SCU First Take – 2014 Rookies and Stars Football Preview

If there is one thing that Panini is known for, it is their complete inability to create and sustain mid year products. Especially ones that dont look anything special from other sets that are already on the calendar. Bottom line, its quite difficult to differentiate one of their mid year releases from the rest, and Rookies and Stars is NOTORIOUS for being one of the most bland and forgettable products of the year.

It has been around forever, which is the only thing it has going for it:

2011 Rookies and Stars Tom Brady Auto Patch

2003 Rookies and Stars Andre Johnson Rookie Relic Auto

2012 Rookies and Stars Nick Foles Jumbo Patch Auto

2013 Rookies and Stars Mike Glennon Rookie Auto Logo Patch

It is also the set that brought these horrendous abortions to the hobby:

2007 Rookies and Stars Calvin Johnson Manupatch Auto

2011 Rookies and Stars Julio Jones Manupatch Auto

I have to frame my commentary so much differently now because of rumors of the NFL exclusive, and if this is what we have to look forward to, product after product after product for the foreseeable future, then god help us all. Does Rookies and Stars look better than 2013? Yes, it does. Am I happy that there are no fucking lame ass manu-patch autos that have plagued this hobby for 8 years? So far, yes. Does this show anything worthy of being the only game in town? Hell no.

Rookies and Stars is not only unfortunately boring in its name, but it is unfortunately boring in its configuration. Another product with four hits for just under 100 bucks, and not much flair or fanfare to say – “yes, Mr. Collector, buy me.” You guys had better get used to reading this refrain, as it is likely more products will be necessary to support the cost of a license. I dont think there are many more synonyms for perfect that Panini can name a set, nor do I think there are enough holidays/conventions to have the giveaways necessary to clear the shelves of this mediocre shit.

Granted, I am still reeling to the point of anger over recent news, so I would like to say that things will likely calm down in my fury. But for now, this is going to be a full time thing.

Twitter Hints At Panini NFL Exclusive in Near Future – Could This Be the Hobby’s Worst Nightmare?

Yesterday on Twitter, rumors surrounding Panini obtaining the NFL exclusive were posted from a few sources. Although they are yet to be verified, its worth discussing the potential that Topps could be out of an NFL license for the second time since 2010. Although they were granted one back the same year, this looks to be of a different way.

As you all are aware, I am not a fan of Panini’s way of doing business or producing cards, and this would effectively end my desire to continue buying new football cards. From the comments on the forums, it looks like many people are saying the same thing.

This could also mark the second time since 2009 that Panini America has used massive untold riches from Panini International to bully their way into a League exclusive. It will also be the second time that co-production rights were removed from a company who produced a superior product. Topps and UD may have exlcusives in MLB and NHL, but both are the gold standard in those sports. We all can see how poorly that has worked out for them in the NBA, as Upper Deck was the NBA card market, and their older cards still dominate Panini at every turn even five years after the fact. Everyone should be equally as upset over this.

Potentially losing the superfractor alone is a huge blow, as it is the chase card style of each football season, out performing high end chases from every box Panini puts on the market. Lets not forget it comes from a box with an MSRP usually below 80 bucks.

Let me start off by saying exclusives fucking suck, which I have said numerous times during the course of this site. Go type exclusive into the search box at the top and you will see. I didnt like it when Topps got the MLB exclusive, or when Panini got the NBA excluisve. If this goes through as we are hearing, all four of the major sports will be under some sort of an exclusive agreement, and that only serves to hurt one group of people – the collector. Competition breeds creativity, quality and a race to innovate that doesnt exist when an exclusive is in place. Yet, we can see that the leagues dont seem to mind with the millions of dollars lining their pockets.

The scary thing is not that Topps will be out of NFL, because that is just sad and disappointing. We should be upset about that, but not scared. With Panini potentially taking over the NFL to match the NBA, it starts a ripple that will likely have implications hobby wide. Here is what those ripples look like.

Future Exclusives

As mentioned by a few people around the hobby, there will be two other opportunities for Panini to use their massive resources to force out the competition. The first is when Topps’ MLB exclusive comes up for renewal and the second will be when UD’s CLC exclusive comes up for renewal (which may already be happening based on years announced in the original deal). These two licenses are the last two dominoes that have the potential to fall, and its clear that Panini will stop at nothing to ensure they have the inside track. If they want, they can secure all four major sports licenses plus CLC to gain a likely illegal full monopoly over licensed trading cards (NHL will eventually fall). With the death of Richard McWilliam, UD is for sale, as is the Topps brand. Cards are not a profitable venture, and most of the companies are struggling to stay afloat. They are doing it, but not by much.

Panini on the other hand, thanks to international sticker sales, has a ton of money – which is both good and bad. Good in the fact that it might provide some leverage in keeping the industry going if something bad were to happen, but bad in the fact that they can use it as a method of achieving manifest destiny. Again, it would be one thing if they were the top in quality (ha!), but they have shown they are more concerned with creating a spectacle of their brand than a product worth buying. Right Panini VIP party?

What you might not understand is how much product of theirs is sold at a drastically reduced cost based on numbers from dealernet, and still unable to be cleared from card shop shelves (which I am sure you have witnessed personally). The distributors may have their own ways of clearing product, but the true drowning swimmers will be the people who need to eventually sell to the end user.

The hobby should be tense about this, because Panini is slowly creeping their grubby little fingers into every last aspect of the hobby. Could they potentially turn things around and make great products? Of course they could, but without competition, where is the incentive?

History / Notoriety

Since the 1950s, Topps has had a long line of continuity that has become ingrained the NFL’s culture. This history, though sordid, is important to the hobby in more ways than I can count. Topps’ history is literally unparalleled in cards and it needs to be considered that in the potential future, there will be top NFL rookies who do not have a Topps football card for the first time in over half a century. Im sorry, but that just cant be acceptable for them to be forced out like this. If they had left on their own, that’s a bit different, but using money to bait the NFL into ending that run kills off a piece of Americana that Panini will never claim.

Similarly, Panini’s football brand is not known at all outside the hobby. They have no football card brand awareness, and that is a huge problem if they are looking to grow the hobby. Topps has made national news on a number of occasions over the last five years, from big sales, to cards like the Sheen Major League auto. News agencies are more friendly because everyone knows what Topps is all about. They grew up collecting Topps cards, and the 52 Mantle remains the most Iconic card that isnt a Honus Wagner with 50 copies. Everyone is familiar with that card, and though Topps isnt leaving baseball, this branding has an impact on growth in the NFL. That is a big deal when you can ask the average joe if they know what Topps is and they can point to sports cards. Panini has none of that.

Grading

I cant believe I am saying this is an issue, but I can guarantee it will come up. So much of the grading element comes from Flagship, Chrome and Finest in football, that the grading companies are likely going to lose an entire sport here. Sure Contenders has some share of the market, but nothing like Topps’ chrome product line. Prizm is a disaster, no one buys Spectra, and Select is awful, which means no one will want to pay the money to have the cards graded as much as they would the Topps’ equivalent. If something changes drastically, who knows, but the outlook is grim. I heard from an insider that the percentage of Chrome vs the field is so drastic that Panini should be concerned. Well, its time to stare down a potential nightmare scenario.

Group Breaks

Football and Group Breaks go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, as the structure of the products in the NFL lend itself very well to breaking in group format. Because the group break companies have woven themselves into hobby consciousness so fundamentally over the last few years, this type of switch will likely serve to burst that bubble and then some. Panini has made no secret of making buddy buddy with the bigger guys, but if they need to put out 20-30 products a year to support a ridiculously expensive exclusive, we all know what will happen. Panini has a HORRENDOUS track record in football when needing to create new brands, and there will be no safe haven for collectors who are tired of the same shit over and over and over and over and over again. Panini may have one fluke success per year, but outside Contenders and Treasures, they are not known for strong or even nominal brand performance.

Pricing

Lets play a game of “Remember back.” Do you all remember back when Panini instituted the Minimum Advertised Price Program? They basically said to everyone that they were going to require a fixed price floor rather than allowing for previous models to happen. It went over like a fart in church for good reason.

You can bet that the more exclusive their clamp over the four sports becomes, the higher the prices will eventually get – especially if MAPP is enforced. Not only are league licenses expensive, but they are horribly taxing to maintain. Products will not jump immediately, dont get me wrong, but they can easily push the price up without adding content. They may actually need to do that just to ensure that they can cover operating costs. This isnt guaranteed, but we have seen it in the past.

Spending

Sure, Panini has made the right choices in marketing their products, providing better customer service, and engaging with the collectors. However, those choices are all independent of how the products are structured and fulfilled. Topps may have serious fucking issues with a lot of different things, but their products are superior in just about every way because that’s where the money goes.

I have noticed that Panini runs their company more like someone who hasnt ever been rich before. The places they choose to spend their funds make me roll my eyes, and it seems like they are throwing money around just to show that they have it. Think of the way a young millionaire would spend their money vs a grizzled businessman who had to fight and claw their way to riches. Panini is the guy you see making it rain at the strip club, and flashing rolls of hundred dollar bills at a party. When you live like that, it will show in other parts of your life. For Panini, they can have huge parties and star studded extravaganzas, but they have yet to figure out what makes a card product that people will buy. Kind of makes you think that Johnny Manziel and Panini are kind of made for each other in that way.

The thing is that American culture is sort of moving that way, and kids idolize those that can show how well off they have it.

Conclusion

If these rumors turn out to be true, we have a lot of thinking to do. We also have the right to take action in an environment that feeds off community vocalization. Write letters, send emails, tweet everyone and tell them you are not happy. If you are happy, that’s your choice, just realize the ramifications of what could happen as a result. No one can deny that monopolies are illegal for many reasons, but that seems to be the way we might be headed.

Panini has a lot of things going for them right now, regardless of the potential exclusive, and that’s a fact. However, I have had too many discussions with too many people to agree that this is the direction the hobby needs to go. When a company clearly has manifest destiny higher on their priority list than market health, lack of competition may not matter. Panini needs someone on their staff who knows how to run a card business, because in my opinion, that doesnt exist over there. Lucky for them, there might be a growing pool of people who do.

The National Convention – An Experience Worthy of Your Hobby Bucket List

If you have never experienced a National Convention, you are missing out. You are missing out on a gathering of collectors that rarely happens but a few times a year, and definitely without this type of fanfare. This one will be more important than usual because of recent news surrounding Cleveland's sports teams, but there are also other things at work that will definitely make a huge impact on the hobby moving forward. Trust me on that.

However, those things arent why the National Convention is important, and they never will be. These types of cards may be amazing, but not a good reason to book your travel:

2010 Upper Deck National Set – Michael Jordan Auto /23

2013 Panini National Set – Kyrie Irving Auto Relic 1/1

2013 Topps National Set – Yasiel Puig Gypsy Queen Exclusive

2012 Leaf National Set – Rod Carew Auto Plate 1/1

2013 Panini National Set – Kobe Bryant Auto

As a collector, its important to go and experience everything that show has to offer, whether its the massive amounts of giveaways that will be happening, or the opportunity to catch up with your buddies who have only existed as a username prior to the show. Its a way to connect with cards in a way that isnt available online or in a shop, and to also be a part of the hobby’s fabric that is slowly thinning at the edges.

Its not the only opportunity to do this over the course of the year, as there are lots of similar sized ways to do a lot of the same things you can do at the national. Unlike the National, those opportunities arent as visible. They also dont have the same level consideration from the general populace as the central gathering of collectors each year. Places like All Star Fan Fest, the Super Bowl NFL Experience, and various other huge collector shows all have a ton of guests that rival the type of things you can find each convention, but nothing gets people going like heading to see what is happening on the floor in each NSCC.

The convention started over 30 years ago in Los Angeles, grew to epic proportions during the collecting boom, dropped when the bubble burst, and is now slowly gaining steam all over again. A lot of it has to do with the way the industry treats it, with many entities offering their best faces to interact directly with the collector base. In recent years, Panini has treated it as a grand spectacle, offering extravagant givewaways and parties for their best customers and the like. Topps has taken the opportunity to offer forums for questions and communication, but has chosen to keep things more scaled back in what they offer. Both approaches have been louded and criticized, but both serve a bigger question. How important is this show to everyone involved? The answer is very important to each company, even if they have different ways of showing it. Sales teams, marketing teams, and everyone in between pile onto the convention floor, with just as much action behind the scenes as there is up front.

A lot of people see wrapper redemptions as a showcase of how much a company wants to invest in basically bribing customers to open their product, but in reality, its more about the people that truly benefit from pack sales. I have said numerous times that poor products usually have poor sales, and that the manufacturers arent usually the people that have to deal with it on a P&L basis. Some of the most important people at the show arent collectors at all, but rather the dealers who come to the national to unload some of their stock. If a product sucks, the wrapper redemptions will likely be built for the dealers, not for the collectors. Of course, we dont see it that way, which only serves the manufacturers to bring more flash and flare to their show floor. God forbid that kind of money be saved to be put back into the products, right? No, that wouldnt fly these days.

So, regardless of my complaining about true motives, you guys are the veritable stars of the show, and its up to you to take advantage of it. You have the hobby elite around you for an entire weekend, and it falls on your lap to make your voice heard. Dont be a dick about it, and definitely dont be combative. Provide your voice in a way that suggests the solution that you would like to see. As much as I have wanted to come swinging with fists of rage in the past, that isnt the way to get things done. Tell them what solutions you are looking for, and how you would make the changes. Dont just go there to tell people what is wrong and expect them to take you seriously. That’s not how any industry works, but people seem to think cards are different. Its not – you can always affect change more through building up to a tipping point, instead of demanding the tipping point being brought to you.

Outside of just the interactions with the companies themselves, interact with the collectors too. Group breaks will be on display this year in Cleveland for a reason, as certain companies have taken it upon themselves to roll out the red carpet and weave them into the foundation of the show. They have become an integral part of the hobby economy, and I will be interested to see how far they can take it this time around. There are a lot of reasons why group breaks are one of the best things to happen to the hobby, but we all know what happens whenever something good is discovered. Currently there are over 100 group breakers that host case breaks online, and I still wonder how that is possible to this day. Maybe this is the commentary people need to see that show how little value there is in many hobby boxes.

Im going to end with a story, and I hope it illustrates why I am sad that I cannot attend this year after going the last two times in Chicago.

The best time I had at any national show did not have anything to with the giveaways or the stuff one can buy while walking the floor. It was the time a bunch of guys from the online community went out to dinner and had a night of food and fun. We talked about everything from cards to life, and everyone had a blast. It wasnt about the politics, more about just  hanging out and drinking some beers while eating some dinner. That was what the national is all about. Connecting with the hobby in a way that can give you a reason to stick around for another year. Its tough these days to find disposable income to spend on cards, but you dont want to be that person around the table next year without a story to tell. You want to have those battle scars to tell to the collector sitting next to you at dinner. Because, guys, ill be the first to tell you – we all have friends, but this is a different thing.

None of my friends collect cards, and not many understand why I do. The feeling when you are sitting at a table full of people that all get you the way you understand yourself, its an unequaled sense of belonging. Can you get that at your local shop? Of course. Can you get that online? Yes. In the same dose as the national convention? Nope. And that’s why you need to go.

Should We Be Excited for 2014 Elite Football?

Yes, yes we all know that Elite is coming. But should we care? Were the last few years of Elite so bad that we should just give up all hope now? At this point, after another QC gallery posted by Panini, im not sure its that simple. There are some reasons why this Elite might in fact be one of the best in recent memory. However, there are lingering reasons why it will be disappointing as well.

Rookie Base Autographs and Parallels

If there is one hugely redeeming part of 2014 Elite, its the addition of on card autographs for the RPS guys on their base rookies. Although we have yet to see any information on print runs, we can assume there will be a lot based on the boxes Panini broke. This alone is a big win, but to also include sticker autos with the updated Premiere shots instead of “00″ airbrush seems like a good thing at this point. When you look at the extreme die cutting of the parallels, I get a little scared how those will come out of the packs, but its not awful. Definitely not as bad as some years.

Previous Years:

2012 Elite Andrew Luck Auto Base RC

2013 Elite Cordarrelle Patterson Base Auto RC

2012 Elite Ryan Tannehill Die Cut Gold Auto

2013 Elite EJ Manuel Die Cut Black Auto 1/1

This Year:

Screen shot 2014-07-16 at 8.04.29 PM Screen shot 2014-07-16 at 8.04.38 PM

Verdict: Big Upgrade

New Breed Auto Relics

Although I really like the design of this series more than last year, the picture series they chose is horrendous. Like worse than horrendous. Panini has had a habit of bringing the rookies indoors during the beautiful conditions at the rookie premiere to take these stupid pictures, and I cannot understand why they would waste that time. Action shots are plentiful, or at least could be more plentiful if these poor decisions werent continually made. 2012 was obviously the best year for this set, but Panini never knows when they have something going well. Trash now.

Previous Years:

2012 Elite Russell Wilson New Breed Auto Relic

2013 Elite Geno Smith New Breed Auto Relic

This Year:

Screen shot 2014-07-16 at 8.04.21 PM panini-america-2014-elite-football-qc-97

Verdict: Enormous Downgrade

Passing the Torch Dual Autos

Here is what I dont understand. Why do companies make dual sided cards? It makes them impossible to appreciate when on display, and hides 50% of the content. Not cool. However, the design of these cards is nice, even though they will be the toughest pulls in the product. I know the big names will garner huge prices on the secondary market as always, but someone needs to let them know that the past should not dictate today. They may have been dual sided before, but it shouldnt be the case.

Previous Years:

2012 Elite Peyton Manning / Andrew Luck Dual Passing the Torch Auto

2013 Elite Patrick Peterson / Devin Hester Dual Passing the Torch Auto

This Year:

BsghrjUCYAANUpG BsghriGCcAAqHqw

Verdict: Upgrade

Down and Distance Relics

Cool idea for a card, as I have said before, but they chose to resurrect a set that celebrates the most unimportant part of football. Sure, down and distance has an effect on the real game, but does it need to be celebrated? Fuck no. Its like creating a card series celebrating pitch counts in baseball. The twirling relics are gimmicky but cool, too bad they couldnt figure out a better way to use them.

Previous Years:

2012 Elite Hakeem Nicks Down and Distance Auto

2013 Elite Drew Brees Down and Distance Spinning Relic

This Year:

panini-america-2014-elite-football-qc-104 panini-america-2014-elite-football-qc-102

Verdict: Slight Upgrade?

Acetate Cards

If there is one thing that Panini excels at, its acetate cards. They do them very well, and this year is no different. I think some of the series are definitely better than others, but overall they look really nice. I didnt see many (if any) of the acetate on card autographs in these boxes which scares the hell out of me, but box breaking was never a strong suit for Panini products at or around 100 bucks.

Previous Years:

2012 Elite Robert Griffin III Auto Acetate

2013 Elite Eddie Lacy Inscriptions Auto

This Year:

panini-america-2014-elite-football-qc-52 panini-america-2014-elite-football-qc-111

Verdict: Upgrade

Am I going to be busting a few boxes of Elite? Yeah, ill probably try a box because I am a sucker for on card – but I am likely going to wait until I see some of the breaks first. Its improved, no doubt, but still so many questions about decision making on some of these things.

Underrated Talent On Display at the 2014 Home Run Derby

I rarely got into following baseball until this year, mainly because I am so caught up in the Topps Bunt app. After watching the games all year, and the power hitters on display last night, I couldnt help but feel that many of these young stars are pretty under appreciated. So much in baseball value is determined by age and team the players represent, that it is almost prohibitive to buy anyone who isnt a superstar.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

Last night, he easily hit the ball further than anyone has ever hit in Target field. The shot was an estimated 500+ feet, and looked like it might leave the park. Sure, its bascially BP, but its a national stage, and Stanton has done nothing but mash the ball this year. His cards are pretty easy to come by because of how much he has signed, but playing in Miami doesnt help. Unless you are Dan Marino or play for the Miami Heat, florida collecting is pretty much a black hole of despair.

2012 Topps Five Star Giancarlo Stanton Inscription Auto

2010 Topps Chrome Giancarlo Stanton Auto RC

2009 Bowman Chrome Giancarlo Stanton Auto RC

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A’s

Another player signed directly into the Minor leagues from Cuba, Cespedes has been a huge addition to a dominant As team over the last few years. His cards should be pretty expensive by standards set by other sports, but like Stanton, he has flown well below that situation.

2012 Topps Chrome Yoenis Cespedes Gold Refractor Auto RC

2012 Topps Finest Yoenis Cespedes Jumbo Relic Auto

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

Another team with not many collectors, Tulo has been one of the best NL shortstops over the last five years. Power, speed and fielding are all in his wheelhouse, and he is frequently overlooked because he plays for a team that hasnt been around that long. He has been one of the only players that can be truly recognized as the face of this team other than Todd Helton.

2007 Exquisite Troy Tulowitzki / Derek Jeter Dual Auto

2014 Topps Tier One Troy Tulowitzki Jumbo Patch Auto

Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

Since being called up for good, Jones has been great by just about every standard. Great in the field, great at the plate, power numbers through the roof, all around talent. All that being said, he has been relatively overlooked in favor of guys like Manny Machado, who seem to have the same level of talent. Surprised people havent caught on.

2003 Upper Deck Prospect Adam Jones RC Auto

2013 Topps Five Star Adam Jones Auto Patch

Justin Morneau, Colorado Rockies

This is a homer write-up, I know, as Morneau was the MVP of the AL for the Twins back in the mid 2000s. Due to a concussion, he fell off in production sharply over the last few years, leading the Twins to trade him to the Pirates, before he signed with Colorado in the offseason. He has had no value in the hobby since the start, and that is even with his unlikely MVP win. Joe Mauer has always been the guy in MN, and Morneau has always played second fiddle.

2001 Bowman Justin Morneau Auto RC

2001 Finest Justin Morneau Auto RC

Again, let me frame this in terms of other sports, as Baseball is practically a different world. Potential dictates value in combination with Team and College affiliation, where in Baseball, you literally have to be an MVP to have any high end value on a consistent basis. Maybe that’s why I have moved so far away from this and into a more high end friendly sport like Football. I just dont get it.