Huddle 2017: Topps Continues Football As Digital Only Platform and Brand

In the next 48 hours or so, Topps will be launching the first version of their football brand as a digital only product. Topps Digital recently signed a long term deal with the NFL to make their Huddle platform a unique part of their portfolio. This new direction is bittersweet to say the least, but it looks like they are ready to invest heavily in making their digital brands a huge focus for their future. Now that we have gotten the first look at the cards, its clear that Huddle might have a leg up based on their new situation.

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This setup doesnt come without pressure, as its clear that Topps has to find extended success now that there is no physical card counterpart. In seeing the great offseason content they have tested, its becoming obvious that their design team is definitely up to the task. Where they had physical products to build from prior, they will now need to create a calendar that is devoid of the source material they once had. In a lot of ways, this could open up a more digital friendly landscape, as physical can present some unique limitations.

The gameplay is really what sets them apart even further from their competition, with live game points contests that drive prize rewards for showing chops in the fantasy world. They are already miles and miles ahead of Panini’s garbage attempt at a digital app, but the gameplay brings them a step further past the marker. Combining this with the on demand content that Huddle brings multiple times per day, and it is a much more interesting take on what makes digital so attractive.

I am fully aware of the stigma attached to digital, as many physical collectors really dont see the appeal. I have said many times that the app is designed as some top flight entertainment, not as a collection that is meant to be passed down to your kids. This entertainment can provide one of the most engaging communities with it, and that’s only the start. If you want something that delivers that type of gamaing experience, and you can put aside the idea that this isnt physical cards, it will be something you thoroughly enjoy. Because many physical collectors cant make that separation, digital focuses more on the people who love fantasy and digital games instead. Its really too bad, because trying it can be the beginning of a quite interesting new addiction.

As the brand unfolds in 2016 outside the confines of physical content, Ill have a ton of coverage on my other site – Digital Card Central. Check out @SCUncensored on twitter as well for up to the minute updates.

Did Panini Release the Two Worst Products of the Year Back to Back?

Unparalleled was unparalleled iin its horrible approach. It might be worse than both 2014 and 2015 Spectra, which are on my list of the worst products in the last 10 years. Spectra was so bad those two years that I could not fathom a product that had taken such a low dive on the shit scale. Seeing the terrible design, the stock patterns as crazy as they look, and the goofy ass posed photos make Unparalled a turd sandwich that is the leader in the clubhouse as the worst product of the year.

Check out this train wreck of a product:

2016 Panini Unparalleled Carson Wentz Auto Patch /99

2016 Panini Unparalleled Dak Prescott Auto Relic /199

2016 Panini Unparalleled Antonio Brown Auto /5

Enter Gala, which somehow, might actually be worse than Unparalleled. After being a complete flop in Basketball, Panini brought it to football solely because they need all the help they can get. They need 31 products this year, and they are obviously prepared to scrape the bottom of the barrel to avoid forcing their terrible product team to come up with a new idea.

Think Unparalleled is bad? Start running for the Panini provided barf bags:

2016 Panini Gala Paxton Lynch Auto 12/25

2016 Panini Gala Richard Sherman Starring Role Signatures

2016 Panini Gala DeAndre Hopkins Action Autograph

Aside from a horrible price point, Gala’s concept is about as bad as it can get. Panini wanted to use a hollywood type motif for the set, but failed to execute a clever way to make it work. We are left with sets like “Action Autographs” and “Starring Role Signatures” – names that make you wonder if someone just googled what to do for these titles.

The card design doesnt feature those god awful posed photos, but there are so many Panini pet peeves that are present in the product it doesnt matter. Giant white boxes have been replaced with giant foil boxes for the signatures, somehow succeeding in making a terrible Panini approach even more fucking terrible.

Releasing a few dogs happens to every company. Its just part of the game. However, these dogs are so bad that it makes me legitimately worried for the direction football cards are going. I have gotten numerous reports that sales are slumping across the board, and that shouldnt be surprising at all. Panini not only cant build new products, they are riding the struggle bus in trying to make their existing garbage attractive even in the slightest.

Even looking on many group break sites, sales are slowing to a snail’s pace, with many being forced to drop prices to the point of dealer cost just to get the wax off the shelf. Luckily I write this site for fun, because if I was actually doing this for a living, I would be beyond concerned with the future.

Gala and Unparalleled showcase an extreme lack of knowledge and effort surrounding any aspect of building a good set, and I wonder why they are so bad at making things better. They have had every opportunity to build their brand, failing every step of the way. Its sad, because Topps definitely closed 2015 so strongly that it became even more clear how big of a mistake the NFL made in choosing Panini.

Sad. So fucking sad.

Topps Doubles Down on Super Premium With 2016 The Mint Baseball

Historically, Baseball hasnt done all that great with super premium products, save a couple success stories. With so much of the hobby focused on set collecting for so many years, it was hard to introduce a new model that collectors would accept. Although recently, Topps has had major success with products like Dynasty, it was going to be interesting to see how things would fare if they decided to go a step above that. The jury is still out on the Mint, but I will say the cards look nicer than ever.

Here is some of the awesome stuff up so far:

2016 Topps the Mint Alex Rodriguez Inscription Auto

2016 Topps the Mint Mike Trout Inscription Auto

2016 Topps the Mint David Ortiz Jumbo Patch Auto 1/1

2016 Topps the Mint Kenta Maeda Debut Date Inscription

2016 Topps the Mint Sandy Koufax Gold Auto Inscription

Funny thing is, on a per card basis, the Mint isnt more expensive than Dynasty. The configuration makes it more of an investment in one sitting, but Dynasty is still the most costly in the lineup if you put them side by side. Both feature great looking content, and with inscriptions plus MLB authenticated patches on a lot of cards, the Mint has its selling points. We are also seeing that non-sport signers like Sylvester Stallone and the cast from Bull Durham have cards too, which is an added bonus.

In terms of the card design, I really love the look of this set. It looks like a luxury car version of a baseball product, which it should. The black and gold plays very well, and the circular lines of the product plays in with a modern approach. There are also some unique booklets that feature some cool relics, and as mentioned above, the added inscriptions are a huge plus.

The Mint isnt devoid of risk that normally plagues high end products, even though the checklist is set up in a way that does promote a more even player distribution. If you buy in for a format that isnt group breaking, you are taking on a significant risk in walking away in the same fashion that recent comparable sets have promoted. More and more it looks like premium configurations are built for group breaking, despite the trends showing that it might not be the best way to build. Mitigating risk of losing your ass is a big deal in the hobby, which is why group breaks are so popular. But at what point should companies focus on changing the pack model and build to support more value, instead of supporting the group breakers who give collectors a way to engage without paying for the full product?

Its a concept that has always made me a bit uneasy. If product value hadnt become such an issue in the hobby, would group breaks be as mainstream as they are? Probably not as much. The Mint has brought things a little closer to center on value in the box, but its something that a collector has to pay a thousand dollars to get. Where is that same concept in a lower price point?

On the Radar: 2016 Playbook Football

In looking at this product, I am dumbstruck by the boredom and lack of differentiation in the products Panini is puttting out. Playbook is different in that it offers a booklet format, but honestly the approach is the umpteenth product to SCREAM “I AM PANINI GARBAGE” in a row. Panini already didnt make good products, and now we see that Panini isnt even good at making Panini products.

Playbook has had its highlights from previous years, but they are getting lost in recent versions:

2012 Panini Playbook Andrew Luck Auto Patch Booket

2013 Panini Playbook Cam Newton Auto Patch Booklet

2014 Panini Playbook Marshawn Lynch Down and Dirty Logo Booklet

2014 Panini Playbook Doug Martin Game Of Inches Patch Booklet

This year’s design is back to a vertical booklet format, because they obviously want to cram as much as they can into this booklet to hide the fact that they have no chops in making cards. Each of the cards looks amateurish, or just bad, and that’s not even talking about the names they have for the subsets. Yes, someone at Panini thought they should name a set “Slant Signtaures.” When you see how the card looks, it becomes one of those horrible dad twitter jokes that people tell you to delete your account over.

Back when this set was worth buying singles, NO ONE was buying boxes. It has literally tanked every single year it has been around, and yet it is back every fucking season. Even worse, last year they actually had the nerve to put stickers on the playbooks that were left over from other products. Unbelievable.

I mean, these sets are getting so repetitive in the way they are done that I dont really know what else I can say. It is like eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – eventually you just get sick of hamburgers. Sure, there are some REALLY good ones, but its still a fucking hamburger at the end of the day. What is even worse, is that Panini isnt a hamburger, its the white castle version of it. Some people like it, but man does it have a lot of people that find it disgusting.

Honestly, Playbook isnt the worst product that Panini makes, but that is pretty sad when you think about it. I mean, how do you put that goofy posed picture on the left hand side like that? Its a complete train wreck. I remember in 2013, this set was actually one I thought was pretty okay. Now, its just another white castle hamburger just like all the other garbage. Slant fucking signatures. Fuck. I give up.

On the Radar: 2016 Panini Impeccable Football Product Preview

Wait, they actually called a set Impeccable? Are we that thin on synonyms for “perfect?” That is fucking hilarious. Only Panini folks, only Panini.

Either way, it looks like Panini might be bringing a bit of Eminence to Football, which should not be surprising at all – especially considering that they have to fill more holes on their calendar than anyone should ever try to undertake.

Regardless of the stupidity of the name of the set, the cards do in fact look really good. Better than I expected could come out of the Panini camp, especially with how much of a hot mess their products have been up until this point. As far as I can tell, no goofy photos, no big white boxes, no insanely giant text, and no separated sliced off players in trying segment out a design.

I especially like the HDR type filters used on the photos, which end up making this a painted type approach for the set. I think that on card autos will only serve to make this set better, and hopefully the rookies do look as nice as they do on this sell sheet.

My only concern is that this set is going to be insanely expensive, similar to what we see on the Basketball side with Eminence. If that is the case, and those lame gimmicky silver pieces are the reason, Im going to be very disappointed. Those cards didnt do much for the first time they were released, so im not sure what they are trying to do bringing them to a sport where high end isnt as big a deal.

Looking forward to see what info comes in the next few months, as I have been waiting to see how they can show us they actually deserve a look for any of their bullshit so far.