I mentioned on twitter a few weeks ago that rumors had been swirling since the National, mainly regarding Panini looking to get into the CLC game. If you saw the announcement today of a university exclusive trading card deal with Kentucky, Georgia, and Miami, it is a prime indicator those rumors are true. However, it may not be that simple, and everyone might be surprised to hear what might actually be in play. Also, the ripples this deal may have on the industry in the next few years could impact more than we expect.
For those of you who might be unaware, CLC represents the marketing and branding arm of the NCAA and its biggest intellectual properties. Since 2010, Upper Deck has had the exclusive license to produce trading cards with NCAA logos on them, which has let to the absolute clusterfuck we all see in NFL licensed pre-draft cards for both Football and Basketball.
With the announcement today, it looks as if Panini has found a way to circumvent CLC by throwing enough money at three schools for them to sign exclusive trading card deals. In all reality, this deal will only currently have impact on Basketball rookies from Kentucky (which Upper Deck has distanced their product focus from anyways), and Todd Gurley from Georgia football (a very big deal). My initial reaction has been to say that this is a very good reason why the rumors of a split CLC license were true, but in fact, it might be that Panini overplayed their hand and wasnt able to secure a CLC license after all.
In fact, that seems to make more and more sense to me as the news sinks in. There really is no need to have schools opt out of CLC for an exclusive deal if the license was already in place, and if I am Upper Deck, I am on the phone with UNC trying to ensure that Panini isnt already trying to bully their way into an exclusive there as well. As it stands, no CLC based product can have airbrushed jerseys in it, so UD would be forced to leave Jordan out of all of it’s basketball based products also using other CLC school logos. That would be the nail in the coffin for a company that is already having major issues with the way the industry is going.
There are a lot of people curious if schools like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas would be next on the football kill order, and Panini definitely has the money to make that happen. Without the major SEC and BIG 12 schools, Panini has Upper Deck by the short and curlies. That is a big deal all on its own.
Now, lets take this a step further, as I have always said that Panini’s plan overall is to eliminate competition for the purposes of buying out and establishing an industry where their cards are the only option. Let’s say for a moment that Panini decides they dont want to stop with Schools opting out of the CLC license, and instead focus on entire teams from pro sports. For discussion’s sake, lets say they can convince Jerry Jones that the recent exclusive deal for game used Dallas Cowboys equipment is a good place to build. Instead of Dallas Cowboys being available for anyone who manages to secure an NFL license, the only place to find America’s team is Panini products. Now, this is moot because Panini already has the exclusive for the NFL, but that’s not to say they cant pull it off in other sports too.
Overall, the ripples continue to be heading in the wrong direction. Panini is making a case to showcase exactly what most in the industry fear will happen. Come 2020, they will have made a play for every applicable trading card sport license, and there will be no other pro uniform products that have a logo besides Panini. In an industry CRIPPLED by money issues derived from a plethora of issues, they have more money than god. That is a huge reason why everyone should be scared that Panini is carrying the biggest stick in the room. Historically, the team at Panini has become notorious for some of the worst decisions in recent memories, and these are the same individuals who will eventually control every league licensed trading card set that exists. Both Topps and UD are up to their ears in debt, and its not getting any better for either one.
Who would have guessed that a company known for making fucking stickers is the one that will ruin the trading card industry for everyone involved? Collectors have already started bolting for the exits in this blowout, as its clear that a 10 run lead in the bottom of the 8th is not going to end well for the home team. Products have a shelf life closer tot hat of an open can of beer, and like Beer, many are fun at first, but go flat with a short amount of time.
Upper Deck may have won a battle it seems, if in fact Panini has found themselves on the outside looking in on a CLC license. That does not mean, however, that they are even close to winning the war. Money talks in every stage of the game, and when you have a company that operates like a pop star in a strip club, you know its only a matter of time before things get weird.
Let me close in saying I dont hate Panini because of who they are or what they do, but because the products they make are shitty. That’s the long and short of it. Now that I see that they are trying to drive a steamroller over the brands I feel produce FAAAAAR superior cards, its a very personal situation. Panini is NOT good for this hobby, but they do have the most stable stream of resources to use at their disposal. Lets just hope Italy doesnt realize how these poor decisions can potentially affect the overall bottom line.
Having said this at least a million times, Panini has not shown that they are worthy of any exclusive based on product performance. If you see the top 10 performing products of any given sport, Panini struggles to make even a fingerprint on the glass of that window. When you look at the number of products they are forced to put on closeout each year, it should be abundantly obvious that they do not know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to making quality products. Yet, because Italy doesnt have line of sight into what they are doing to the industry, they keep on progressing down this path.
The vitriol that I spew on a regular basis towards them is almost entirely based on their product lines, but ever since the announcement of the NFLPA exclusive, they have touched the wrong nerve with me. This news should do the same thing for you, as they are not treading lightly regardless of how you feel about other company’s products. Competition is a good thing, and Panini has made it their mission to use money to create a vacuum on shelves for what could be sold. They didnt use the quality of their products to show they are the superior brand, instead using money they had no part in making to buy their way into the place among the kings.
I relate this to the trust fund baby who is able to buy their way into Harvard because of their parents. Their grades may be mediocre, but because mommy and daddy have a ton of money, they can still walk the halls in Cambridge. This fucking sucks.