladies and gents.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Elite Football Improves With On Card Autos

When it comes to the beginning of the year, Elite can be pretty nice to have with nothing else on the market. It is usually one of the first Panini products to have some nice stuff, as Prestige and other sets rarely impress. With the new addition of some extra content, Elite looks like it has improved considerably over previous years.

Here are some of the big hits so far:

2014 Elite Teddy Bridgewater Acetate Inscriptions Auto

2014 Elite Jadeveon Clowney On Card Auto RC

2014 Elite Johnny Manziel Status Die Cut Blue /98

2014 Elite Sammy Watkins On Card Auto RC

2014 Elite Walter Payton Throwback Threads Patch – Horrid design, wow.

Obviously, the on card autos for the base rookies are a humongous upgrade over the normal sticker autos that we usually see. Although parallels are not on card, this one element is a big win. I think the design turned out pretty nice, and I think that when all is said and done, these cards should hold value more than previous years.

The acetate cards remain my favorite in the product as I have always been a big fan of anything that uses this medium. Although I dont think the sticker autos are anything special this year, the on card autos more than make up for it. It has yet to be determined if there are a lot of them or just a few, as I was worried when none popped up in any of the early Panini breaks or case breaks.

Elite still isnt what it could be, as the foil is a huge distraction that should be removed, as are a lot of the poorly named inserts. However, no one really busts Elite for those reasons. Seriously, if they could print it on Chrome like stock, or even just matte stock, it would be so much better, even more so if they could drop the price by about 25 bucks.

With my birthday coming up this week, ill bust a box or two for shits and giggles, hopefully ill be able to walk away with something pretty nice.

Further Implications of Possible Panini NFL Exclusive

Im not sure how many of you are familiar with the NFL and the way the licenses have always been different than the other sports. Have you ever wondered why Michael Jordan or Lebron James never had autograph cards in Panini NBA products? Ever wondered why Ichiro was never in any Topps baseball products? Its because they had signed autograph exclusive deals with other companies that prevented them from signing with everyone.

One of the major differences between the NFL and MLB/NBA is that no player specific exclusives were ever allowed. Now with a changing atmosphere, that may not be the case any more, and you should be quite scared if you are someone who enjoys many of the products that will likely not exist in the same capacity. Lets discuss this.

Current NBA Situation Could Be New NFL Situation

With a new potential exclusive for Panini and the NFL, it is all but assured that exclusive player licenses will be granted around the same time. Here is how that impacts the NBA – a sport where Panini has the exclusive but competes with UD for all basketball products.

Each time the NBA draft rolls around, Panini goes and figures out which players are likely going to be top picks. After that review process is completed, they approach those prospects with exclusive contracts that basically tell a rookie if they want an NBA basketball card, they better sign with Panini. Some dont care and happily sign whatever, others may review and decide based on that specific situation. Every once in a while, you have an exception like Damian Lillard, who chose to sign with Leaf, but those are few and far between.

Currently in the NFL, that isnt allowed to happen, which means that companies like Leaf and UD can sign players to contracts that allow them to participate in their products, but doesnt prevent them from others. These group licensing agreements, or GLAs, are the reason the unlicensed products exist. Every once in a while, you have specific exceptions like Andrew Luck, who signed an exclusive with Press Pass, for all non-NFL products. It didnt exactly go over well, so that was scrapped for future classes. Luck was still able to sign for Topps and Panini because of rules in place.

How does this affect product lines?

With an exclusive, Panini will likely operate the way they do in Basketball, signing enough of the top picks, that UD and Leaf will not be able to support any rookie themed products. They could pretty much cannibalize a class with signing the top QBs, WRs and RBs to exclusives. Exquisite, SPA and most of UD's product line would need drastic new directions, and that is going to make a lot of people upset. Similarly, Leaf will likely not be able to do their pre-draft products the same way, as its likely that Panini will have too many of the top picks under exclusives.

Its also likely that Panini will ink exclusives with current top non-rookie players to further prevent Topps, UD and Leaf from competing in the same capacity they once used to. Players like Luck, Manziel and others who already have Panini authentic deals in place will likely be easy targets for Panini card exclusives as the new spokespeople for their licensing.

This will have a dramatic enough effect on existing products that strategies will need to change or be completely axed. If Panini’s goal is likely to eliminate competition rather than just make money, they will not stop until they have damaged enough for the competition’s product to be junk.

They might not take this approach, which would be good – but that doesnt speak to the situation that Panini has operated under previously. It also doesnt serve their potential goal of further putting competition on the path to extinction. If they just want to make money, they will not waste time with exclusive deals. If they truly want to drive out the other companies, there will be a huge push to sign as many deals as possible. That alone could dictate a hobby wide shift that ripples into many other sports.

Why Doesnt Topps Sign Many Exclusives in Baseball?

Long story short, they dont really need to. Unlike in Basketball and Football, Topps was, is and always will be the best product in town. For lack of a better explanation – they should have gotten an exclusive because no one else really competed other than UD (who had pissed off a lot of the wrong people at the wrong time). Baseball is also a completely different sport that doesnt rely on autograph content the way NBA and NFL do.

Panini's baseball products dont even deserve to be on the same shelf as a Topps product in most cases, which is similar in football as well. As a result, Topps is smart enough to recognize that signing exclusives in MLB is wasting money they dont have a lot of. They also dont have a death wish for the hobby’s market, and have made a decision to let things be unless they are put into a corner. Its just not worth it to them.

Although they recently signed Bryce Harper to an exclusive, that was likely one of two things at play. The rumor is that Harper signed with Topps over an exclusive with Leaf originally because of his desire to have MLB rookie cards. Leaf supposedly offered him a lot of money, but he wanted MLB and he also wanted Topps. This might have been defensive, or it might have been solidification of the above mentioned story. It also just might have been cheap enough to do it, or that Harper’s agent really didnt care.

Obviously, they could have done the same thing with Jose Abreu, but why waste the time and money to get that done. Its not that his Topps cards wont be worth more intrinsically in his White Sox uniform, and its likely better for the hobby overall. Although I doubt that entered their mind, its just the truth.

What Happens if Panini Gets a CLC License?

This is a truly interesting question, as it seems as though this might be coming sooner rather than later. Although UD has the exclusive to produce NCAA themed cards, Panini DESPERATELY needs a piece of the action to really set their plan in motion.

By securing a CLC license, and an NFL exclusive, its basically Panini saying that they will be effectively replacing UD's niche in the hobby with their own, and doing it with many more available resources. Although you might think the CLC license isnt that big of a deal, its a huge deal in just about every sport. College baseball makes for some great prospect themed products when you dont have an MLBP licesnes, and College Basketball is a new genre that makes their NBA license much more attractive to collectors.

It also effectively reduces the value UD has as a company, as they are no longer the only game in town when it comes to college sports. Former president Richard McWilliam’s death opened a lot of doors for new buyers, but the asking price remains high due to the value of their current brand names and licenses – both of which are exclusive to this day. If that changes, you can expect that they are no longer worth as much, especially with a relative 100% loss in rookie football products that make up 80% of UD's calendar.

Can UD still be profitable? Definitely. As profitable? Not a chance. Panini is basically going to run them out of town because they can. Maybe not out of the country, but they arent going to be living as close to the city as they once used to. That isnt good when the company is for sale.

What can we conclude here?

If Panini does get an NFL exclusive, your collecting life will change, and its likely not going to be for the better. Although we might get some improvement in product lines, its clear that the overall ripples may eventually become tidal waves that overturn all boats. Panini is pretty much looking to expand their own venture, but not expand the market from what it looks like. They can eat slices of everyone’s pie with new licenses and exclusives, but it doesnt look like they are going to be making the pie bigger.

With the only choices a collector has being generally inferior to their previous choices, its going to drive people away from buying new cards. It will impact shop owners (who were interestingly a target for improvement that Panini touted years back), and it will also impact manufacturers who are going to fall prey to Panini’s resources baiting the NFL into an exclusive.

If you are a fan of Leaf, UD, Press Pass and SAGE, its likely going to be a drastic shift that could put a few people out on the street. Yes, Panini’s exlcusive has that potential. If the CLC license also comes their way – look out.

If you are a fan of Topps, better start collecting baseball. Topps is not likely going to want to spend money in a sport where large print runs cannot make money – something UD and Leaf really havent ever had to deal with. In order for Topps to stay in football, they need to be able to produce products on a large enough scale to make money. When you have lost the ability to produce products without exclusives or licensing, that’s no longer possible.

Listen, Panini does a great job with social media and networking to understand the people they need to influence, so its likely that will happen. Someone, somehow, will come out and vehemently support the exclusive on a large scale if it happens. Panini will obviously blow the shit up about how great it is, but have no fear, that wont last. Heads will roll, because otherwise the money isnt worth it.

As mentioned above, if the exclusive takes place, your collecting life will change. You need to be prepared and you need to speak out. Tweet @NFLPA, @NFL, @NFLPlayersinc, and anyone you can think of. Tell them how much this means to you. Tell them they are making a big mistake. Make sure they hear your voice, because they might not have made the decision yet, and we need to stop it.

SCU First Take – 2014 Rookies and Stars Football Preview

If there is one thing that Panini is known for, it is their complete inability to create and sustain mid year products. Especially ones that dont look anything special from other sets that are already on the calendar. Bottom line, its quite difficult to differentiate one of their mid year releases from the rest, and Rookies and Stars is NOTORIOUS for being one of the most bland and forgettable products of the year.

It has been around forever, which is the only thing it has going for it:

2011 Rookies and Stars Tom Brady Auto Patch

2003 Rookies and Stars Andre Johnson Rookie Relic Auto

2012 Rookies and Stars Nick Foles Jumbo Patch Auto

2013 Rookies and Stars Mike Glennon Rookie Auto Logo Patch

It is also the set that brought these horrendous abortions to the hobby:

2007 Rookies and Stars Calvin Johnson Manupatch Auto

2011 Rookies and Stars Julio Jones Manupatch Auto

I have to frame my commentary so much differently now because of rumors of the NFL exclusive, and if this is what we have to look forward to, product after product after product for the foreseeable future, then god help us all. Does Rookies and Stars look better than 2013? Yes, it does. Am I happy that there are no fucking lame ass manu-patch autos that have plagued this hobby for 8 years? So far, yes. Does this show anything worthy of being the only game in town? Hell no.

Rookies and Stars is not only unfortunately boring in its name, but it is unfortunately boring in its configuration. Another product with four hits for just under 100 bucks, and not much flair or fanfare to say – “yes, Mr. Collector, buy me.” You guys had better get used to reading this refrain, as it is likely more products will be necessary to support the cost of a license. I dont think there are many more synonyms for perfect that Panini can name a set, nor do I think there are enough holidays/conventions to have the giveaways necessary to clear the shelves of this mediocre shit.

Granted, I am still reeling to the point of anger over recent news, so I would like to say that things will likely calm down in my fury. But for now, this is going to be a full time thing.

Twitter Hints At Panini NFL Exclusive in Near Future – Could This Be the Hobby’s Worst Nightmare?

Yesterday on Twitter, rumors surrounding Panini obtaining the NFL exclusive were posted from a few sources. Although they are yet to be verified, its worth discussing the potential that Topps could be out of an NFL license for the second time since 2010. Although they were granted one back the same year, this looks to be of a different way.

As you all are aware, I am not a fan of Panini’s way of doing business or producing cards, and this would effectively end my desire to continue buying new football cards. From the comments on the forums, it looks like many people are saying the same thing.

This could also mark the second time since 2009 that Panini America has used massive untold riches from Panini International to bully their way into a League exclusive. It will also be the second time that co-production rights were removed from a company who produced a superior product. Topps and UD may have exlcusives in MLB and NHL, but both are the gold standard in those sports. We all can see how poorly that has worked out for them in the NBA, as Upper Deck was the NBA card market, and their older cards still dominate Panini at every turn even five years after the fact. Everyone should be equally as upset over this.

Potentially losing the superfractor alone is a huge blow, as it is the chase card style of each football season, out performing high end chases from every box Panini puts on the market. Lets not forget it comes from a box with an MSRP usually below 80 bucks.

Let me start off by saying exclusives fucking suck, which I have said numerous times during the course of this site. Go type exclusive into the search box at the top and you will see. I didnt like it when Topps got the MLB exclusive, or when Panini got the NBA excluisve. If this goes through as we are hearing, all four of the major sports will be under some sort of an exclusive agreement, and that only serves to hurt one group of people – the collector. Competition breeds creativity, quality and a race to innovate that doesnt exist when an exclusive is in place. Yet, we can see that the leagues dont seem to mind with the millions of dollars lining their pockets.

The scary thing is not that Topps will be out of NFL, because that is just sad and disappointing. We should be upset about that, but not scared. With Panini potentially taking over the NFL to match the NBA, it starts a ripple that will likely have implications hobby wide. Here is what those ripples look like.

Future Exclusives

As mentioned by a few people around the hobby, there will be two other opportunities for Panini to use their massive resources to force out the competition. The first is when Topps’ MLB exclusive comes up for renewal and the second will be when UD’s CLC exclusive comes up for renewal (which may already be happening based on years announced in the original deal). These two licenses are the last two dominoes that have the potential to fall, and its clear that Panini will stop at nothing to ensure they have the inside track. If they want, they can secure all four major sports licenses plus CLC to gain a likely illegal full monopoly over licensed trading cards (NHL will eventually fall). With the death of Richard McWilliam, UD is for sale, as is the Topps brand. Cards are not a profitable venture, and most of the companies are struggling to stay afloat. They are doing it, but not by much.

Panini on the other hand, thanks to international sticker sales, has a ton of money – which is both good and bad. Good in the fact that it might provide some leverage in keeping the industry going if something bad were to happen, but bad in the fact that they can use it as a method of achieving manifest destiny. Again, it would be one thing if they were the top in quality (ha!), but they have shown they are more concerned with creating a spectacle of their brand than a product worth buying. Right Panini VIP party?

What you might not understand is how much product of theirs is sold at a drastically reduced cost based on numbers from dealernet, and still unable to be cleared from card shop shelves (which I am sure you have witnessed personally). The distributors may have their own ways of clearing product, but the true drowning swimmers will be the people who need to eventually sell to the end user.

The hobby should be tense about this, because Panini is slowly creeping their grubby little fingers into every last aspect of the hobby. Could they potentially turn things around and make great products? Of course they could, but without competition, where is the incentive?

History / Notoriety

Since the 1950s, Topps has had a long line of continuity that has become ingrained the NFL’s culture. This history, though sordid, is important to the hobby in more ways than I can count. Topps’ history is literally unparalleled in cards and it needs to be considered that in the potential future, there will be top NFL rookies who do not have a Topps football card for the first time in over half a century. Im sorry, but that just cant be acceptable for them to be forced out like this. If they had left on their own, that’s a bit different, but using money to bait the NFL into ending that run kills off a piece of Americana that Panini will never claim.

Similarly, Panini’s football brand is not known at all outside the hobby. They have no football card brand awareness, and that is a huge problem if they are looking to grow the hobby. Topps has made national news on a number of occasions over the last five years, from big sales, to cards like the Sheen Major League auto. News agencies are more friendly because everyone knows what Topps is all about. They grew up collecting Topps cards, and the 52 Mantle remains the most Iconic card that isnt a Honus Wagner with 50 copies. Everyone is familiar with that card, and though Topps isnt leaving baseball, this branding has an impact on growth in the NFL. That is a big deal when you can ask the average joe if they know what Topps is and they can point to sports cards. Panini has none of that.

Grading

I cant believe I am saying this is an issue, but I can guarantee it will come up. So much of the grading element comes from Flagship, Chrome and Finest in football, that the grading companies are likely going to lose an entire sport here. Sure Contenders has some share of the market, but nothing like Topps’ chrome product line. Prizm is a disaster, no one buys Spectra, and Select is awful, which means no one will want to pay the money to have the cards graded as much as they would the Topps’ equivalent. If something changes drastically, who knows, but the outlook is grim. I heard from an insider that the percentage of Chrome vs the field is so drastic that Panini should be concerned. Well, its time to stare down a potential nightmare scenario.

Group Breaks

Football and Group Breaks go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, as the structure of the products in the NFL lend itself very well to breaking in group format. Because the group break companies have woven themselves into hobby consciousness so fundamentally over the last few years, this type of switch will likely serve to burst that bubble and then some. Panini has made no secret of making buddy buddy with the bigger guys, but if they need to put out 20-30 products a year to support a ridiculously expensive exclusive, we all know what will happen. Panini has a HORRENDOUS track record in football when needing to create new brands, and there will be no safe haven for collectors who are tired of the same shit over and over and over and over and over again. Panini may have one fluke success per year, but outside Contenders and Treasures, they are not known for strong or even nominal brand performance.

Pricing

Lets play a game of “Remember back.” Do you all remember back when Panini instituted the Minimum Advertised Price Program? They basically said to everyone that they were going to require a fixed price floor rather than allowing for previous models to happen. It went over like a fart in church for good reason.

You can bet that the more exclusive their clamp over the four sports becomes, the higher the prices will eventually get – especially if MAPP is enforced. Not only are league licenses expensive, but they are horribly taxing to maintain. Products will not jump immediately, dont get me wrong, but they can easily push the price up without adding content. They may actually need to do that just to ensure that they can cover operating costs. This isnt guaranteed, but we have seen it in the past.

Spending

Sure, Panini has made the right choices in marketing their products, providing better customer service, and engaging with the collectors. However, those choices are all independent of how the products are structured and fulfilled. Topps may have serious fucking issues with a lot of different things, but their products are superior in just about every way because that’s where the money goes.

I have noticed that Panini runs their company more like someone who hasnt ever been rich before. The places they choose to spend their funds make me roll my eyes, and it seems like they are throwing money around just to show that they have it. Think of the way a young millionaire would spend their money vs a grizzled businessman who had to fight and claw their way to riches. Panini is the guy you see making it rain at the strip club, and flashing rolls of hundred dollar bills at a party. When you live like that, it will show in other parts of your life. For Panini, they can have huge parties and star studded extravaganzas, but they have yet to figure out what makes a card product that people will buy. Kind of makes you think that Johnny Manziel and Panini are kind of made for each other in that way.

The thing is that American culture is sort of moving that way, and kids idolize those that can show how well off they have it.

Conclusion

If these rumors turn out to be true, we have a lot of thinking to do. We also have the right to take action in an environment that feeds off community vocalization. Write letters, send emails, tweet everyone and tell them you are not happy. If you are happy, that’s your choice, just realize the ramifications of what could happen as a result. No one can deny that monopolies are illegal for many reasons, but that seems to be the way we might be headed.

Panini has a lot of things going for them right now, regardless of the potential exclusive, and that’s a fact. However, I have had too many discussions with too many people to agree that this is the direction the hobby needs to go. When a company clearly has manifest destiny higher on their priority list than market health, lack of competition may not matter. Panini needs someone on their staff who knows how to run a card business, because in my opinion, that doesnt exist over there. Lucky for them, there might be a growing pool of people who do.