The Industry and Moving Forward at Half Strength

I love this part of the year, both for cards and for sports. Training camps are about to open, Baseball season is starting to heat up, and Football cards are finally entering into the meat of the season. Because I am such a huge football fan, I start to get revved up for everything that comes with the start of a new year. New players, new targets, and usually much more news and interesting tidbits to write about. The difference is that this year, at least on the card front, lots has changed, and Im pretty sure its not for the better.

For the first time in close to 20 years, Upper Deck will not be producing licensed football cards. Because they usually produce the best looking cards in football, period, its going to be a long card season having to put up with the monotony spawned by Panini’s long line of clones, or Topps’ terrible high end offerings. Although I have seen bright spots in Panini’s line with some parts of Elite and Classics, they still don’t even hold a candle to what was taken away from the market when Upper Deck was forced into using their NCAA license. I said before that licensed Veteran on card autos went from multiple sets in multiple products to NOTHING this year, and its starting to look like that is going to really hurt my propencity to buy cards this year. I am not an NCAA fan, and I will not be buying any of Upper Deck’s products due to that fact, so when I start to look at what is coming, boredom sets in.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited for Topps Chrome and their Flagship product this year, but those are two sets in a calendar of 30 plus. I recently continued my tradition of buying a few boxes of Classics, but I am only doing that because there is nothing else available. I wonder how much longer I can sustain my own interest in a industry that will support and produce some of the most BORING sets in recent memory. I mean, has anyone ever sat down and really looked over the calendar? It’s a complete snooze fest this year without the normal blockbuster products that Upper Deck brings to the table. Sure, SPA will most likely look great as it always does, but the wow factor escapes me because they cant produce cards showing NFL logos or uniforms. SPX looks great for the first time in a few years, yet I am left out in the cold because I don’t care which college Sam Bradford went to now that he puts on a Rams uniform for a living.

At least in the past, when Panini would put out set after set that looks exactly like the one before it, I could stand it because I always knew there was something better coming. I don’t have that luxury anymore. I am seriously debating whether or not to purchase a case of Topps Chrome and just open it slowly throughout the year. Its really the only bright spot on the entire calendar for me, and its not even scheduled until october. That’s a long time to wait, especially when you consider that there isnt anything in between to garner interest among the people like me.

With that, I want to list out a few things that Panini and Topps should consider now that there is a big hole left by Upper Deck’s departure from the licensed game:

1. Enough With the Foil

I get it, there are a lot of collectors that gravitate towards shiny things like a baby to keys on a keychain. Does that mean that it has to go in every product? I think I counted once or twice that Upper Deck used foilboard last year and it was in subsets NOT THE WHOLE PRODUCT. They did fine, so that means that having good sales numbers is not contingent on the use of that horrid crap. Its amateurish, and looks like it is used to hide terrible design work. In most cases the designs are terrible, so maybe that says something.

2. Start Phasing out Stickers In Boxes That Cost More Than $75

Upper Deck made a name for themselves with more than 8 products last year that featured some sort of on card signatures. Most of those products featured an on card element from veteran and HOF players, usually with great success among collectors. Both Panini and Topps, despite the ridiculous price tags on some of their products, did not find a way to produce even one. Im not asking for the farm overnight, but they have to start somewhere. I would forgive some of the other egregious errors if they at least made an effort. So far, they have shown nothing but laziness.

3. Evaluate Content In Relation to Pricing

Panini is known for giving you 3 crap jerseys and a crap auto for 100 bucks. It’s the backbone of Prestige, Elite, Gridiron Gear, Classics, and just about every other product they sell. Topps isnt much better with their high end products, as Triple Threads gives you two shitty hits for a whopping 180 dollars. I don’t even know where to start on that. If they want to move to a different level of sales, they need to figure out ways to lower cost and raise content. Although that seems mutually exclusive, there are ways to do it as evidenced by a number of products from last year’s calendar. I think a lot of people out there would be happy to give up their jersey cards if it were replaced with a patch card, or another auto, but even patch cards are becoming commonplace now.

4. Make High End Products Look High End

The reason Exquisite was Exquisite was because of the way it looked. Every card was hard signed. Every card was ornately designed. Every card had an element that differentiated itself from other Upper Deck products during the year. Last year there was not a single jersey card without an auto on it. It was either a patch or nothing. National Treasures is completely stickers with few exceptions on the rookie front, and the rest looked like an over priced version of Donruss Threads. Complete poop. Triple Threads is even worse in that department because of how terrible the cards look. A lot could be solved with a little bit of reimagining when it comes to the way the high end products are produced.

5. Less is More

Panini has become famous for using weird lines and oddly placed elements on a card front. Topps has become famous for trying to stuff 89 relic windows onto a card front. Why? Topps low end products are wildly successful because Topps never tries to do more than is needed. SPA was the best looking product because Upper Deck wasn’t afraid to use negative space to their advantage. You know that addage “KISS – Keep it simple stupid”? That most definitely applies here. There is nothing prettier than a field shot and a border. No need for a photoshop bonanza. Just give me the player and the field, and let the rest speak for itself. This is overkill. This is worse. This is makes my head hurt. This is more of what we need.

6. Parallels have no place in a mid to high end product

You know why Chrome can use parallels? Because for 50 bucks a box, its catering to a different audience. When you start getting up into the products like Limited and Platinum, there is not a need for 123 parallels of one card. Panini has a formula, and that formula makes me want to take a human life. You have the normal card, the numbered normal card with 10 parallels, the normal card with a jersey, the normal card with a patch, the normal card with an auto, the normal card with an auto and a jersey, the numbered card with a patch, and then ten parallels of that card. Is any of that necessary? Not at all. If the product cost nothing, then fine, parallel the shit out of it. But if that product is National Treasures then there is a MAJOR problem. Did someone see that any given player in Triple Threads can have have up to 3,500 cards? That is parallel hell. How about developing unique content instead of just stuffing parallel after parallel into the set? Interesting idea, no?

7. Use Player Pictures To Your Advantage

Cards look better when the subject of the card is the focus, not the jersey pieces. Panini has gotten MUCH better at this, but Topps is a complete EPIC FAIL. To the Topps design team, its more important to have 73 different relic pieces than it is to have a player picture bigger than a pinky nail. We collect cards for the players on them, relics are the add ons. Not the other way around. I actually avoid buying cards with crappy pictures, even if they feature everything else I am looking for. The picture can make or break a card, and its time for the companies to start considering that.

8. Re-evaluate Where Scrub Autos Fit In to the Industry

I get it. The best players charge out the ass for signatures. Even the rookies charge a ridiculous cost per card. That’s a given. But, when I pay a bunch of money for a box, and the box hit is an undrafted free agent, I swear off buying more of that product unless there is something else in the box to make up for it. The problem is that when the cost of obtaining autographs is rising at rapid rates, the need for cheap autos is essential. However, then you consider #3 on this list, you are taking even more out of the products than just star autos. Not every box can be a winner, but every box needs SOMETHING. Put the sweet patch cards in the boxes with the scrubs. Redo seeding in the products that feature scrub autos as box hits. If there is a scrub in the box, give it value SOME other way. That’s where the 1/1 parallels need to go. Panini has actually done a better job of seeding the boxes with the crap autos, but there is still a lot of untapped potential that could be used.

9. Offer a Loyalty Program That EVERYONE Can Participate In

I have no idea why this wasn’t done before, and I am not talking about the diamond club for UD where only the whales get the preferential treatment. Im talking about getting something in the works that rewards people who buy the cards that the companies want them to buy. If the companies showed appreciation to the customers on every level, it would give us another reason not to go to ebay for singles. For example, for every X number of packs or boxes, give me a shot at an exclusive unreleased card. Offer lotteries for good prizes. There is so much here and it is completely unexplored.

10. Find a Way For The Best Common Box Hit To Be Worth More Than the Price of a Box

If I can go on eBay and buy the best card in the set for less than the cost of a box, something is wrong. A lot of this is a result of the numbering on the card, the strength of the rookie class, or even the looks of the cards, so its time to make the best rookie hit worth enough for people to consider spending money on the unopened product. 1/1s only go so far in a product.

11. Speaking of 1/1s, Make Them Important Again

Triple Threads features over 4,000 1/1s in the product. Many of them being crap parallels or printing plates. That doesn’t give me any reason to want them. Upper Deck was notorioous for making most of their 1/1s worth the time of the collectors who bought their products. Especially high end. If companies want to create the chase element, learn from rule #6 and take the one of one in a brand new direction. If it says 1/1 on the card, it needs to bring something than no other card brings in the set.

12. Enough With The Lame Subset Names

In most Panini products, all of the autos are coming from the subsets in the set. But when the subsets have terrible names as well as terrible designs (like they usually do), the whole product suffers. It is paramount to create a theme for the set and build on it, not just throw words together and hope they make sense. Why do you even need a name? Cant you just throw different player pics with different designs on it and let us sort it out?

13. Hire Some Consultants

Products are conceived months, sometimes years in advance, which gives ample time to consult with people before heading to production. As I have said before, I can think of no less than 500 people who would do it for free, myself included. I honestly think that I could easily offer some valuable advice before something like this hits the production line.

That’s all I can think of right now, but im sure there is a lot more that the blog community can offer.

Panini Epix Puts Me To Sleep

Remember when I said it looked like Panini was finally getting on the right track? Remember? Yeah, I was wrong. Very much like the Threads, this set doesn’t offer a single bit of difference from Panini’s normal product line, even going so far as making those lame ass field signatures a focus of the preview. Really? That’s the best you guys can come up with for a new set? A card that has been offered in every gridiron gear set since 2007? Come on. Even if this set does end up taking the place of Gridiron Gear, I couldn’t care less, mainly because neither set was geared in the right way.

Personally, I think that what made Upper Deck and Low End Topps cards successful, were the elements they brought to each product and the ways they were updated year to year. Panini has yet to figure that out with any of their products. Threads has those letters that may have been popular 8 years ago, but have lost all semblence of originality in the last few years. Has there been an updated focus to that set? Not a chance. It’s the same product it was back in 2007. Epix is very similar, in that respect, especially when you look at the cards they previewed. I can already tell you that its going to be card after card, paralleled to hell, with “four hits per box (at least one autograph)” as usual, and each box isnt going to be much more than a few shitty jersey cards and scrub auto.

If Epix brought something new to the table, maybe like a flagship card the way the SPA RPA’s usually are, it would be one thing. But to have the same stuff, set after set fosters nothing but boredom. Look at the Bradford for example, especially the way the card is oriented. Diagonal text and lines, weird fonts and a parallel friendly set up. There can be a base card of it, a jersey, an auto, a jersey auto, a patch and a patch auto, all from that one design. That’s the way that EVERY Panini card is designed. In fact, they have championed that horrid concept so hardcore that we have come to expect it. Personally, I was even looking for those signed manupatches they usually put in ten products each year.

Funny enough, my usual distributor contact who emails me when the new previews come out included a comment with his email this time that I think I need to repeat. It gave me a nice half-LOL today, and I hope it will do the same for you:

“Gellman,

Just got this in for Panini Epix or whatever they are calling Gridiron Gear these days. Typical junk that I am going to be forced to peddle instead of good looking stuff that people actually want to buy. I saw that Beckett already had a preview up, hilariously polishing Panini’s pole for a new groundbreaking idea. You mentioned yesterday that one of the reasons you started SCU was to combat the positivity for positivity’s sake, and I never really considered it until I read the joke that Beckett put as a preview for this junk. Have fun with this, im eagerly awaiting your comments.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX”

My thoughts exactly.


Is Panini Threads The Start of a Rehash Downfall?

I thought things were a changin’, I thought that Panini had finally made a push in the right directions by starting to avoid some of the major design problems that the last 2-3 years of their cards have had. Then I saw the preview for threads yesterday, and all of that promise and hope deflated like the soccer excitement in this country after Saturday.

On top of the fact that these cards look terrible to begin with, they have changed VERY little since 2009’s offerings. We still have the same design for the main rookie hits, and most of the subsets are so boring that I had to drink a red bull to stay awake while looking at them. That’s not the scary thing though, it gets much, much scarier.

Last year, National Treasures was a 400 dollar box of Threads to begin with, featuring the worst looking product since its inception in 2006. What used to look like aged relic of the past, instead looked like half the shit out of Threads, minus the foilboard. That will not ever fly with me, and if this set is any indication of things to come, we are looking at ANOTHER down year of National Treasures. I was hoping that Panini would learn that you cant just rehash every single part of previous sets and not expect people to notice, but I assume as soon as we get the Absolute Preview, its going to be more of the same ole shit.

This is where the consumers really need to speak up, but with a lack of licensed product from the company known for producing the best looking cards, they may not be able to have that luxury. Then when you consider that so far, Chrome and Flagship are the only products out of Topps’ lineup worth being excited for, it may be a full year’s worth of boredom on the horizon.

For shame Panini, for shame.






What Is Going On With Elite?

Now that Elite has been out for a few days, we are getting a good picture of how much the cards are going for. Suprisingly, prices are not as expensive as I thought they would be, which makes me wonder as to how collectors are perceiving the strength of this draft class. Even the top running backs of the class are selling lower than I expected, as the Peterson effect would usually have prices of Spiller and Matthews through the roof. On top of that, players like Dez Bryant, who play for highly collected teams arent feeling that bump like I have seen in similar situations for previous years, and im not sure that it all has to do with how the cards look. So, that begs the question of whether or not it’s the class or the product.

When it comes to the argument that the class is responsible for a normal pricing bump that follows the first post premiere NFL uni product, I think there is definitely merit. This draft was so defense heavy, that most of the elite prospects were Defensive Linemen who normally wouldn’t command high prices. Outside of the defensive line, there were a handful of great CBs, LBs, and other player positions that have no demand in the hobby in normal cases. Bradford is the top QB of the class, but he is being outsold by Tebow, who is looking more like a career backup than anything at first glance of his skill set. Bryant is the top WR of the class, but he fell far in the draft due to character issues. Spiller is the top RB by a nose over Ryan Matthews, but people arent buying in to his stuff like they would in previous years because its more generally understood that Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson were more the exception to the rule than the rule itself. That, and most of Johnson’s success came in his second year, not his rookie year like Peterson.

As for the actual product, this may be the first time that NFL uniforms may have been detrimental to a product. Even though people like me bought into a product we normally avoid like the plague due to college stuff, other collectors were expecting it. Then when you also factor in that the design is more simple and plain than previous years, all those collectors that usually shout “OOOO SOMETHING SHINY!!!” when they buy a card, may not be as excited. Again, even though I am just about 100% focused on design and love simplicity over the eyesores of last year’s thunderstorm cards, there are a lot of people that want foil and other crap like that because they think it looks better (or may have vision problems that prevent them from liking good looking stuff).

Overall, Elite will have a following regardless of anything because it has brand recognition, but I am acutally pretty surprised that prices arent higher. Although Im not sure as to why its happening completely, im sure it’s a combination of all of the above. I will say that it takes a lot for me to want a box of something, and I bought some of this product. At the very least, that says that things are getting better with Panini rather than worse. They still have buttloads of sticker products with no hint of any veteran cards worth buying, they may love ridiculous amounts of parallels, they may have floating swatches, but they did good by me here by including NFL uni cards as early as possible. Considering that people like me are rising at a more rapid rate due to the way products are being produced, you would think that things would be at a much higher price point. Obviously, something else is at work.

Filling Holes Left By Upper Deck’s NFL License

Up until this year, it was rare to lose a company in a sport, either by choice or by force. This past year, it has happened twice in football, with one company luckily getting another shot at making football cards. Upper Deck, obviously wasnt so lucky with the ability to produce licensed NFL cards, and we have yet to see how their NCAA products turn out. With that in mind, there are some spots that Panini and Topps will be looking to fill (hopefully effectively), and that is what I want to go over here.

Exquisite – Upper Deck has already confirmed that Exquisite is out for 2010, and personally I think it was the right call because of the situation. Most people would expect National Treasures to fill the void left by the industry’s best high end product, but Im not so sure it will actually happen. Last year’s National Treasures set was terrible, looking more like a 400 dollar box of Donruss Threads than a box of high end goodness. That will not be able to happen this year, and it looks like Panini is already taking steps to better the product by adding on card signatures for some of the big chase cards. It still looks as if the rest of the product will be stickers, something that is completely unacceptable, so Im not sure how far their efforts will take them.
SP Authentic – SPA was the premiere product for Football cards, and has been since its inception. Collectors eagerly await the release of this product every year because of its consistent great designs and amazing box content for about 100 bucks. This year, the SPA we know and love will be revamped for the NCAA exclusive, and I am still confident that it can live up to expectations. However, that wont stop Topps and Panini from gunning for it. Topps Platinum was supposed to be the answer in 2009, however it failed to even come close to delivering. The same was said about Topps Unique, but it was anything but Unique with boring designs and terrible content. At this point Leaf Limited is the only product that could possibly live up to SPA, but it will take a huge improvement and a huge push towards the concepts that made SPA so popular. Im not sure if they will be able to make that jump.
Ultimate Collection – I loved Ultimate Collection this year, and I dont think it will be making a comeback for 2010. I think that this particular segment of the product calendar will be left behind, though Triple Threads may take a shot at it. Obviously, you all know my feelings on what I think is one of the worst product ever created, so I dont really need to elaborate on that. Ultimate could come back with a focus on bringing more inscriptions and stuff to compensate for the lack of logos, but im not sure it would be enough to get some of the collectors to buy into the new format.
SPX - I actually think that the NCAA license fits SPX more than any other product in UD’s early product line. SPX has always been about rookies and getting deep into the draft class, and this is the perfect opportunity to exploit that. The price point would need to come down, but there is a definite possibility of making this a banner product for the early calendar. Obviously Topps is taking notice of the lack of good products in the early part of the year with the release of Platinum in September, so I would think that UD should do the same with getting SPX out as quickly as possible.
Flagship Upper Deck – Topps has had this part of the calendar since the early 60’s so I dont think that a lack of Upper Deck low end is going to be missed all that much. Topps’ flagship product is looking so ridiculous at this point, that Im not sure Panini will even be able to compete at all. Elite will be featuring a Rookie Premiere Signature set for the first time, but it is one subset in a complete product filled with headshots of college players due to a lack of an ability to display college jerseys.
Honestly, if you asked me a few months ago if Upper Deck would be able to compete without a license, I would have said you were nuts. But because of the holes their phenomenal products leave behind, its not as big of a gap anymore.