Panini NFL Exclusive: Five Main Things They Need to Fix

Ill be the first to admit that I am completely bitter about the fact that Panini got the NFL all to themselves starting next year, and I dont think I am far from alone in that sense. Based on the Beckett report that they will need to produce at least 30 products next year, all by themselves, I think its worth offering some feedback instead of just complaining. They have more to fix than I could ever hope to write down in any way, here are the main things I want to see them fix first.

Get Rid of Studio and Posed Photos

Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me want to run away from a product than Panini choosing those goofy fucking runway model posed pictures. Football is known for non-stop action and some of the most iconic game photography in the history of sports. Considering that Panini will now be able to run the NFLPA rookie premiere the way they want, especially with Topps out of the picture, there is no more excuses not to use the whole day for getting some amazing photos of the rookies in action. This does not mean constructing a makeshift photo studio where the players can pantomime screams and other lame ass poses, it means putting them on the field to make their cards look like real game action.

These are by far my least favorite cards around:

Blake Bortles Looks Like an Idiot

Johnny Manziel is standing like a starlet on the red carpet

Teddy Bridgewater gets high from smelling footballs

Get it? Initial STEPS? LOL.

No More Sticker Replacement Gimmicks

Whether its signed scraps of acetate or signed scraps of paper that are embedded in the cards, either use a sticker or get the cards hard signed. The gimmicks are ugly and do nothing but showcase how much we miss hard signed cards like the other sports have ad nauseum. At least if they are going to use a sticker replacement, make it more a part of the design instead of obscuring a large portion of the card’s design space. Stickers, when done right, blend in and hide themselves. Sticker replacements are completely the opposite. Also worth mentioning that putting plain boxes behind the stickers or walling them off from the rest of the design is just as bad as a replacement gimmick.

Here are the worst of the worst:

Sticker on an acetate window

Signed acetate scrap instead of a sticker

Signed scrap of black paper instead of sticker

Signed scrap of cloth with a manufactured patch

Update the Rewards Platform

If Panini gave collectors the choice of waiting for redemptions instead of forcing them to use the points system, I would have a lot less negative things to say. The rewards store is not something I would ever voluntarily choose to use, and though some people have found success camping out and waiting for new loads of inventory, its a joke for the majority of users. Its even worse when you are opening a super premium product and one of your cards is REPLACED with a points card. That should never happen. Panini needs to realize quickly that redemptions are inevitable in many cases, and welcome in some cases. They are not the problem. The problem is what happens when someone pulls one they dont want, or dont want to wait for. This is where the choice to wait or get the points would be much more helpful.

Give Us Unique and Compelling Content

I dont know how Panini is going to create 30 compelling products. Ever. I dont know how its going to happen in any fucking stretch of the imagination. People can argue that no company has ever had a perfect calendar, but at the same time, no company has ever released a flaming ball of suck like Spectra either. The Panini Football team have yet to cultivate a brand of their own, and most have been such miserable failures that collectors laugh at them. Expecting them to build 30 products plus is just crazy talk. Its like asking a Patriots fan to give back to back coherent sentences on deflate gate’s impact for the 2015 season. So many of Panini’s products blur together or are bad to the point of being immortalized, that they are going to have their work cut out for them. Black Gold had some serious potential to be a unique product, but disastrous design choices prevented that from being reality. The Sizable signature relic cards were some great examples of unique content that should return. Same can be said about silhouettes and other Panini programs that are always well done.

Avoid Diluting Pro Products With College Cards

In the preseason and before the draft, using college photos over combine and pro-day crap is preferred. For everything else after the Rookie Premiere stuff is done, keep your oil and water separated. They dont need to be in the same product, even more so if a planned college only product is coming later on. There is college content in almost every Panini product these days, and collectors are overwhelmed and sick of it. There is very little reason to combine the two genres in my mind. College is a niche audience, and it seems like more people would be fine with it disappearing from NFL post-premiere products than sticking around. Letting College products stand by themselves gives collectors who dont want any NCAA materials the opportunity to avoid those cards.

Again, there are so many fucking problems with what Panini does with their card design that I could write forever and still not encompass everything. Im hoping they get their shit together because I really dont want to be out of football cards to buy next year.

Can Football Cards Survive Another Class With No Superstar QBs?

Let me start off by saying that value and prospecting in football frustrates me to no end. QBs should not drive the football hobby the way they do, and more stock should be put into other positions. I understand that positional longevity in RBs, WRs, and others is significantly shorter, but the discrepancy of talent and production versus hobby value is way off.

Here are some of the values for the non-QBs who are lighting it up this year:

2015 Topps Valor Todd Gurley Auto Relic /75

2015 Topps Heritage Amari Cooper Gold Auto /5

2015 Topps Inception Stefon Diggs Auto RC

2015 Donruss Elite David Johnson Auto Relic

Mariota and Winston HAVE NOT played poorly in any way. What might happen if they put up numbers like the above players? Values like this would be laughable:

2015 Topps Marcus Mariota Jumbo Patch Auto /50

2015 Certified Jameis Winston Mirror Red Patch Auto /49

Its also worth talking about that the timeframe in which the hobby gives a rookie to be successful is pretty short as it is, although the league tends to mirror the “QUICK STAR” mentality more and more with each passing year. It used to be that QBs would take years to develop. It wasnt even that long ago! Over the past two to three classes, its a ‘produce now or get the boot’ approach from GMs around the league, and the hobby has taken notice. Some of this is the result of the rookie wage scale peeling back huge guaranteed salaries for top picks (which are used on QBs more often than not), and other times it has to do with job security of front office personnel and coaching staffs. Either way, the hobby in football wants instant superstars or nothing at all, even if some of that superstardom is carry over from college.

In 2013, the hobby took about 100 steps back with a draft class that had no real superstars from the get go, putting a horrible year into the record books. Although some talent was obviously present (Hopkins, Allen, and others are now league leaders), none of those rookies were QBs. Geno Smith and EJ Manuel, who were the top QBs in the class, have had turbulent careers so far, with both ending up on the bench in game and in the hobby. Even though 2014 had great talent and production from Carr and Bridgewater, they felt a lot of stigma from the previous years, and skepticism surrounding long term viability. It doesnt help that Manziel has been a bust to date, either – but that is a different post on its own.

We also saw in 2014 that a WR can generate MAJOR hobby interest, but the lessons surrounding longevity and consistency are at play, and Beckham has since come down to earth considerably. The hobby isnt forgiving for a non-QB, and I am scared for another year where Mariota and Winston dont show instant success on teams that look to be quite terrible. On the flip side, Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper are showing the brilliance that we expect from top draft picks, and yet, their cards are performing like top WR and RBs. Had Mariota continued his pace from the first game of the year, you would not be seeing anything even low enough to sniff where Cooper and Gurley are today.

The hobby loves the limelight that QBs receive, but they refuse to recognize that same glow in other positions that look to be headed for the top tier of NFL players at their position. Some could argue that the secondary market as a whole for football is soft as it is, but im not sure that is the whole story.

Im starting to wonder what might happen if another class like 2013 comes around, and that could be the case next year. The QB class doesnt seem to have the star power that other classes have had, and though Cook and Goff may be selected high, its likely out of necessity rather than game changing talent. 2015 and 2014 both had enormously deep WR and RB classes, and we are seeing the production from those positions go unrecognized by the hobby in a larger sense. The scariest thing could be what might happen if alternate value isnt established in other parts of the class, especially if Panini wants to continue their focus on rookie content during the first year of their exclusive next year.

Some how, some way, there must be a focus shift in the hobby, not just from QBs to other positions, but also from rookies to more established players. If we continue to bank solely on the rookie class, there is no ability to recover in a bad year. Products take a nose dive, collectors walk out the door, and there is nothing left for us to chase. The main issue is that autograph cost skyrockets after the rookie year, sometimes during, and access to autographs afforded by the NFLPA and agents also decreases. Rookies are almost as much a luxury as much as a necessity for card companies, and they might have to sleep in the bed made by the collective setup.

Panini may be able to withstand the financial burden of a bad year, but the shops might not be able to again. This is one of the things they have no control over, so the one thing they DO have control over needs to be exceptional. Product quality is at an all time low all across the industry, and without some improvement things are looking bleaker than ever.

Eventually, there will be another 2012. Eventually there will be another Andrew Luck and RGIII and all will be right with the world. In the mean time, I am hoping the hobby wakes up and sees that the QB isnt the only thing worth putting value behind. Sure, WRs and RBs are likely going to last 7-10 years instead of 10-15 years in the league, but that doesnt mean there wont be HOFers who eventually come out of those shorter career situations. Its time to wake up and smell the roses on this one.

On the Radar: 2016 Gypsy Queen Baseball

If there is one thing that Topps does VERY well, its retro themed baseball products. The designs always look nice, the cards are usually hard signed, and they offer something for everyone. Gypsy Queen has been a staple for a number of years now, and I feel like it doesnt get half the attention it deserves. The cards are rarely anything short of great looking.

Here are some past examples, you can see how nice they look:

2012 Gypsy Queen Sandy Koufax Auto SSP

2014 Gypsy Queen Bryce Harper Mini Auto 5/5

2014 Gypsy Queen Hank Aaron Green Auto 1/10

2015 Gypsy Queen Mike Trout Auto /25

2015 Gypsy Queen Jose Bautista Mini Auto Relic /25

Although this year’s set doesnt differ much in design or formula from the previous years, I dont think that is necessarily a bad thing when you have something working the way Topps does with this. Although I dont think it will ever measure up to the big daddy in Allen & Ginter, its a product that I will have no issue opening a box or two.

Because this is a retro product, Gypsy Queen has a lot to offer both set collectors and hit/autograph chasers, as both sides of things are represented and represented well in the boxes. It should have a nice base set with lots of inserts and SPs, coupled with 4 hits per box, including 2 guaranteed autographs. Because Ginter doesnt guarantee an auto per box, I have always had trouble committing to opening more than one. This is a bit different.

The issue with GQ has always been the checklist for the hits, as Topps has had the tendency to water down the autographs with some unfortunately low tier guys. However, if you manage to pull one of the big names, you will walk away with a REALLY nice card. One you can display with pride.

There are some adjustments to the lineup this year, with the baseball swatch cards now vertical instead of horizontal, and now the on card mini booklet relic autos, which were stickers last year. Both look like nice changes to keep people chasing. The 1/1 canvas sketch patches are back too, which are some of the more interesting cards of this type. They end up being almost like miniature works of art, which is awesome.

Check out the previews:

Panini’s New NFL Exclusive Spells Disaster for Football Cards

More than a year ago, Panini announced that they had secured an exclusive deal to produce cards with current players through the NFLPA. As one of two major parts needed to block out competition, the writing was on the wall for the beginning of 2016, when the new deal would kick in. Then silence for a long time. A LONG TIME. So long that doubt began to creep in whether Panini would get the other half of the deal with NFLP, who controls the logos and licensed materials for the league.

Yesterday, Panini told distributors that the other half of the deal is now in place, which is literally the worst possible news for football collectors. Not only will this end any possibility of Topps using NFL logos or jerseys for the next decade, but it basically removes all hope that football cards will rebound from the decline in popularity we have seen over the last 10 years.

A Raw Deal

Exclusives suck in general, especially when the company who secures the exclusive deal doesnt produce anywhere close to the best cards in the sport. Compounding that is when the new company basically cancels out the continuation of 60 years of history and a name that new customers are more likely to recognize.

All of the above is my opinion, and I understand that my absolute hatred for their horrid products is not universal. On the other hand, one thing is indisputable, and that is the money associated with both sides of this deal. When the first leg was completed last year, everyone who was part of the industry, including some people at Panini mind you, were absolutely dumbfounded by how much was committed to the NFLPA. Based on what I have gotten first hand, there is not a single person who can figure out a way that Panini will walk out of the first deal with numbers that arent red.

Adding in the new NFL deal, those numbers have seemingly gotten worse, and again, the people I trust to have a good understanding of this side of the business are all scratching their heads. Here is what we know:

  • Although the NFL remains the most popular sport in the country, it is losing popularity in cards. It currently sits behind MLB and NBA.
  • NFL card products arent selling as well, singles are insanely soft, and the football hobby is losing more people than it is gaining.
  • Minimum guarantees (the amount of guaranteed revenue promised during the course of the license) are astronomical, and create major problems in the methods needed to generate said revenue.
  • MANY more products will need to be created to ensure that the guarantees are met
  • Topps and Panini combined to make more than 30 products in 2014, and will do so again in 2015.
  • Panini is expected to take over what Topps left behind, plus some, just to hit agreed targets. One team doing the work of two is most definitely not the best situation, even worse when the track record is as it is for Panini products.
  • From what the industry professionals have told me, coming out ahead just isnt possible, and Panini will likely have to pay up to the minimum guarantee taking a major loss. This does not include fees and other payments to secure the license deal in the first place.

In case you dont want read the bullets, basically Panini will not make any money on the NFL, unless they pull out some sort of miracle. You can go into this with a positive perspective and say that they will find a way, hiring people or pulling their heads out of their collective asses when creating new brands, but that is a hail mary at best. The numbers are just too big for the card business the way it is now.

I cant find the angle here, other than one specific premise, one that has been on the table since 2009 – a war of attrition. Panini must think that securing all these exclusive deals will force other companies out of business or at least to their knees. They believe that come 2020, they will own 4 of the 5 major licenses (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NCAA), and the NHL will be with UD, who has shearing for millions in tax debt in the near future. Once all the other companies are on their last legs, the buy offers will go out. Either that, or they will be able to stomach the losses for the length of the deals while their competitors starve, and renegotiate later.

Manifest destiny RARELY ever works out for anyone, and usually leaves a trail of scorched earth in its wake. As mentioned before, Panini is making BIG promises in a hobby that has shrunk considerably over the last 10 years. No one is really sure how those big promises wont end in disaster.

In fact, the only people bringing in a steady stream of new people to the game is Topps, and they are not using physical cards to do so. Panini using this strategy is like going out and buying a newspaper company. Sure people still read the news, but its no longer prominently through newspapers delivered to their doors. That is what I dont get, even if you force your competition out the door, you gain access to 100% of a hobby that is shrinking, not growing. I have said that the hobby will never die, which is still true, but no one is denying that the people heading out the door than walking in.

Potential Impact

Before I start – here is another post I did on impacts that could be felt.

As said previously, the impact of this shitty deal is pretty profound, especially in the way it changes things around the hobby. Even though Topps is shut out out of the NFL, it doesnt mean they are completely out of the game. They can still produce unlicensed legends products that have no logos, as long as they are able to secure group license agreements with players to participate. This can be lucrative, especially if their products continue to have superior design and quality over the massive tidal wave of cookie cutter Panini garbage that will hit the shelves once the deal begins.

Additionally, Panini is going to take quite a large loss on this deal, especially if trends continue the way they are. At some point, Italy has to recognize that their USA pet project probably isnt shaping up the way they hoped it would. Right now, its clear that the current people in the American branch of their card business have a blank check from their sugar daddy, but business is business. Why continue to invest in a branch of your business that is hemorrhaging money from every orifice? If that is the case, the entire industry might be on shaky ground if Panini Italy decides its time to stop wasting money on a product that isnt going anywhere but down.

More importantly, Topps Digital doesnt look to be impacted by this deal. From this Q&A they did to start the team it looks like theymight separate from impact on physical. This means their golden goose should remain in tact, as long as the NFL wants to play ball. Not only does this continue to bring Topps closer to the forefront of the public consciousness, but all those new people they bring in will come to identify with the brand Topps puts out, not Panini. If Topps had football cards to tie to their apps, Panini might see more benefit than they would without that presence. Now there is no reason for Topps to do any programs that lead their digital users to the physical football hobby. In fact, its almost better to drive them more into the fantasy football side of the business instead of cards. Too bad really, because Topps Digital is looking more and more like the future of the industry, not Panini.

I am bitter about Panini finding a way to get their grubby little fingers on this exclusive, no doubt about it. I see them as irresponsible, unmotivated, and more interested in looking good rather than actually BEING good at what they do. Topps isnt perfect by any means, but they arent the people spending what they spent on a lavish VIP party either. Let us not forget that a lot of the people who were part of the brass at Fleer are now making a home at Panini. We all know how Fleer turned out, and it doesnt seem like they are learning from their mistakes.

To be honest, I really do want to be positive about this, but its hard to find a silver lining when the reality is so bleak. The sky may not be on top of our heads, but it is definitely falling from my point of view. It took a movie universe to save comic books, and unfortunately, there are no stories here that Hollywood would be able to churn out every year. This is a hobby that will eventually exist with no industry behind it, and that is becoming more and more clear with every exclusive that Panini signs. The question is whether or not the collectors will start to realize how terrible the exclusive deals are before its too late.

Looking At Autograph Prices in 2015 Topps High Tek

When High Tek came out last year, there was buzz around the set, as people really liked the throwback product type that reminded people of the late 90s and early 2000s. After a number of weeks, buzz died down, and many of the main autograph hits started to really dip in value. The same thing has seemed to happen in 2015, as you can get some amazing deals on autographs of top players that would normally be significantly more expensive in other sets. The cards also look really nice on the acetate with on card signatures.

Check out how some of these cards look:

2015 Topps High Tek Carlos Correa Auto RC

2015 Topps High Tek Joc Pederson Bright Horizons Auto – LOVE this design

2015 Topps High Tek Mike Trout Drama Tek Auto /25

2015 Topps High Tek Cal Ripken Jr Gold Waves Auto /50

2015 Topps High Tek Mark McGwire Cloud Auto /25

Lets start with the positives. Tek is all on card, acetate focused and is a celebration of gaudy shiny designs, which the hobby usually loves. The autograph checklist has big names on it, and a lot of very low numbered paralells. All a recipe that the base of collectors usually like very much. Im kind of shocked that you can pick up a Kershaw, Trout, Bryant or Correa for some of the prices here, especially for a set that is less than a week old.

The hobby really confuses me sometimes, as its clear that for as much as we complain about stickers, the use of on card doesnt necessarily guarantee a premium. As we are starting to see in football, relic content is almost as important as the autograph, which really seems to be a diversion from the past. I didnt expect to like Topps High Tek all that much, but the cheaper box price and fun chases seems to add a level to this product I wasnt expecting to be enjoyable.

Im curious to see how Topps processes this, as it might be that their focus on doing more with on card autographs has desensitized people more than they would like. The crazy thing is that stickers havent been devalued to the point that would make this theory plausible. Overall I am not sure what