SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Contenders Football

In my opinion, Contenders is one of the products that is LEAST deserving of the brand equity it has delivered on a yearly basis. To me, it seems as though the legacy this product has built stems not from good looking designs or innovative approaches, but the fact that it was one of the first products to truly use rookie autographs as its cornerstone. Not only is that bullshit in today’s day and age, but the continued lack of attention to the look and feel of the product is staggering.

Here is what 2014’s foray into Contenders looks like:

2014 Contenders Odell Beckham Variation Playoff Ticket Auto

2014 Contenders Odell Beckham Rookie Ink Auto

2014 Contenders Blake Bortles Rookie Ticket Auto

2014 Contenders Kelvin Benjamin Rookie Ticket Auto

2014 Contenders Johnny Manziel Rookie Ticket Auto

2014 Contenders Teddy Bridgewater Rookie Ticket Auto

2014 Contenders Jeremy Hill Rookie Ticket Auto

For some god forsaken reason, Contenders has a ton of people that buy it, despite the fact that the design is fucking horrendous more years out of the run than it is good looking. It has had its moments, but so many times, the fabled Panini “design team” (in quotes for a reason) has marred the face of the set in the worst possible way. Yet, because it was the first of many thousands of products that have put out autograph based sets, collectors give it a pass on its brutal approach.

This type of concept extends into 2014 with another year of lacking design performance, as CLEAR mistakes were made in who chose what design for which subset, and the addition of a myriad of unneeded variations and parallels to extend a print run. It doesnt help that one of these variations is a fucking goofy studio shot, something I cannot see why Panini is so obsessed with. Adding in that the Parallel structure was changed to accomodate a bloated print run, and all of a sudden there are new reasons why Contenders is a horrible excuse for a product.

My main gripe is that Panini had a nice TICKET based design in the Rookie Ink subset. Make that the ticket design for 2014 and it changes much of the outlook of the set. Sure, there are still the other issues at bay, but those become more tolerated with a good ticket design. It baffles me how this happened, where the obvious ticket is used for a minor subset, and the design that should have been the Rookie Ink is used for the ticket. Someone at Panini is running around with blinders on, and that blindfold angers me to no end.

Add in that someone decided that throwing in points cards was a good idea, despite the fact that the reaction to pulling one requires a barf bag near by. Nothing says “I could give a flying fuck about this product” than adding points cards, and Contenders should have been taken more seriously. Collectors are saying that its “added content” but that is crap. Points cards cost as much to create as those kid reporter cards, and they are worth about that much in tow. Its a cheap way to extend out a print run while providing zero extra value to anyone who gets that in their box.

Putting that issue aside, I just cant get over this horrible design. Im also convinced that no card at Panini can be created without checking off most of the following boxes:

  • Separated defined space for the autograph (cordoned off from the rest of the design)
  • Giant product logo
  • Giant text
  • Goofy ass studio shot picture
  • “Dad Joke” play on words subset name

Its literally nauseating to think that these assholes are going to likely take over the entire licensed card area eventually, and that should be fucking scary for everyone. They have more money than they know what to do with, and they are acting like that guy at the gym who lifts enormous weights in a public area and laughs at the weaklings next to him. “DO YOU EVEN LIFT BRO?” That’s Panini. They can bully their way around because italy has given them a blank check, even though they have done NOTHING to deserve that in sales performance. They dont care what things look like, how they are done, or who gets the screw job at the end (most of the time its us and the local card shop).


SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Leaf Q

There are people out there who wont buy cards that dont have logos on them. I am not one of those people, AS LONG as the cards look good. That’s really all that matters to me, as design is my prime driver of value in terms of what I like. Leaf released its first home grown SUPER high end product this week in "Q", which is venturing into some foreign territory for a set of this nature. Regardless of risk, most of these cards are some damn fine examples of the way to do unlicensed cards.

Check out some of these cards:

2014 Leaf Q Joe Montana Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Leaf Q David Robinson Jumbo Logo Patch Auto

2014 Leaf Q Frank Thomas Jumbo Bat Piece Auto

2014 Leaf Q Pele Pure Glass Auto Plexiglass

2014 Leaf Q Hulk Hogan Auto

The strongest point of Q other than the design is the diversity of the checklist, as they have all sports, plus a few other celebrities that fit within the constructs of the brand. Although all the pictures are retouched, this feels more like an Exquisite level product than anything.

It does have some very awkward moments, dont get me wrong, as some of the cards needed printing plate adjustments and never got them. These cards are relatively few and far between, as it is clear that that the overall set is really fucking impressive.

I am not a huge fan of the cross brand pollination of the Glass cards, as these are usually reserved for the Trinity products that Leaf has done so well. However, the cards are cool enough that I guess I will have to make an exception here. The Al Bundy card is worth the price of admission all on its own.

Even the shoe cards improve on the horrendous showing that Upper Deck had with Exquisite basketball, as they are actually game used and hard signed to boot. They look great, and makes the “Foot Locker Bought” examples from UD look foolish.

Here is the main point of this set, that everyone should consider. The price tag IS gargantuan, but I think its relatively the equivalent to buying a few boxes in other ways. Its a lot of cards, and its clear that unlike many high end products these days, its meant for everyone instead of just group breakers who can sell spots.

I gotta give Brian Gray the pat on the back he deserves, as Leaf Q is definitely a testament to what someone can do when they really fight hard for nice content.

NFL Playoffs: Winners and Losers – Wild Card Round

Wow. What a weekend right? Not only were the games exciting to watch, but the level of play from the bigger hobby names was impressive. I think this might have been the first time in a while that I have watched every minute of every game during the wild card round. Usually I just spend my time wallowing in my own Vikings self pity to enjoy it. Here are my winners and losers.

Tony Romo – WINNER

Over the last few years, Romo has put up great numbers, only to see his big game loser reputation peck away at his legacy. After putting up monster numbers for the regular season, Romo started very flat against the teeth of the Lions’ league leading defense. Demarco Murray also didnt have the normal success due to the way they played him, and it looked grim. He turned it around and was able to squeak out a win, mainly due to some calls and the Defense. His values are going to continue to go up as long as they keep winning, and a matchup against Green Bay could put him into the stratosphere with a win. I am genuinely curious what would have happened to his cards if he hadnt botched that snap to lose the playoff game however many years ago. Im guessing things might be different.

Check these out:

2013 National Treasures Tony Romo Jumbo Patch Auto Booklet

2014 Flawless Tony Romo Jumbo Patch Auto

Andy Dalton – LOSER

I almost feel bad for him at this point. Not only was he playing without AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham, but he was going against a Colts team that has some serious firepower in Luck and Hilton. I was shocked that it wasnt more lopsided, but Dalton walks away with another playoff loss. I am of the ilk that thinks he probably doesnt deserve ALL the credit for most of the woes, but he is just not fun to watch.

For a QB with so many playoff seasons, you would expect more:

2013 National Treasures Andy Dalton Inscription Auto

2011 Topps Chrome Andy Dalton Auto RC

2011 Contenders Andy Dalton Auto Ticket RC

Andrew Luck – WINNER

Here is the thing with Luck, as it is clear he has the tools to be a GREAT all time NFL QB. There are definitely times where it isnt pretty, but that happens. He had receivers drop some nice throws, and that hurt a lot. If Hilton had hung onto a few more of the balls he threw, probably would have been a blowout. The throw he made to Moncrief while falling down is seriously impressive though. That is why collectors are all over him – they know he is something special. Curious to see what happens next week when they roll into Denver. The story lines almost write themselves.

Luck is turning into the Hobby’s favorite son:

2012 Topps Chrome Andrew Luck Black Refractor Auto BGS 9.5

2014 Contenders Andrew Luck Cracked Ice Auto BGS 9.5

2012 Exquisite Andrew Luck Auto RC /99

Ndamukong Suh – LOSER

After that stupid decision to spike Aaron Rodgers like he did in Week 17, I wanted him to lose. Although he made some nice plays, this definitely was not a game he will want to relive. Suh is going to be a free agent this year, and he definitely wanted more playoff games on a national stage to prove his worth outside of his horrible decision making skills. Collectors are indifferent as a defensive player, but he definitely has a rep.

Defense isnt worth anything, but Suh still gets hobby love:

2010 Exquisite Ndamukong Suh Auto Patch RC

2010 Contenders Ndamukong Suh Rookie Ticket Auto

Joe Flacco – WINNER

We all get that there is this big discussion of whether or not Flacco is one of the ELITE (ugh!) QBs in the NFL. Its seriously a big fucking joke now, and it was only fitting that the Steelers couldnt put it together to beat the Ravens. Not only did he play very well, but he did it on the road against a tough defense. There is no doubt Flacco is good, but collectors dont seem to identify with his vanilla persona. I think a deep run will help him more than ever this year.

Flacco has won a title, but doesnt get the same attention:

2013 Topps Supreme Joe Flacco Auto Patch /10

2008 SP Authentic Joe Flacco Auto Patch RC

Logan Thomas – LOSER

For Lindley to play like he did, and for Thomas to not even get a look for the starting role is pretty nuts. It was almost a referendum on Thomas’ prospects as an NFL QB, and that doesnt bode well for the people holding his cards. Even if he did get one snap, it doesnt matter, sell while he is still in the league.

His cards have already become relatively worthless despite massive prospecting:

2014 Topps Platinum Logan Thomas Auto RC

2014 Topps Finest Logan Thomas Auto Patch RC

I am literally counting the days until we get to see the best teams take the field against the winners from this week, as the matchups are absolutely insane. I mean, the Green Bay / Dallas game might end up being the best playoff game in a while, and that is saying something. Hopefully next week plays out as well as this week did.

A Raging Embarrassment – The Panini Points System

When the Panini points system was first announced at the industry summit last year, everyone went fucking bananas with excitement. I was not among that group, because like some who can actually think about the situation, I was of the opinion that redemptions were not the problem. It was the task of getting an unfulfilled card replaced that was the problem. Now that we have reached a point where the system is a train wreck, I think its time for a big “I told you so!” moment.

Just for reference, here is what points sell for these days. Remember the price they used to sell for?

150 Panini Rewards Redemtpion Points

250 Panini Rewards Redemtpion Points

900 Panini Rewards Redemtpion Points

300 Panini Rewards Redemtpion Points

Panini thought they could revolutionize the whole situation with a fix that didnt address the real issue, and in the process, made people hate redemptions more than they already do. Again, having redemptions isnt the thing that people SHOULD be pissed about. Sometimes player generated logistics dont allow all cards to be signed in time for a product. That’s fine – as long as the eventually sign, the cards are still as nice as ever. That’s where the true product comes into play. Fixing the actual redemptions is the equivalent of realizing your car is going way too slow, and replacing tires instead of the engine. Its a fool’s way of approaching this problem. Some of my favorite cards in my collection were redemptions at some point, and I was happy to wait.

What Panini fails to realize is that collectors dont like opening packs and not being sure of what they end up with. They like being able to walk away satisfied with spending the money they did. That’s what made redemptions unattractive in the first place – not because they werent sure of the card, but instead of whether they would actually get what was promised to them. That question leads to frustration. To remove the item aspect and replace it with a nebulous point system, makes it even worse. Panini literally wants you to do the work for them, and pay to have it shipped when you do (not kidding). Its funny, because some of the best cards Panini has made would have flopped under this system.

Points cut costs, and that’s why Panini wanted to go that way. It has nothing to do with satisfying collectors, as we have seen that all products that are worth half a damn DONT have points in them. Basically, they dont want to spend the time to produce a card if its not able to be fulfilled, which is understandable. But to not give people the choice of waiting removes all desire from that program. Its like “Here is your card we couldnt be bothered with making for you.”

There is also a lack of understanding the way team and player collectors work as well. A scrub from a good team can still be valuable in some cases, even more so if they turn out to be someone like Austin Davis or Justin Forsett. People like having those things in the bank, even if they dont pan out. Taking that out of people’s hands just makes it all the more disappointing and enfuriating to pull these points cards.

I think one of my followers put it best:

But the above notion isnt the only thing about this that is such a fucking joke, and that is just beyond hilarious. There is literally no support for this program what-so-ever. The inventory on the site is so bad that its hard to even find one thing that is relatively worth saving your points for. It would be one thing if they offered some nicer stuff, but the cards are either A) Overpriced for what they are, B) terrible players, or C) terrible sets that no one would ever want. There is a reason many of the available inventory is on there.

Bottom line, Panini needs to pull their heads out of their collective asses. If they have their way, they will eventually be the only sports card manufacturer with a league license for any of the major sports. From what I have heard, save some relatively powerless individuals, there is no one on the team that really can grasp what it takes to make a quality product or design a good looking trading card. Everyone is so concerned with keeping cost low, that it almost negates any true progress that can be made with any brand based equity.

Its almost paradoxical in nature considering how much they overpaid for each of the exclusives they own, as they are very happy to throw their money around in that fashion without any profit margin consideration. In their opinion, it seems like they want us to be stuck holding the bill while they dine and dash.

If I am Panini, I take every opportunity to start making amends with collectors for the shitty calendar of products that never seem to end.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 National Treasures Baseball

There seems to be an internal debate among Baseball collectors, especially in terms of whether or not unlicensed products are a viable collecting option. Although many times the players are easy to identify, the lack of logos can be a complete turn off to some people. Personally, Im all about the way a card looks, logo or no logo, so I was excited to see what NT Baseball was all about.

Here are some of the bigger hits up so far:

2014 National Treasures Jacob DeGrom Logo Patch Auto 1/1

2014 National Treasures Jose Abreu Nicknames Inscription Auto

2014 National Treasures Byron Buxton Silhouette Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 National Treasures Frank Thomas Sweet Spot Auto Booklet

2014 National Treasures Jose Abreu / George Springer Dual Book Relic Auto

Here is where I dont get Panini, as some of the cards look really freaking boss. They are high quality, high end type releases, which would normally suggest the rest of the set is the same. It is far from it. Many of the cards are cheap gimmicks that look horrible, and others are just poorly designed. At 450 dollars a box, you could find 100 products that look better and can deliver similarly cool cards for the money. Hell, I would rather join Dynasty group breaks than take my chances with this stuff.

Panini seems to have a new obsession, one that plays off of their current ungodly fixation with separated areas for signatures. Acetate cuts, which are everywhere in this product, seem more like a cop out for lack of hard signed cards. Panini likely wanted us to think they were some cool new autograph type, but that is far from the truth. They are literally glorified stickers, and unlike said stickers, break the entire design of a card.

Going back to the first part of my dislike, we have a shit ton of cards where the signature area is either too small or completely cordoned off. Panini’s design team fails to see why cards that have fluid designs are much more visually appealing, and I cannot stand it for a minute.

That being said – the jumbo patch autographs that serve as the main hits are great. They are not just great, but easily one of the best Panini baseball designs I have seen in a long time. A wise person once said that there is nothing better than doing something simple in the best possible way, and that's exactly what they did with these.

Overall, this product is not my favorite or even close to acceptable in terms of design. Panini can continue to build fans of people who enjoy patch content over design appeal, but I will never be among that group. Cards need to look better and Panini generally sucks at that. Its really unfortunate, considering the potential this product had.