SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Panini Immaculate Baseball

Let me start by saying that I think its a good idea to try to bring Immaculate to other sports, as it houses many of the best looking cards that Panini makes across all sports. Not even close. Despite the absolutely HORRID name for this product, the Basketball version has done very well as an Exquisite clone. In fact, when you look up Exquisite in the thesaurus, Immaculate is one of the first synonyms. Not surprising.

Check out some of the big hits already up:

2014 Panini Immaculate Mike Trout Auto Bat Relic

2014 Panini Immaculate Ken Griffey Jr Auto Patch

2014 Panini Immaculate Clayton Kershaw Auto Patch

2014 Panini Immaculate Miguel Cabrera Auto Relic

2014 Panini Immaculate Masahiro Tanaka Jumbo Patch

2014 Panini Immaculate Jose Abreu Auto Patch

With Baseball, im not as interested, as I dont think that even the 50% drop in price is a good enough incentive to try your hand at some of these boxes. Just too many dud cards on the checklist. All that being in place, the cards do look good, but arent as good looking as some of the products that Topps is able to produce with logos in place. Because the checklist of players isnt THAT different, I would almost rather just buy those.

Now, if you are a Panini lover, I can understand why you would be all over these boxes. Secondly, why are you reading this blog? Haha, kidding. I think there is merit to these cards as a stand alone product, and as far as the baseball stuff goes, its the best that Panini has made in a long time – logos or no logos.

I also like some of the interesting relics that Panini has chosen to use, cleats, gloves, etc, which makes for a fun chase. There are a lot of stickers, which is disappointing, on the other hand, and these trapped autos look awful.

The reason some of these cards are valuable is because of the brand recognition that they are getting from Basketball, as I dont think they would be as costly without that. As we saw with a lot of the other transfers to baseball, I would guess the price is going to drop much like Treasures did a few years ago.

When this eventually comes to football, Im going to love seeing what they do with it. They have done some really nice work in Basketball, and with a full logo and HOF capabilities, its going to be a winner. This, im not seeing long term success. New will mean hot, but the cards have RARELY held.

Time will tell.

Asleep at the Wheel: The Life and Times of a Bored Collector

Im going to ask a pretty simple question, and I seriously want you to consider how you answer to yourself.

Are you bored with cards?

All things considered, its very easy to answer with a quick thought, but the actual answer you may eventually arrive at could be different. For a long time, things have been awfully repetitive when you consider how the configurations of products and release points over the last few years.

I can lay out the content for a bunch of different sets, and other than the design and the checklist, everything is pretty much repeated ad nauseum through the whole year. I have quickly come to realize that many of my favorite products are only my favorite products because they bank on a consistent format and concept. That security blanket of brand loyalty is something that can drive sales in a lot of ways. I would even go so far as saying that collectors dont like change, and when it is presented, they discard it. However, we are still plagued by a hole of repetitive mediocrity that cant be satisfied without these types of changes.

When you start to really dive deep into what makes up a product, its usually functions around some very specific tried and true methods.

  • Base set
  • Autograph no relic
  • Autograph relic
  • relics

These four elements are about all cards has to build on right now, and as you can see its not much. There are some nice variations on a theme, but even those are far from THAT different:

2012 Topps Strata Russell Wilson Shadowbox Auto Relic

2013 Panini Immaculate Sneak Peak Shaquille Oneal 1/1 Logo

2013 Topps Five Star Emmitt Smith Auto Inscription

Some creativity happens in small bursts, but nothing overwhelming. Things like production in over-sized formats, inscriptions and exceptional relic content only go so far before people start to get bored. Other examples, like the Sneaker shoe relics from Panini, are definitely interesting. Yet, at what point do we start the tired refrain of more and more relics from different elements of the four sports? At some defined future date, the normal configuration is one that will not be sustainable.

One could argue that it is already unsustainable, with many products hitting closeout before the first month of release is even over. Sure, checklist quality also has something to do with it, but eventually it comes down to one product looking like all the others.

When Panini takes over the NFL exclusive in 2016, they will likely be forced to build a slew of products to satisfy the agreement that they have made with the NFL to produce cards. Although many products already exist for all the companies that currently make NFL cards, there are two staffs, with two different visions, that produce different content. Though the same format regularly persists, the cards do look different. With only one company at the helm, this pool that already has a lack of diversification of product lines, becomes even less diversified.

I posted yesterday about Flawless, and how it is completely bonkers to me that a product that costs that much money can offer so little in terms of special content. Sure the patches are nicer and the autographs are hard signed, but it offers absolutely nothing that isnt offered in at least 5 other sets released during the year. I want to say that collectors will demand something in the realm of creativity, but I would guess that more and more people will just stop buying new stuff. Instead, they will return to buying the cards of their youth, where it was simple and just as boring. The difference in the vintage is the common sense of Nostalgia, which is a powerful force to be reckoned with. So powerful that the companies often try to capitalize.

The worst part about this situation is that the design is really the only thing that changes along with the players on the front of the card. Whenever someone takes a risk, its likely too late, and is rarely accepted by the collecting base. I would hope that eventually we do find whatever the next big thing really is, but I dont know if that even exists.

Maybe at some point, technology advances will make alternate printing methods cheap enough that new types of cards can be built. The advent of 3D printing on an open sourced inexpensive method could lead to cheaper mass production, but that is probably at least a decade away.

The go to method for creating value in a product is pretty simple, as the companies have consistently chosen contrived scarcity, or making cards rare on purpose, to drive the secondary market for their card. Because every important current player signs a ton of autographs, the signature card itself has become commonplace. Unique autograph content such as inscriptions remain valuable, but that will change with market saturation. Rather than try new things, the companies opt to make their nice stuff more rare, so that the demand will exceed supply. Sometimes even that is a lost cause.

Im not feigning any sense of enlightenment on a fix here, im just musing on the state of things. I am both scared and disgusted that there are so few people willing to try to break from the old ways, while being worried that it will lead to the destruction of the industry. It should be reinforced that the destruction of the industry in no way means the death of the hobby, but it will lead to smaller contingencies of active collectors.

I will also say that cheaper and fewer products are not the answer either. Its not in the best interest of anyone to try to reclaim the simplicity of the 80s and 90s. This isnt a situation where that will work. It may make some people happy, but those people dont usually represent the segment of the market that will lead to more money to fund a company.

In the end this may be heading the wrong direction in a permanent state. Because Panini is the only company that is stable enough to take MASSIVE risks without losing their ass, there may never be progress. Panini is like the Grilled Cheese of innovation. Sure, it tastes good and its been the same for ages, but its never going win you a five star review. Panini has basically built their calendar around the same product packaged 15 different ways, and that isnt going to lend itself well towards building something dramatically different.

Topps isnt much better, but they also dont have the luxury to take as many risks. They might in football with a guaranteed departure after 2015, but financially they need make as much as they can as fast as possible. You cant do that by making products that arent the safest possible route.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not collectors’ battle to fight, but it is our battle to lose. We will lose. Its inevitable that we are not going to get the quality that is deserved, and that will lead to further boredom. Quality isnt just on card autos and nice looking cards, quality is innovation and creativity as well.

I have called for the next big thing to come for five years plus now. Nothing is shaping up to be that thing. 1996 and the creation of the jersey card may never happen again. If that is the case, there needs to be a shift. Im not sure what that will look like, but I dont think the future of the industry is putting together a state that will foster it, either.

I hope I am wrong.

 

2014 Flawless Football: Breaking Down a $1350 Price Point Disaster

I have never been a huge fan of Flawless, as said before. I have never really seen the point of spending over 1200 dollars per box to get cards that you can get in just about every other high end product. It needs to be special, and I dont see much other than player selection in packs that drive a price that high. The cards look great, but that alone doesnt make up for the money spent to enjoy them.

In basketball, the cards are nice, but really nothing special outside of rarity:

2013 Panini Flawless Larry Bird Auto Patch

2013 Panini Flawless Kyrie Irving Auto Patch /10

2013 Panini Flawless Kevin Durant Auto Patch /10

2013 Panini Flawless Kobe Bryant Auto Dual Patch /25

With the transition to football, I was and am still positive that no FB based product can support a price point at 1250 – even more so at the 1350 price that Flawless is being solicited at. Not only is football not basketball, but there are different rules involved to making products. For 1350 per box, they had better be adding pieces of Joe Montana himself, because otherwise its going to be a disaster.

“Sorry Joe, going to need a finger this time, not just the jersey. Ill let you choose which one, but ill let you know we cant get that much yield out of a pinky. Thanks for your cooperation!”

I can already hear the counter-arguments to my vomit inducing reaction to this price point. They are going to have stellar players in every box! Its going to be great for group breakers! It did awesome in basketball! Yeah, not a single one of those things SHOULD play into it when things are said and done.

At first, you are going to have a lot of excitement over what the product could be. Expect those first few boxes to generate some buzz – and that will be intentionally created by Panini. Once people start to realize what they have gotten themselves into, the tide will turn.

Im not sure if anyone understands the stark difference between what is required in a Basketball product and what is required in a Football product. At the very least, Flawless Basketball had VERY little rookie content (which allowed for a lot of the configuration success we saw). This is NOT possible in football, and you can bet that there will be cards that will be box break killers. With 7 hit cards, you will need to average close to 200 bucks per card. If one of those cards is an Allen Robinson auto, things are not going to work.

Lets also run down the big names in football, because these names are going to dictate what is going to be possible, along side the required rookie element – Montana, Emmitt, Rice, Brady, Peyton, Favre, Rodgers, Marino, Russ Wilson, Luck, Elway, Manziel, Bortles, Watkins, Bridgewater. Outside of that, you are going to need to fight after initial release to crack 100 bucks on an auto or relic. Most of the big names will have to sell at DOUBLE their current average selling price to make a difference. Even with the players mentioned above, prices can struggle after the first few weeks. In all reality, there will likely be needed inclusion of multiple players from that list PER BOX, not just on a case hit basis. With the consistent devaluing of every position outside of QB, value is going to be stretched pretty thin as it is.

In Basketball, the list is may not be longer, but the big cards sell for SIGNIFICANTLY more money due to the international market that the sport has. That means when you hit Kyrie, Durant, Kobe, Lillard etc, they will sell for more than any of the big names from the attached football list. The only thing that other sports have going for them stems from the lack of products in this space over the last few years. Especially when it comes to on card autos.

Think about it from this perspective – VIP bottle service at the club is a common amenity for nice venues. Considering you can get the liquor at the store for a LOT less money, there should not be much appeal to it. They are literally charging you for the experience, and the visibility of your spot among the high rollers. Here its basically the same concept, because what you pay for is definitely not what you are getting. You are paying for the experience, and I dont understand how anyone can support that. It has never been acceptable to do so in cards before, and yet here we are.

“I dont know if you are seeing this, but my cards came in a metal briefcase. That means something bruh.”

Without a huge return from those big names, especially in terms of cards that are going to sell for over the cost of the box itself, you are just not going to have the same return as basketball. Remember, these big cards will be sitting next to Jamaal Charles, Cordarrelle Patterson, and other players/rookies that will dilute a checklist that cannot support that price tag. I love me some CPatt, but man, he is not someone that is worthy of a 500 dollar ebay bid. Seeing that he is going to be joined by the likes of Terrance Williams, AJ McCarron, and Paul Richardson? The storm clouds are a brewin!

Group breakers may have a field day with this product, regardless of the price tag, and that might end up being the saving grace of Flawless Football. Without a group break element, this product could not be sustainable.

The other element that has to be considered is the release date (10/31), as there could be potential for a shit ton of redemptions with the way Panini has been running as of late. That doesnt even begin to factor in the lack of time for rookies to have success. No guarantee that Manziel will have even hit the field by then. No guarantee that there will be ANY breakout rookie by that point. There isnt so far.

From what pictures have been showing, the cards are all hard signed, which is awesome, but the release is a month away! They had better get their fucking shit together if they expect people to walk away satisfied. Nothing like opening a box that costs the same as a mortgage payment and getting 3 redemptions for your biggest hits, right?

Bottom line, even if you are pulling a Brady or Manning in every box, their cards are not going to sell for the kind of price that will allow for a big enough return. In fact, the trend in football is pretty apparent – as the player collectors get their chase cards, the price can drop by up to 50%. That goes doubly so for guys like Odell Beckham, who will be all over this product.

I hope I can eat my words here, because collectors are a weird bunch of people. The things they support on a regular basis tend to baffle me, and it could potentially work out well if the checklist isnt as watered down as it looks. Maybe they have found loop holes in the licensing to allow them to work around the lower tier rookies that are destined to plague a product like this.

Regardless, I love the way this set looks, as I think the cards are awesome. But I think Panini has made some decisions as of late that show that they have no fucking clue how to maximize their reach. They have also found out the hard way that what works in Basketball doesnt always work in football, and vice a versa. At some point someone is going to realize that its a good idea to start including coupons for lube and astroglide with their products. Maybe then, things can get better.

Dont just look at the cards – LOOK AT THE PLAYERS:

The Legacy of the Superfractor – Is Football Ready for Life Without its Biggest Card?

Topps may not exactly have had the best track record in a few areas of the hobby over the last few years, but there remains one thing that they do better than any other company. They have found a way, amidst the hobby’s change to relic and autograph focus to create value in rare parallels that lack those elements. So much value that it literally defies my understanding. It all reaches up to the pinnacle that is the 1/1 Superfractor. I would go as far as saying it is currently the most important type of card in any sport in any brand.

Under the search for 1/1 in football right now, the top sold card listed among all others is a Superfractor:

2014 Bowman Johnny Manziel Superfractor Auto 1/1

Other cards are similarly impressive:

2013 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Superfractor Auto 1/1

2013 Topps Finest Sammy Watkins Superfractor Auto 1/1

2014 Bowman Derek Carr Superfractor Auto 1/1

2012 Bowman Sterling Andrew Luck Superfractor Auto Patch 1/1

2013 Topps Platinum Eddie Lacy 1/1 Auto Patch Superfractor

Years ago, I tried to fight against the tidal wave of Superfractors that were flooding the market in just about every single Topps product. Topps Chrome, Finest, Bowman, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Sterling and others all had a Superfractor element, and in some cases, a large contingent of them. It was getting to be overwhelming. especially considering how little I really liked the golden hexagon pattern that adorns each of the examples.

Since that timeframe, I have just come to terms with its aura and legacy among hobby collectors of every sport, and how much it really means. At this point, a world without Topps Superfractors is almost as unwelcome among collectors as a world without Topps. That is a powerful concept. It is so powerful that other companies have even tried to copy Topps’ formula down to a T, most of the time with very limited success. Panini has even recently tried to make identical replicas for the first time, which only shows how much even they covet the success of these cards.

Just adding the Superfractor pattern to a card makes it more valuable thanks to Topps’ consistent success in this space:

2014 Panini VIP Party Andrew Wiggins Superfractor Clone

2014 Leaf Metal Draft Teddy Bridgewater Superfractor Clone

2014 Panini VIP Party Kevin Durant Superfractor Clone

Football's best card of the year comes from a box that usually costs about 70 to 80 bucks, and I cant even understand how that has come to be. In all the different sports that they exist, the biggest sales of the modern era have all been Superfractors. Luck, Strasburg, and others all dominate the top selling lists of the recent years.

The Topps Chrome autographed Superfractor is so valuable, that it will outsell any other chase card for bigger players, even those that come from boxes that cost five times the price. Logos, ridiculous patches, and other tactics are no match, and each year only comes to show how much that gap is growing. EEven the cheap lower tier players still sell for significant money.

This only serves to beg the question of what might happen when Panini takes over football in 2016? The answer isnt as clear as you might think, as the top selling products of the year all come from Topps. Add in that the worst selling products of the year are almost all under the Panini umbrella, and that is not good for business. Even if Panini were to find a way to get to the level of quality that Topps has consistently shown in their Chrome brands, they would struggle mightily to build their own comparable element that the Superfractor represents.

Just adding these cards to products makes them more valuable, which makes me wonder why a product like Topps Five Star was never thought of as a candidate to have Superfractors despite not being a chrome product. Bottom line, a world without these mammoth chase cards is going to be a tough one for many to stomach, and I think its worth considering what that might mean for some of these horrendously bad Panini products. Will the floor continue to drop out, now that there is no incentive for the products to improve? How many more years of Panini Prominence can everyone tolerate before the vomit inducing designs are just too much? Will the Superfractors of the past be that much more valuable? Who knows. The only thing I have to warn is that people better be ready for a big change, and if what people are saying is true, its not going to be good.

Examining the Peaks and Valleys of 2014 Topps Finest Football

After seeing some of the mysteries surrounding Topps Finest be revealed, and getting more acquainted with the set, I am starting to see some very big wins here, along with some bigger losses. I want to take a look and break down my thoughts on one of the bigger in season releases of the year.

Autograph Base Rookie Variations

These were some of my favorite cards in the previous versions of Finest since 2011, and I think that they took a major hit this year with the sticker autos. Hard signed autos on Chrome stock are a very easy way to cultivate value in any set, and using stickers this year took that away. We will have to see how Platinum turns out to see if Topps gets it right. Scary thing is, the Johnny Manziel Superfractor has already been pulled and listed, which is likely the biggest cards in the set. Either way this one doesnt sit well with me.

2014 Topps Finest Blake Bortles Pulsar Refractor Auto /5

2014 Topps Finest Teddy Bridgewater Auto Red Refractor 5/15

2014 Topps Finest Mike Evans Auto RC Refractor

Verdict: DOWNGRADE

Rookie Auto Patch 

I think this year’s design is nice, although the need to include a jumbo patch parallel adds a lot of negative space on the card that could have been shrunk down with the use of additional printing plates. Regardless, I think these look better than last year, and better than 2012 as well. Its a cool tech style look, and I have gotten more attached as I have seen more cards.

2014 Topps Finest David Carr Blue Refractor Auto Patch /99

2014 Topps Finest Kelvin Benjamin Red Refractor Auto Patch

Verdict: UPGRADE

Rookie Auto Jumbo Patch

These are my favorite cards of the entire set, and wish that they were more common. With the negative space from the previous design replaced with a bigger swatch, the card looks more complete. I am really liking that they didnt compromise the size of the player picture to include a larger swatch, which I think many releases struggle with. Compared to 2013, its night and day.

2014 Topps Finest Teddy Bridgewater Jumbo Patch Auto /15

2014 Topps Finest Jadeveon Clowney Pink Refractor Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Topps Finest Brandin Cooks Jumbo Patch Auto Pulsar

Verdict: UPGRADE

Fantasy’s Finest Autos

This year, finest moment cards were replaced with a set that commemorates the biggest fantasy performances in the last few years. I like the idea of celebrating big games, but I am not a fan of using fantasy as the way to do it. The design is nice, but again, its a lot of negative space for design elements to make up for the patches that are present on some of the cards. Being that I wasnt a fan of the finest moments to begin with, Im not to concerned with Topps going a different direction and not executing fully.

2014 Topps Finest AJ Green Fantasy’s Finest Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Topps Finest Julius Thomas Fantasy’s Finest Pulsar Auto

Verdict: PUSH

Jumbo Relic Autos

Since 2011, these have been my favorite part of the set, and for the first time, I think they fumbled this version. There is too much focus on the borders surrounding the different elements of the cards, and not enough on the general aesthetics of the final composition. By shrinking the corner designs, and the side borders, the card would be much more focused on the right things. I dont know, maybe it just looks weird to me.

2014 Topps Finest Eddie Lacy Gold Refractor Auto Jumbo Relic

2014 Topps Finest Sammy Watkins Camo Refractor Jumbo Patch Auto /10

Verdict: DOWNGRADE

Overall, Finest will still be around for its final year next year, and I welcome it back. This is still a fun set, and its rare that you can find a box under 100 bucks and get TWO relic autos. That just doesnt happen, and its why this product has rocked as much as it has. I will be sad to see it go come 2016 when the Panini exclusive kicks in.