Panini America Signs Exclusive Deal With 3 Major Schools

I mentioned on twitter a few weeks ago that rumors had been swirling since the National, mainly regarding Panini looking to get into the CLC game. If you saw the announcement today of a university exclusive trading card deal with Kentucky, Georgia, and Miami, it is a prime indicator those rumors are true. However, it may not be that simple, and everyone might be surprised to hear what might actually be in play. Also, the ripples this deal may have on the industry in the next few years could impact more than we expect.

For those of you who might be unaware, CLC represents the marketing and branding arm of the NCAA and its biggest intellectual properties. Since 2010, Upper Deck has had the exclusive license to produce trading cards with NCAA logos on them, which has let to the absolute clusterfuck we all see in NFL licensed pre-draft cards for both Football and Basketball.

With the announcement today, it looks as if Panini has found a way to circumvent CLC by throwing enough money at three schools for them to sign exclusive trading card deals. In all reality, this deal will only currently have impact on Basketball rookies from Kentucky (which Upper Deck has distanced their product focus from anyways), and Todd Gurley from Georgia football (a very big deal). My initial reaction has been to say that this is a very good reason why the rumors of a split CLC license were true, but in fact, it might be that Panini overplayed their hand and wasnt able to secure a CLC license after all.

In fact, that seems to make more and more sense to me as the news sinks in. There really is no need to have schools opt out of CLC for an exclusive deal if the license was already in place, and if I am Upper Deck, I am on the phone with UNC trying to ensure that Panini isnt already trying to bully their way into an exclusive there as well. As it stands, no CLC based product can have airbrushed jerseys in it, so UD would be forced to leave Jordan out of all of it’s basketball based products also using other CLC school logos. That would be the nail in the coffin for a company that is already having major issues with the way the industry is going.

There are a lot of people curious if schools like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas would be next on the football kill order, and Panini definitely has the money to make that happen. Without the major SEC and BIG 12 schools, Panini has Upper Deck by the short and curlies. That is a big deal all on its own.

Now, lets take this a step further, as I have always said that Panini’s plan overall is to eliminate competition for the purposes of buying out and establishing an industry where their cards are the only option. Let’s say for a moment that Panini decides they dont want to stop with Schools opting out of the CLC license, and instead focus on entire teams from pro sports. For discussion’s sake, lets say they can convince Jerry Jones that the recent exclusive deal for game used Dallas Cowboys equipment is a good place to build. Instead of Dallas Cowboys being available for anyone who manages to secure an NFL license, the only place to find America’s team is Panini products. Now, this is moot because Panini already has the exclusive for the NFL, but that’s not to say they cant pull it off in other sports too.

Overall, the ripples continue to be heading in the wrong direction. Panini is making a case to showcase exactly what most in the industry fear will happen. Come 2020, they will have made a play for every applicable trading card sport license, and there will be no other pro uniform products that have a logo besides Panini. In an industry CRIPPLED by money issues derived from a plethora of issues, they have more money than god. That is a huge reason why everyone should be scared that Panini is carrying the biggest stick in the room. Historically, the team at Panini has become notorious for some of the worst decisions in recent memories, and these are the same individuals who will eventually control every league licensed trading card set that exists. Both Topps and UD are up to their ears in debt, and its not getting any better for either one.

Who would have guessed that a company known for making fucking stickers is the one that will ruin the trading card industry for everyone involved? Collectors have already started bolting for the exits in this blowout, as its clear that a 10 run lead in the bottom of the 8th is not going to end well for the home team. Products have a shelf life closer tot hat of an open can of beer, and like Beer, many are fun at first, but go flat with a short amount of time.

Upper Deck may have won a battle it seems, if in fact Panini has found themselves on the outside looking in on a CLC license. That does not mean, however, that they are even close to winning the war. Money talks in every stage of the game, and when you have a company that operates like a pop star in a strip club, you know its only a matter of time before things get weird.

Let me close in saying I dont hate Panini because of who they are or what they do, but because the products they make are shitty. That’s the long and short of it. Now that I see that they are trying to drive a steamroller over the brands I feel produce FAAAAAR superior cards, its a very personal situation. Panini is NOT good for this hobby, but they do have the most stable stream of resources to use at their disposal. Lets just hope Italy doesnt realize how these poor decisions can potentially affect the overall bottom line.

Having said this at least a million times, Panini has not shown that they are worthy of any exclusive based on product performance. If you see the top 10 performing products of any given sport, Panini struggles to make even a fingerprint on the glass of that window. When you look at the number of products they are forced to put on closeout each year, it should be abundantly obvious that they do not know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to making quality products. Yet, because Italy doesnt have line of sight into what they are doing to the industry, they keep on progressing down this path.

The vitriol that I spew on a regular basis towards them is almost entirely based on their product lines, but ever since the announcement of the NFLPA exclusive, they have touched the wrong nerve with me. This news should do the same thing for you, as they are not treading lightly regardless of how you feel about other company’s products. Competition is a good thing, and Panini has made it their mission to use money to create a vacuum on shelves for what could be sold. They didnt use the quality of their products to show they are the superior brand, instead using money they had no part in making to buy their way into the place among the kings.

I relate this to the trust fund baby who is able to buy their way into Harvard because of their parents. Their grades may be mediocre, but because mommy and daddy have a ton of money, they can still walk the halls in Cambridge.  This fucking sucks.

Hot Rookies Makes Its “Triumphant” Return in Playbook?

As if 2014 Score wasnt enough of a disaster on its own, Panini thought it was a good idea to rehash the 2014 Score product by releasing Hot Rookies. In case you missed it (consider yourself among the lucky if you did), Hot Rookies was score cards, reprinted and stamped with a foil logo, and sold at hobby instead of retail.

Behold the wonder that is 2014 Hot Rookies, in all its vomit inducing glory.

2014 Hot Rookies Johnny Manziel Blue Auto

2014 Hot Rookies Sammy Watkins Black Auto

2014 Hot Rookies Kelvin Benjamin Auto RC

2014 Hot Rookies Montee Ball Franchise Fabric Auto Relic – Forgot the foil stamp to cover up the score logo on this one.

Similar to the great idea to release Hot Rookies, Panini seems to think they should do a second go around with the product in 2014 Playbook, which is already a set hurting for positive attention after years of poor production. Yes, great idea Panini, wonder who was asleep at the production meeting and let this idea get the green light.

So, let me break this down for you based on what we see in the QC break that Panini posted on their blog this morning. You pay 90 dollars for a box of playbook, which is only slated to have one booklet in it per box (not necessarily autographed, either). You open the box, and your booklet is a relic booklet, which may or may not be Charles Sims of Tampa Bay Bucs fame. As you slide to the next card, you see your autograph for the box is a new Hot Rookies orange parallel. Yes, this could happen, and no, I am not kidding.

panini-america-2014-playbook-football-teaser-24

Nothing like opening a box of one product that is already on life support and seeing that your box hit is an autograph from the worst product of the year so far. In bright fucking orange none-the-less. We all have heard how hard it is to get the rookies to sign this year, but that shouldnt give Panini a pass to completely give up on things. Way to go Panini, cant wait for 2016 to get here.

Hey Johnny, where is that box I should open again?

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Ahh, gotcha, thanks!

Which Stands Above – 2014 Valor or 2014 Playbook?

Although I am not a fan of Friday releases, we are getting not one, but two product releases this week. Valor has been available through retail for a while, and we have seen that the cards do look as nice as they did in 2012. Playbook is back for its 4th year, and there are reasons to get excited. The question remains, are either worth your time?

2014 Valor Football

As I have talked about prior, I think Valor was the first of the concept products that have led to others like Topps Fire, scheduled to be released later this year. Like I expect Fire to turn out, 2012 Valor tanked due to an unsustainable price point for cards that collectors never really saw as something worth picking up. It did have great looking cards with on card autos, but overall failed to strike a chord with the target market.

Here are some of the cool looking hits that have already surfaced from retail:

2014 Valor Eagles Quad Auto – Foles, McCoy, Matthews and Ertz

2014 Valor Teddy Bridgewater Auto Patch RC

2014 Valor Sammy Watkins Auto Patch RC Green Parallel

2014 Valor Marshawn Lynch Auto SSP

After being axed for 2013, its back this year with a different format and much lower price point. Its funny, because both Valor and Playbook are featuring huge cuts in wax MSRP, despite having content equal to what was featured in previous years. Funny how that works, right?

Like 2012, the new edition looks really well designed, and the beefed up box content should make it less of a jagged pill to swallow. The main issue is that the on card autos are gone (cant do them this early on), but that shouldnt cripple the product. The concept and motif are still going to be a challenge for the straight laced type of market that cards can have, but I think its still worth a look just for the design alone.

Similar issues will arise from going up against a product like Playbook, which has been a DOG and then some for Panini, but with a cheaper box price may perform better. It also has continuity which matters more than it should, and we all know how collectors prefer large patches to cards that actually look good. Valor has a tough road ahead, but definitely worth taking a look.

2014 Playbook Football

Though the box breaks have been cost prohibitive since day one on Playbook, the product has had its fair share of great looking cards with a cool theme. On the other hand, outside of the main booklet cards, this product has been about as big of a murder scene as can exist. Poor design, horrible value and dumb themes have been a death blow to the non-box hits, which in turn have left unopened boxes of Playbook rotting on shelves.

For 2014, the 90 dollar price point is a great adjustment to the configuration, although we dont know yet if there will still be the same content in each box as there used to be. I dont think anyone would care if the second jersey booklet card went away from each box, but if there is not one booklet in each break, things are going to get hairy.

Even with the adjusted configuration, I still think the overall booklet design is a complete downgrade over previous years's white silhouette infused awesomeness. Using those studio style head shots as an embellishment is a travesty, and I hope people dont support that by buying into this. The darker border along the booklets does not do the card any favors, especially with the awkward transition from color to color as you move from top to bottom. I cannot believe Panini doesnt have some sort of sports editor that can spot these issues.

They have also decided to include single acetate style autograph cards, but the design continues to be a visual assault on the eyes all around. You cant do an acetate window like that without using some sort of element to blend it with the rest of the card. As it stands right now, the cards just look like they are halfway done. Barf.

As in previous years, the down and dirty and other vet focused patch programs in Playbook look amazing. Its also quite clear that the diving player booklets are easily shaping up to be the most coveted cards in the product. Panini has staked their reputation around creating cards where the relics are more important than presentation of the design, but these look great.

Which product is worth your time? To be honest, its likely best to stick to singles on both of them. I would be thoroughly shocked if the secondary market value from either will have any staying power – especially if previous years have been any indicator.

The Final Four: The Only Sure Bets in the NFL Today

When you are looking to get into cards, the first thing that always comes up is investments. I know a lot of people out there, still view cards as a worthwhile venture to place a marker, regardless of what the trends say. Although I dont believe that cards are worth staying into for the money, there are a few players that I think are a safe bet. The only issue is that many of them are near the ceiling of their potential.

Andrew Luck – QB, Colts

When the 2012 draft was approaching, I had never heard so much hype surrounding one guy. Luck was described as a generational talent, and one of those cant miss type of guys. The “cant miss” tag had been applied to a number of busts in the past, but everyone, including collectors thought he was the guy. So far, they have been right, with Luck showing that he has the skill and talent to be one of the elite guys. The problem is, its no secret, which means his value is sky high.

Here are some of his better cards:

2012 Topps Chrome Andew Luck Refractor Auto BGS 9.5

2012 Contenders Andrew Luck Auto Rookie Ticket

2012 Exquisite Andrew Luck Auto RC

Aaron Rodgers – QB, Packers

No matter how big the vaccuum of talent around him remains, he always finds a way to make his guys look like rock stars. He is easily one of the best in the league, if not THE best, and is on his way to a HOF career with a Super Bowl win under his belt. There are a few limiting factors though, mainly stemming from his lack of autographed cards in recent years. Because he doesnt sign much, his cards are sky high.

Here are the few choices, and you can see the numbers:

2005 SP Authentic Aaron Rodgers Auto Patch /99 BGS 9.5

2012 Topps Aaron Rodgers Ring of Honor Auto On Card

2005 Contenders Aaron Rodgers Auto Rookie Ticket

Tom Brady – QB, Patriots

There are very few individuals in the NFL with more than one super bowl ring, and even fewer with 3. Although Tom Brady hasnt exactly been incredible in the last year or two, he is a first ballot hall of famer who plays for a team that has a humongous fan base. Like Rodgers he has very few signatures in packs as of late, which means his top cards are going to cost huge money as a result.

Brady will be in the new Flawless set, interesting to see where they sell in comparison:

2000 Contenders Tom Brady Rookie Ticket Auto

2013 National Treasures Tom Brady Auto /5

2002 Topps Tom Brady Ring of Honor Auto On Card

Peyton Manning – QB, Broncos

After the game tonight is complete, a record might fall that was once deemed “unbreakable” by a few people. Manning could pass Favre tonight, and barring a significant injury, will break it shortly if it isnt today. Unlike a lot of the other guys on this list, Manning signs a ton, and his autograph is easily one of the most affordable if you are looking to pick up one of those once in a lifetime type of players.

Manning’s cards may spike after the record is broken:

1998 Bowman Peyton Manning Auto RC

2013 National Treasures Peyton Manning Auto Patch Booklet

2013 Topps Supreme Peyton Manning Auto Patch

It should be painfully obvious right now that Quarterbacks are the only worthwhile players dumping money into, especially if they are rookies. The scary thing is, you used to have guys like Adrian Peterson who were well on their way to defining a generation of Running Backs, but we have found out that no one deserves to be put on a pedestal until its all said and done. His cards still sell, just not what they used to sell for.

This goes doubly so for rookies, as guys like Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater have shown that it takes a lot of time to figure things out in the NFL. The cards just arent where they would have been years earlier. ther skill players that are having good years almost dont matter, because once the new rookie class comes in, the previous one is all but forgotten. Rookie classes like 2012 may be the best in recent memory, but they have also spoiled the collectors into thinking that every rookie needs to make the playoffs in their first year or its time to move on. Scary thought indeed.

I remain curious to find out how the football hobby will change in 2016 with Panini taking the reigns, as we have seen a diminished collecting base already take effect on card values.

On the Radar: 2014 Crown Royale Football

Crown Royale has had its ups and downs over the years, but for the most part it has been a pretty solid product for Panini. The main reason why I say it has been solid and not a horrific gore-fest of a car accident is because of the Silhouettes. These cards are one of, if not THE best cards Panini makes, with huge success in all but one year.

Here are some of my favorite cards from previous years:

2013 Crown Royale Colin Kaepernick Auto Silhouette

2013 Crown Royale Drew Brees Auto Silhouette 1/1

2013 Crown Royale Andrew Luck On Card Auto 1/1

2011 Crown Royale Peyton Manning Kings of the NFL Auto Patch

2011 Crown Royale Ladanian Tomlinson Auto Silhouette

This year’s Crown looks good. The silhouettes look to bring their normal cool factor to the product, with more on card autographs to make them extra awesome. The rest of the cards that arent silhouette based are pretty much the standard ugly crap that comes in every Panini box, and I am not kidding when I say that it doesnt matter all that much. No card in this product will matter unless it is a silhouette.

Funny that these cards (which were created in 2010 football) have transitioned to both Basketball and Hockey and become that much more successful. This is really Panini’s Strata, where the box hits are really the only cards that matter. Just like with the Silhouettes here, the Strata shadowbox cards and clear cut autographs are all that matter.

Sadly, in 2012, the year that Crown needed its usual flair, was the year with such a turd of a design. This disgusting design was so bad, it took away the majesty and made it a watery pile of crap. I think they learned their lesson, and instead went back to making variations on the one style everyone loves. Prices on those 2012 cards reflect this and then some. Im not crazy about the giant metal thing that cuts the card in half this year, but ill live.

For the first time in 2013, we saw Veteran silhouette on card autos make their debut. They were stickers in the past, and Panini took a risk with a rookie class that couldnt hold their own weight. All of them were redemptions, with some still unfulfilled, but the ones that got done were as good as expected. I hope we get that again this year with more live cards. Thanks to the need to get cards done for Flawless, it might happen.

Although I wouldnt be sad if they folded the Crown Silhouettes into another higher end set, Ill make due with what it is right now.