Another Take on the Redemption Discussion

Redemptions.

Just the word itself can make people want to take a card and drag it across their eyeball. This goes doubly so if the redemption is for a big card. The subject is so touchy with collectors, that it is brought up at just about every public Q&A that is offered. People really just dont like any bit of the concept of the IOUs that redemptions represent.

In fact, it is so polarizing, that I really dont like talking about it too much on the site. Its a subject that many people refuse to think logically about in many cases. It breeds very personal resentment over situations many of have experienced over the last few years. Most of it is warranted.

Even though recently, Topps has even tried to take a new step forward in trying to do all redemptions on card, it doesnt matter much to the people who have been waiting months and years for their cards. Stickers or on card, people want their goods, and they deserve to get them.

The reason I am bringing it up again stems from a twitter post that Topps recently tweeted this morning. For the first time in about 4 years, Julio Jones is signing on card for his cards in 2014 Five Star. He was a redemption in the product (as he has been since his rookie year), and it looks like Topps nailed him to his chair and forced a pen into his hand.

Julio is a popular and dynamic player from a top college program. His cards sell for a lot, mainly due to lack of availability:

2011 Crown Royal Julio Jones Silhouette Auto Patch

2011 SP Authentic Julio Jones Auto Patch RC

2011 Topps Julio Jones Rookie Premiere Auto

2011 Topps Chrome Julio Jones Variation Auto BGS 9.5

If you remember back, Panini offered redemptions for Julio Jones in their 2011 Contenders product that some people have been waiting years for. Not figuratively, literally. When I retweeted the picture, I was met by a few collectors who tied the event back to their own outstanding redemptions with Panini. I started to think about what would possess someone to wait THAT long for a redemption that was likely never coming.

Think about it – Julio Jones had zero on card 2012 autographs, zero in 2013, and only the Five Star redemptions in 2014. There were a few stickers here and there that were likely leftovers. He was likely added to the autograph blacklist back during 2011, and it takes a lot for the companies to trust the players again. For whatever reason, Topps thought it was worth the risk, and today it paid off.

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I have always taken the stance that I would wait for an autograph of my favorite player for as long as it takes, and I believe that applies for many people in this specific scenario. Maybe I cant fault them for holding out hope. There is also a calculation of risk that needs to be taken with redeeming a card, and Im not sure if Julio ever met the positive that situation being that he had signed SO little.

It wouldnt be the last time that a player surfaced after many years, as Chris Johnson returned a batch of stickers to Panini a few years ago that they were able to use for his long outstanding 2008 Treasures stuff. Those redemptions were outstanding for a very long time. Julio is in that same boat as of now.

Does one wait or does one opt for replacements? That question brings about a completely different discussion, as I believe the redemption piece isnt really the part of the process that collectors hate. I am of the group that believe that a solid redemption replacement process would do wonders for the reputation that plagues missing autographs. If we had the opportunity to replace unfulfilled redemptions with cards we wanted, there might not be such a fear around redeeming cards for players where they are a huge risk to not sign.

Even that is a touchy situation, because value is so subjective in its own right. Player collectors and certain individuals place certain added cost on their own cards vs those that are sold online, and that creates a problem of valuation and “fairness.”

Panini was actually onto something in creating the points system, but the design was such a clusterfuck, that it negated any progress that was potentially available. Instead of offering points to fix the actual problem of redemption replacements, they offered points to fix redemptions – which really arent even a big deal in 95% of the cases where they are used. Inventory and processing of orders were also a joke, but that’s just Panini for you.

I mean, in an ideal situation, every player wouldnt be Julio Jones. Instead, the players seem to be just as much of a problem as anything, and they will NEVER be anything different. The card companies need them exponentially more than the players need the card companies. When you have no leverage, redemption situations happen.

Luckily, the NFLPA requires rookie year signatures as part of their licensing deal with the card companies, so they will usually provide a big help if players dont want to play along. Agents can also be favorable too, especially if they understand how much autographs can be a part of their client’s branding. Its rare, but it does exist.

More times than not, players tolerate autographs. In the case of some, they hate it so much, that they decide to find ways around it. Unless a company rep is present, there are too many stories of unverifiable fraud. This only makes on card autographs even more of a logistical nightmare, especially if you are like Topps and want to send someone to 9 out of 10 signings. Sure, that prevents what happens to Panini more times than any other company, but its a bigger burden of cost and resources as well.

Because collectors will likely never understand the behind the scenes situations that contribute to autographs (nor should they be forced to, really), it creates a hugely negative experience when something doesnt work out right. Its true, they should have a right to the content they were promised, and historical accounts have provent that when things go wrong, they go very wrong. Companies have become increasingly horrible at handling customer service, only further exacerbating a bad issue.

I do not support the abolition of redemptions. Too many players would not be available for products, and it would force more sticker autographs. On the other hand, I completely support collectors having more of a voice when a player flakes. If we cant get what we are promised, we should be able to be paid back for the trouble. What is worse, is that the cost to do this may be prohibitive at this point. Budgets are already TIGHT, unless you have a blank check from your Italian sugar daddy. Considering that most redemptions are filled eventually, is the opportunity cost too high to take this on? Maybe.

It serves as a reminder that Julio Jones is just one player. Most of the time, he isnt going to be afforded the trust to continue being a part of the hobby. He doesnt care, though. For every Julio Jones, there are three Mike Trouts, who will sign anything that Topps puts in front of him, and in a timely fashion. It might not be a good idea for us to get caught up in the extremes of the availability spectrum.

However, that doesnt excuse the companies from working on new processes to help collectors when a new Julio Jones comes around.

On the Radar: 2015 Panini Clear Vision Football

About a year ago, I would have told you that I am a fan of anything acetate. Its a great medium to use when producing trading cards, as many times it highlights all the right things about the product. Since that timeframe, acetate has become a feature in so many sets, so much so that we are reaching a point of oversaturation. This is none more clear than with Panini’s recently solicited product High Tek Clear Vision Football. Sometimes I wish there were a rule that prevented Panini from abusing a cool technology.

Dont get me wrong, Acetate can be a powerful tool when used correctly:

2012 Strata Signature Relic Russell Wilson Auto Patch /15

2014 Black Gold Teddy Bridgewater Sizeable Signature Relic

2014 Topps Hi Tek Mike Trout Auto

2013 Tier One Hank Aaron Clear Rookie Reprint Auto

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1997-Barry-Sanders-Pinnacle-Inscriptions-Auto-Acetate-Lions-/281707303831?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4197105397

Of course, it can also be a complete train wreck:

2014 Playbook Johnny Manziel Auto

Believe it or not, the product’s design is actually NOT the weirdest thing about this product. That designation belongs to its format, which for the first time in many years, is highlighted by a one autograph per CASE outline. Yes, Panini is going to attempt the impossible – create a product, in an autograph dominated hobby, with barely any autographs. Not only is it beyond risky, it might actually be something more than that. To me, if the one autograph per case format holds, it serves more as a test product for 2016 than anything.

Here is why I think that is the case.

Basically, when Panini drastically overpaid for the NFLPA exclusive, they set themselves up for a very difficult task. Not only would they have to absorb all the calendar slots from Topps, but they would have to make those products VERY successful to even entertain the prospect of breaking even. After hearing some musings on the minimum guarantees that Panini will have to come up with just for the NFLPA, there are a few things that will have to be accomplished.

One of those things is creating products that dont rely on autograph content as much, as it seems like the autograph deals that many players will sign are going to have to get a lot larger. To fund 30-35 products per year, their team is going to have to come up with double the amount of autographs they would normally do, unless those new products some how create value without adding additional autograph content to the pool.

Clear Vision looks to be a product that could end up being the first of those sets that focuses more on content outside of the autographs. Funny enough, I have heard that distributors revolt against products that want to move away from relic content. I have heard the same is true on the autograph side. Im not sure how Panini plans to sell this to the only customers that matter to them, if that indeed is the case.

They might tout on card signatures with this product, but I think its clear that they are stretching the definition of what “on card” really means. This looks to be those ever-horrible manupatch autographs, but with an acetate insert instead of a signed piece of embroidered cloth. That isnt on card, people. That is a sticker replacement device.

There is a big potential for this set to explode in their face, but it all depends on their ability to execute on all those elements that speak to customers. Even though its 50-60 bucks a box, and features the first Panini cards with rookies in their NFL uniforms, I really dont see much potential here. Football is the wrong sport to be in the conundrum that Panini put themselves in. This sport is autograph dependent, and I think they are going to have a very tough time hitting sales numbers for the PA in general. Releasing products like this will only make it tougher, but then again, Panini isnt known for their hobby intelligence.

Personally, I see this as a knock off of Hi-Tek Baseball and Football, which featured a set comprised mostly of acetate cards. In football, Hi-Tek offers true on card autographs, and does it in a normal format for a similar price. I cannot understand why Panini wants to try to compete with that. This set seems destined for below cost prices on boxes, especially after the allure of new rookie cards wears off.

I guess we will have to wait and see how the collectors react to something like this.

2015 NFLPA Rookie Premiere: Wrap Up For The End of An Era?

For the last decade plus, the Rookie Premiere has been an event where every card company who has a football license sets up their goods and prepares for the entire year’s worth of rookie cards. Signings, pictures, the works. Over the last few years, thousands of autographs are signed. It funds many products, and that doesnt even begin to talk about the photographs taken at the stadium on Saturday.

During the entire span of the event, there have always been multiple companies who are attending. This past weekend will unfortunately be the last time that happens. There is no guarantee that the 2016 event will be as big or as fun, especially when Panini is the only trading card company who has a license.

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Now, I fully intended to get on every night and write a post about the happenings at the premiere. Over the last 5 years, it has been a weekend filled with cards to be signed, autographs to be showcased, and pictures to be viewed. Instead we had Panini come and do nothing of the sort, and Topps literally blow them so far out of the water that the debris has yet to land. Social Media, Cards, Autographs, basically everything was in Topps’ corner, and that doesnt even begin to describe what is likely going to be coming in digital with the Huddle team in attendance for the first time ever. I really didnt even need to offer any opinion because the results were so clearly laid out.

This was really the Topps show all weekend, and as happy as I am to see them go out with a bang, I am sad because I know that that means for 2016. The football card hobby is about to go into a famine of unheralded proportions with Panini at the helm, and that scares me to fucking death. They literally walked into this event with the rookies available for FOUR straight days to sign cards. From what we saw, they spent that time signing non-card materials. Stickers, paper inserts, everything BUT cards.

When the cards they did sign ended up coming to the surface, they were some of the ugliest examples in recent memory. Panini either played everyone for a fool and showed nothing in their hand, or they really fucked up the biggest event of the year in a way that hasnt been done since 2010. For as good as 2014’s premiere signings were for Panini, 2015 was as bad, if not worse.

Their same day signature cards look so ugly there arent any words. Aside from the fact that the rookies arent even in their gear (because the shots had to be taken a few days before the reveal on Saturday), they put them in Panini t-shirts for some god forsaken reason. Add in some giant text and an inexplicable vertically signed autograph, and you see what happens.

Dont even get me going on the Pen Pals cards, which are back to head shots instead of retouched NFL jerseys like they were last year. Just ridiculous. Yes, we see that sketch cards are more important than hard signed NFL content like they have done since 2012.

Here are the types of things they did all weekend:

On the other side of things, Topps really did a great job with Inception, Topps Football and other sets taking center stage. As usual, Inception was the brightest star on the stage, as it has been since 2011. It was another year of great looking cards, and lots of inscriptions. The design this year looks very similar to previous years, but there is no reason to change a formula that always plays to the big time. Inception is a high end product in the disguise of a pre-premiere set, and that takes a lot of talent to pull off. Sure, the NFL took away some of the luster with forcing them to use 00 jerseys for players who had late jersey number assignments, but the set looks good enough to me that I will set that aside.

I also LOVED that they used the 1976 and 1987 Topps designs for the retro cards this year, as both have a long history in this industry. Being that 1976 was the same year that Walter Payton was a rookie, that was a perfect way to close out the run. Although 1987 was in the beginning of the junk wax era, that design was always a favorite of mine.

Oddly enough, the most convincing win of the weekend for Topps was in their social media. Susan Lulgjuraj kicked some ass and took some names. If it wasnt clear that she was a great hire, this is a perfect example. She did live chats, live signings, and gave fans all sorts of ways to experience the weekend. Topps’ twitter was easily where I spent most of the time watching for new cards, something that was a bit unexpected. Usually Panini is all over things, but not this time. This was a big win for the team from New York.

Here are some of the awesome cards that Topps had done:

Bottom line, people should be really pissed off. REALLY pissed off at Panini. Even if they have on card material with College jerseys for their first few products, that is not what this event should be used for. This event is not about those stupid fucking sketch cards that everyone laughs at. It is about getting some great looking cards done for use in the first products – NFL style. Topps has done that and done it well now for 5 years, Panini still seems to be fumbling their way through everything, focusing on setting up big events to make themselves look good, instead of delivering substance in their products.

This mentality will hurt the hobby and hurt in a way that might not be something that we can ever recover. Panini has always been a hot mess, and this is just the icing on the cake. Some how, if Elite, Prestige and other sets end up being stickers or on card autograph replacements, they deserve all the venom they will get.

2015 NFL Rookie Premiere: Things to Watch For This Week

Starting today and getting going tomorrow through Saturday, the top rookies of the year will be in Los Angeles for one of the biggest events of the football card year. For the list of players attending, here is my post from yesterday. Now that we know who will be there, there are a LOT of things that will be going down. Here are some of the things I am most looking forward to seeing.

Player Autograph Quality

The Rookie Premiere is a time where autograph content has almost become more important than taking the pictures for the cards. Each of the rookies will sign over 2500-3000 autographs in a weekend, some even more than that. As a result, we will get to see how much they decide to adjust their autographs to relieve some of the pressure of having to sign so many cards. From what I have gathered, not every rookie is excited about getting a million cards to sign put in front of them, but almost all of them find a way to get it done. Pretty remarkable in a lot of ways.

As mentioned earlier, some of the players have already started to shorten their signatures:

2015 Contenders Draft Picks Todd Gurley Auto Ticket

2015 Leaf Clear Melvin Gordon Auto Acetate

2015 Topps Inception Previews

Every year, there are a few products that are based on content received almost exclusively at the rookie premiere. In my opinion, Inception is at the top of that list, and I am beyond sad that this is likely the last year it will be in production in the same format. It has made a name for itself since 2011 with extremely high end on card content at a point in the year where the competition is just getting the ball rolling. Player collectors go nuts over the inscriptions (as do I), and it looks like there will be a big focus on generating unique content again this year. Cant wait to see how it turns out.

Here are some of my favorites from 2014:

2014 Inception Blake Bortles Drawn Play Inscription Auto 1/1

2014 Inception Sammy Watkins Booklet Letter Auto

2014 Inception Johnny Manziel Inscription Auto /10

2015 Topps Previews

Unlike Panini, Topps has been really good at showcasing a lot of the cards that will be signed at the premiere. We know that Inception is a big part of it, but the ever popular rookie premiere autos and retro throwback cards are also a big deal. I would guess that this is a time where Topps is going to do their best to set their early products up for success, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store. Being that this will be their last rodeo in a lot of ways, going to be interesting to see if they pull out all the stops.

2015 Panini Previews

Here is the thing. We know relatively nothing about Panini’s offerings at the event, and that really doesnt do much for people who are curious about what is going to be displayed. Im guessing there will be on card elements to Elite and Prestige, but Panini has weird obsessions with having players sign those stupid manu-patch autographs and oversized versions of their ugly Score cards. Last year’s Elite product was easily one of the best of the run, and I am interested to see if they can recreate the lightning in a bottle, or if we are going to see them fuck it up like they have so many times in the past.

Will Panini College Products Be A Focus?

We already know that they didnt really put as much work into Contenders as they should have, rehashing old designs and using sticker autos. Prizm is a bit of a different story, but we havent seen it in real life yet – only mockups. So, it goes without question that Panini is going to want to take their new toy and exploit it like a kid in a sweatshop, thus peaking my interest. Just how far will they go with it? From what we have seen so far, decision making on strengthening brands hasnt exactly been one of their strong suits.

How Much Will Collectors Respond to This Class?

The Premiere is really the first time we get to see the rookies on stage. Last year’s class was front and center, and during this event, they really looked like they were primed for the spotlight. In previous years like 2013, the buzz was almost non-existent. Curious to see how collectors react, and what this might mean for the upcoming NFL card year.

Will Topps Go Out With a Bang?

This is THE question I am looking forward to seeing answered over the course of the year. Topps has been in football for decades and decades. It was the brand I collected when I was a kid, and the same for my dad. To think that Topps is losing the ability to produce NFL licensed trading cards is so depressing that I think this industry will be impacted more than people think. With that in mind, im curious to see if they use this event as the start of their locomotive that will barrel down the track in 2015, or if they are not going to answer the bell for the final round. From previews we have already seen this year, looks like they are not going to go down without a fight.

Collector Reaction to the Event Used Jerseys

Each time the Rookie Premiere rolls around, there are a group of people who pull back the curtain and see what really goes on with the player worn material that is obtained at this event. Yes, we know that the players only wear the jerseys for less than a second, as it has been well documented. It is shocking that there are still people that are part of the online community that have no idea how a rookie jersey is obtained for their card released in July, despite the fact that they havent played in a real game yet? Here is the thing. Game used jerseys are a hot commodity for every player, ESPECIALLY rookies. Some teams dont use more than a few game used jerseys all year. Considering that the NFL has programs to resell the jerseys, as do the teams themselves, that doesnt leave much left for the collectors and the card companies to fight over. Therefore, if you want a patch card of your favorite rookie, the premiere is a necessary method to the madness.

Now, for me, I dont buy event used cards unless there is an autograph on it. Its my policy. I also put very little value in patch colors or logo patches, except for certain circumstances. Other people dont feel the same way. They dont care that the jersey is only worn for less than 5 seconds, and will assign enormous value to a card based on patch content. Whatever floats your boat, as long as you are aware of the methods. Bottom line, I actually like that Mark Ingram picture, because it means he wore the jerseys for a significant amount of time. Not like others who just put the collar over their head and take it right off (yes, that’s what really happens).

Pretty much, if you enjoy event used jerseys because they are player worn, like sausages, best to avoid watch them being made.

This weekend is going to be a treat. Its going to be fun, and there will be lots of action. Follow me @SCUncensored, as I will be following along very closely and adding comments to what is posted from the manufacturers all weekend.

2015 NFL Rookie Premiere List Announced

Each year, there is no bigger event in the football card hobby than the NFLPA Rookie Premiere. This is the time where the new rookies for each team get to debut their new teams and take pictures for everything – from sports cards to Madden and other media. Its also the time where card companies get autographs, patches and material to use in their cards all year long. If you werent already aware, rookie memorabilia is all obtained at this event, not from the games played during the season.

This is also a time where many of the initial on card autographs are signed, some 1500 plus over the course of a few days:

2014 Inception Odell Beckham Jr Auto Laundry Tag Booklet

2014 Topps 40 Player Rookie Premiere Auto Booklet

2014 Elite Sammy Watkins Rookie Premiere Auto

2014 Topps Mike Evans Rookie Premiere Auto

2014 Elite Blake Bortles Inscriptions Acetate Auto

In previous years, the attendee list has ballooned from 30 to 35, all the way up to 41 attendees this year. As a result, this means that most of the skill position players drafted during the first 3 days will be attending, regardless of their potential for production on the field. Believe it or not, this isnt usually a bad thing, as it means that the one sleeper guy who will break out during the year will likely be among this group. It also means that there will be that many more duds that can kill your box.

I am counting a number of guys that could fill that role, including 5-10 WR alone. At the same time, this is a pretty deep class in both RB and WR, which would explain the invite list being more bloated with those guys.

Bottom line, if the guy your team drafted isnt on this list, there will LIKELY not be material cards for that player over the year. They also are UNLIKELY to have NFL jersey photos that arent retouched from their college days, or feature a shot from the pro day/combine.

Because all pictures and material is produced at this event, so much of any player’s year depends on premiere attendance. Most of those event worn swatches are from the jerseys they wear for a few seconds during the week, although Topps has done a good job bringing on more rookies who emerge as the season begins.

Here is the list:

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