Autographs and Cards – Can Things Get Worse?

Ill be the first to admit that my time working on this site has been minimal prior to this fiasco, and its because I got to the point where I was bored with complaining. I was just bored all around, to be honest, and I dont think I am alone in that feeling. As a football collector, its not exactly super fun happy time if you feel the way about Panini that I feel. We still have 9 years left of this shit show, and at this point they are doing so much harm to the football side of things, im not sure it could get much worse. Then the whole Dak Prescott thing happened, and I realized that rock bottom wasnt even close.

The reason I say that I dont think we are even within eye sight of rock bottom is because of the way the national media treated this. Autograph collecting is still a foreign concept to most Americans, even though chasing foul balls and running down a player for a selfie is pretty commonplace. What was made even more apparent was how little trading cards factored into people’s perception of autograph collecting, all of which should not be a surprise. Basically, no one who got wind of this story thought it was anything more than a tongue in cheek jab at a QB from one of america’s most cheered against sports teams.

As I have said thousands of time before – none of this should be a surprise. The industry around the hobby has shifted so drastically from where it was during my youth that it is barely recognizable. Lots of people like to get autographs of their favorite players, few will pay a premium for a trading card that features a contrived scarce availability.

With all of this as a consideration, how can things get worse than they already are?

I think the answer lies in the player themselves, as its clear that the trading card companies and their business model lies almost squarely on the player’s shoulders. Sure, league licenses are an issue in their own right, but just producing base cards with no autographs is likely a losing battle. They need the players as desperately as ever, and more and more, players are becoming more and more unwilling to participate. Even worse, they may not be understanding of why their participation is so important to the companies.

Imagine explaining how those 300 sheets of stickers were going to be used to a 21 year old college kid, whose intelligence is almost 100% based around their sport. In football, from my own experience, this is about as prevalent as any sport, and I dont think that is any shock to people. The autograph game is too one sided in so many ways, and with the way the general public is reacting to recent news, I have to think that the uphill battle of growing the hobby is tougher than ever.

Digital has a place in this as well, because it is introducing trading cards to thousands upon thousands of people who wouldnt normally be exposed. Since digital signatures arent actually signed by the player unless noted, it changes the game a bit. Product development can be hours instead of months, and that poses a unique advantage. You dont need to explain why the player needs to sign 10000 of the card in front of them.

Im generalizing, I know. Some players do understand what is going on and dont mind the process. With most of the kids being exposed to autograph days with their school or fan fests with the professional team, they get the desire for their signature. They also understand the contract they signed and why they are being asked to do specifically what they are asked to do. I have to believe this is the exception, not the rule, and the middle ground players can be very easy to work with. Older players who have been around the hobby for years are likely not as much of an issue other than cost per signature, too. I dont think they are the problem.

At the same time, if the guys dont really get what they are signing or why they are signing it, it becomes that much easier to shrug off their duties or try to manipulate the system in a way like Dak and others have tried. The NFLPA also has a stake in this, because they work with the players to ensure the cards get signed at many of the sanctioned events.

Im actually wondering how this all plays out over the next ten years, because I have put so much effort and money into the hobby that I really dont want to see things come crashing down in the industry that supports my addiction. Personally, I dont see the way things are set up right now as sustainable at all. Licensing costs are too much, players want more and more to sign, companies need them more and more, and box prices are getting so unreasonable that everything is diluted. It also doesnt help that Panini’s football business methods is to run the presses like they are on fire, only exacerbating many of the challenges everyone faces on a regular basis.

Here is how I see this. More and more players will try to do what so many have done already. They will try to get around the grueling five hour signing sessions or thousands of cards that show up in their mailbox. Its brutal. Ive watched them do it, and some have a system that makes it go faster, others struggle to get it completed. For that reason, companies will have to find a way to weed out the misses and capitalize on the players who understand what is going on. Hopefully they can do that and quickly, before more national news comes crashing down upon us all.

4 thoughts on “Autographs and Cards – Can Things Get Worse?

  1. first, let me say I really enjoy your blog – brings news that really isn’t covered anywhere. I’m not a football guy, but this story is fascinating to me, and I agree with many of your reasons and would offer another. I used to work in minor league baseball in the early 2000s, and even back then, the guys found card collectors to be extremely dorky – and I guess maybe we are on some level – but the result was a level of contempt to sign, especially when it was tons and took up a lot of time. Sure, some guys ‘get it’ and do it out of ethical obligation, but very few enjoy it. Coupled with the fact that I feel that card companies are asking for more and more – what was 1000 stickers a decade ago is now 5000 covering multiple products – and I’m not surprised. As you said, hard to see how any of this is sustainable.

  2. I think you are correct. Things are going to get worse. We all know that attracting young people is a major issue for the future of the hobby. The price of a “low-end” hobby box is $100 now and high-end boxes of $300+ are where the “growth” of the release calendar is happening. All this points to a collector base that’s getting older, not younger.

    Likewise, NFL players are getting younger. Look at some of the current or retired players in their mid-late 30’s like Peyton–they probably remember collecting cards of their heroes as kids. When someone tells them to sign a bunch of stickers because they need them to put on football cards, they understand why it’s important because they can remember what it was like to be that little kid on the other end (even though, in reality, it’s not a little kid on the other end).

    Now think of a 21 year old first round draft pick. Agent or whoever drops off a bunch of sheets of stickers.

    Player asks, “Why do I have to sign these?”

    Agent (awkwardly) says, “they’re for football cards. We return the stickers and Panini puts them on your cards for people to buy.”

    Player: “Like, for little kids.”

    Agent: “Not really, these are WAAAAAAY to expensive for little kids. It’s mostly overweight guys in their 30’s.”

    Player: “Huh”

    *Agent leaves*

    Player hands sheets to guy he went to HS with. “Fill these out for me, I’m going to the gym.”

    End scene

  3. I enjoy reading everything that you put out. I really do. I can remember as a kid going down to the corner store with my friends tearing open packs of topps football and baseball, trading with my friends and hopefully getting my favorite players. It was pure innocence back then. Now it’s pure profit. I don’t care for panini even in the slightest. I tried collecting them but I found it to be impossible to care about a company that laughs at those that collect there cards. Why would I say laugh? Because they show by the way that they make crappy cards that nobody at panini cares about the collectors so I don’t care about them. I will never collect another panini card ever! I also believe the players don’t care about the collectors either. I remember when autographs on cards first came out. I was so excited. Then I saw what the autographs looked like. Squiggly marks, initials. I remember one player just made a check mark for his autograph. I will still watch football and baseball but I think I’ve had enough of the trading card industry.

  4. I totally agree with what your saying, but only as it relates to football. The baseball hobby on the other hand looks fairly stable to me.

    For one you have Topps running it, which in and of itself makes it far more stable. Topps has brand recognition beyond just the Hobby. In other words people who don’t collect still know who they are to some extent. They are also better run and put out superior products. They are also far better equipped to handle any issues like the Dak incident.

    Second, baseball players have a far better understanding and appreciation for the hobby. Baseball is a game of steep traditions, and cards is part of that. Young draft picks talk all the time of the thrill of signing their first Bowman cards.

    Third is the collectors themselves. That history and tradition is embedded into the collectors as well. Look at the resale value of patch, bat, glove, ect only cards. Also look at the value of any HOFer or even team only legends. This just isn’t the case in football.

    I can envision a future where the football side of the Hobby goes away for a year or two, then Topps or another company reviving it.

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