On Shelves Now: 2017 Flawless NCAA Football

High end in football is pretty much a losing proposition, unless you are someone with an unlimited or close to unlimited budget, or a group breaker. As we see this year, injury has ravaged the league, with top stars out across all facets of the game. Whether its rookies like Deshaun Watson or Dalvin Cook, or superstars like Watt, Beckham and Rodgers, this hasnt been a great year for anyone who doesnt collect Goff or Wentz. Suspensions of Elliott and others havent boded well for Dak Prescott and his numbers either, only adding insult to injury.

In the last week, we have seen two super premium sets hit the market, and both rely on the rookie class to deliver value in the boxes at their price. Immaculate is a perennial blockbuster, and has been quite nice in the three years it has been done in football. Flawless NCAA, on the other hand, is a completely necessary dilution of an ultra premium product that has struggled on the NFL side every year since it came to be. Both are hampered further by the injury based attrition to the class, even with guys like Smith-Schuster, Hunt and Fournette delivering great rookie seasons.

Check out some of the cards so far:

2017 Flawless NCAA Deshaun Watson Auto Relic /20

2017 Flawless NCAA Peyton Manning Inscription Auto /5

2017 Flawless NCAA Alvin Kamara Logo Patch Auto /15

2017 Flawless NCAA Leonard Fournette Logo Patch Auto /10

We are quickly getting to the meat of the calendar for Panini, with Contenders, National Treasures and Flawless all set to be released in the next 6 months. In between, many things can still happen, but with Watson’s potential records being sidelined permanently, its all back to square one. In addition to the top rookie of the class being hurt for the rest of the year, the rest of the potential impact rookies are all at non-QB positions. Sure, Trubisky and Peterman are in starting roles, but jury is far from a verdict the way people might have been ready to call it for Watson. Fournette looks great, as does Hunt, but like Cook, they are in a league that puts running back into the disposable category.

Flawless NCAA is still baffling to me. I have heard that Panini poured more money into acquiring the license for NCAA than they did for NBA, which would have been a gross overvaluing of a product line that never really made much money (if any) for UD. They also have heavily diluted existing pro brands, all while adding weight to a sinking ship of Niche collectors who have RARELY been interested in paying to open any super premium products. Singles have tanked regularly, and yet they keep churning and burning these products. Hopefully someone with more vision for the brand line can take NCAA back, because Panini clearly has no idea what to do with it.

I get that there are college collectors out there, however, the group has shown they are not A) large in number nor B) able to sustain a lucrative secondary market. So, when Flawless FB costs as much as many super premium NFL products, we all have a chuckle as to why Panini is trying to ram this down our throats now that their evil plot to put UD out of business hasnt worked (yet).

The cards look good – there is no doubt about that, but I cant wrap my head around what we gain from adding to this space? This also puts immense pressure on shop owners and group breakers to potentially let this product rot on their shelves. Although no one is forcing them to order, some shops and breakers do at least one case of everything. The funniest part of all this seems to be that the group breakers are even a bit worried, selling it by the box instead of by the case as we see with 99% of the other products available.

Overall, this is a shitty fucking idea from a company that has the shittiest fucking ideas there are. Outside of year one in Basketball and MAAAAAYBE year one in Football, this product has struggled to maintain regular momentum as a legacy type brand in the sport. Secondary market values on the pro side have sagged to the point of not supporting the insane box prices in football and somewhat in basketball. Considering how hard signed material is still at treat in Football to a point, that shouldnt be the case. Panini’s decision to dog pile on the brand with a needless inclusion of a college version should be laughed out of the building. Period. End of story.

Hobby QBs – Is It Time to Start Playing it Safe?

Remember how white hot Derek Carr was during the offseason? What about Jameis Winston? Both were so popular among the prospecting crowd that I got in the mix too. At the national convention, you literally couldnt find their cards. Now, with the season almost 60% done, things have changed. Although Carr hasnt hit rock bottom or even close, he has clearly been overtaken by two names who look to have an inside track to the playoffs. One is Carson Wentz, and the other is Jared Goff.

Check out these insane prices:

2016 Contenders Carson Wentz Sepia Ticket Auto BGS 9.5

2016 Optic Carson Wentz Auto RC /99

2016 Contenders Jared Goff Auto Variation /25

2016 National Treasures Jared Goff RC Auto Patch Green /16

Right now, the Eagles look to be one of the best teams in the league. A crazy good defense with Wentz leading a high powered offense and scoring consistently. The Rams are on a good pace too, and like the Eagles are playing in a two horse race for the division title. Both Wentz and Goff have performed on an MVP pace, and its looking like they have a lot more room before they hit the ceiling.

Problem is, look back over the last few years. The hot hand gets so hot in the hobby that people start throwing money around like they are surefire hall of famers. Last year Prescott looked destined to be the next rookie to win a Super Bowl, and the year before that it was Matt Ryan. All in all, the league has enough parity that it is close to impossible to do what Brady, Manning, and Rodgers have done. Be consistently good on a consistently good team. Not only that, but drive immense value in your cards along the way. I might put Roethlisberger in that group too, but off the field issues and general distaste for him havent exactly put him in the top value tier despite his accomplishments.

My whole point is this – should we continue to dive in head first the second a QB gets a hot hand? Historical evidence says that is probably the worst possible thing a collector could do. There arent many guys who get to the point where Brady is in the hobby, and he is the only one in league history to have the resume he does. If that is the case, why treat other guys like they are on that level? We sure spend money like that, and its taken money away from players who are among the best ever at their position. Because those players arent QBs, they get half the attention, if not less.

I commented recently that out of the last 10-20 years, there have been only a small handful of players that have achieved upper tier sustained value in the hobby. When 40 rookies a year go to the premiere in LA, you can see the huge discrepancy that exists in comparative value. The chance that any rookie makes it to their second contract, let alone their fourth, is a shrinking percentage of success. With the rookie wage scale, having all that success with one team is even less common.

With no real progress to discovering what will be the next jersey card or booklet card innovation in the hobby, and with such little progress towards a heavily creative and compelling football calendar, Ive lost a lot of faith in the hobby’s potential to support an unsustainable industry. Football is more diluted than ever, thanks to Panini’s insane decision to guarantee 31 NFL products a year (plus more for NCAA). Regardless of said fact, no one seems to understand that dropping a mortgage payment on Derek Carr’s potential or Carson Wentz’s super bowl odds is not a good idea.

Ive become so disillusioned with the populace’s inability to process comparative value across rookie classes, that I just dont get why anyone is surprised that things can go south so quickly. Look at Deshaun Watson. On pace for a record year, and it ends on a non-contact injury in practice. No guarantee he will ever be able to recapture that greatness. Why do we continually fall for the biggest lie in sports?

What is that lie, you might ask?

That this one rookie card or this one player will be the next Brady, and that investing in that potential is worth the risk.

Spoiler alert – every single part of every single stat will show that 99% of the time, its the dumbest possible thing you can do.

The 2017 Rookies as Seen Through Prizm Football

I ripped a lot of Prizm this year. It should come as no surprise, mainly because of my unhealthy obsession with Topps Chrome when it was here. I see Prizm as the most like for like replacement of Topps Chrome, even though the collecting community seems to think Optic is worth considering as well. Since Optic is a fucking train wreck of a set thanks to these hilarious photos, Prizm is the last line of defense, stickers and all.

Here are some of the bigger cards so far:

2017 Panini Prizm Deshaun Watson Gold Auto RC /10

2017 Panini Prizm Leonard Fournette Camo Auto RC /25

2017 Panini Prizm Randy Moss Tribute Auto /10 – Awesome looking card.

2017 Panini Prizm Mitchell Trubisky Rookie Patch Auto /99

The problem isnt that this year’s set isnt worth ripping, because it is. Opening a bunch of packs of Chrome cards is always fun. Topps set the bar high there. I think the design is pretty standard this year too, which is a VERY good thing when you see how bad it was in 2012-2014. When I say bad, I mean, “grab a torch and set it ablaze for fear it will rule over the depths of hell” bad.

The problem is the rookie class, and this is something we will forever need to be mindful of for the rest of time. Although its clear that 2016 was a historic class, im curious how much we should consider 2017 as a predecessor. There have been top performances from guys like Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson, and even Mitch Trubisky might have some long term value if he ever decided to throw more than six fucking passes in a game.

Unlike 2016, however, collectors have been relatively lukewarm in dumping any real money into singles of these guys. I find that extremely concerning, especially as we get into the latter half of the year where box price average goes up almost five fold. Can you imagine dumping 600 into a box of NT knowing that its going to be hard to move? Crazy. Box price MSRP was high last year because of the class, but I dont think the cost is going to come down without those guys. Its still going to be high as shit, maybe higher than it has been previously. That’s a big challenge to stomach, as we see that regardless of the collector’s desire to collect a year’s products, the prices will never go down. They could very easily sky rocket, but MSRPs are never going to drop in any significant way. Look at 2013, the class was horrendous, and it wasnt like NT was 200 a box to help move the set.

I discussed recently how troubling the trends are for football, with only a handful of guys really being truly collectible since 2007 or 2008. Forty go to the premiere each year, but maybe one per class ever becomes worth the money. Add in a distribution model that doesnt help to highlight products that fucking blow, and its even worse. The manufacturers never have to answer for their mistakes, because no one ever buys from them directly on a mass scale.

Then you see a cool idea like First Off the Line, only to find out that collation in the boxes is about as bad as it can get, and many low parallels dont look to be included at normal or even reduced rates. Not only does that make the promotion feel dirty, but it undermines the value across the entirety of the product.

Prizm should be one of the new Legacy sets by default, if not only because the hobby wanted a Topps license about 1000000x more than a Panini exclusive. Chrome was one of the most important sets of the year, if not THE most important set. I have heard some ridiculous proportion of grading in Football was Chrome. Having a product slated to clearly fill that gap is insanely important. Panini doesnt seem to understand this point, and collectors seem to be confused as well. You know a company has importance when everyone starts to look for replacements for this or that. What is the new Exquisite? What is the new Chrome? Guess what – Panini hasnt shown they have the chops to answer those questions in a consistent way. Prizm is a nice product, but it isnt the wild success that it should be.

Part of that is the uncertainty of the rookie classes, and how important a good offensive crop of skill players is to any given year. The product doesnt have the loyalty to stand on its own, so without a good class, its dead in the water.

At some point, we wont be immune to the gambling mentality that seems to dominate the hobby as of the last 5 years. At some point, it WILL catch up to us. Scary thing is, there might not be a way for us to stop it alone. Most of that onus has to be with both the manufacturers and the distribution companies.

This shit just isnt sustainable as we can see right now. Kareem Hunt is setting rookie records and his card is not the most valuable in the class. Deshaun Watson is setting similar records and his card isnt even close to what we saw in 2011 with Newton or in 2016 with Prescott. He doesnt play for a widely collected team, and that is a huge problem. Hunt plays a disposable position and will almost assuredly be searching for work in 6-7 years if not sooner.

How do we combat that horrible outlook? Might not be possible, honestly. So why should we spend 120 bucks a box to rip prizm, other than to have fun? The answer cannot be more clear, but for whatever goddamned reason, we are so addicted to the dopamine rush of ripping packs, its cloudier than ever. Im both upset and bitter, and I dont think im alone in that. Hopefully something changes soon.


1st Off the Line Comes to Football with 2017 Prizm

I have often wondered how long it would take for companies to incentivize customers to buy directly from them online in an organic fashion. Panini has offered giveaways over the last few years to create some buzz around direct purchase, but it can be difficult to see the benefit with only certain products available to participate. Its been more about clearing shelves than driving buys of top products. With the creation of the 1st Off the Line Promo, I really believe that Panini has a vehicle that can do some great things for a business model that needs to be adopted in a more widespread fashion.

Check out the cards from boxes that were delivered today:

2017 Panini Prizm Deshaun Watson Bronze Stars Auto /20

2017 Panini Prizm TJ Watt Bronze Stars Auto /20

2017 Panini Prizm Joe Mixon Bronze Stars Auto /20

2017 Panini Prizm Mike Williams Bronze Stars Auto /20

2017 Panini Prizm Golden Tate Bronze Stars Parallel /6

If you are unfamiliar with the program, its basically a website promotion that delivers boxes early with exclusive content that differs product to product. So far, it has consisted of special parallels or extra content, and I would guess it will change as the collectors become more aware of what the program is all about.

When Prizm first began, it was never going to measure up to a legacy set like Topps Chrome or even Bowman Chrome in any way, shape or form. Now that Panini has bought their way into an exclusive, this is a huge set every year. Although Optic gets better treatment for some dumb fucking reason, Prizm is one of the flagship sets of the card calendar.

I was curious to see how they would utilize a first off the line type of promo for a non-limited run product, and I actually really like what they have done here. Aside from a poor color choice for the parallels exclusively designated for this promotion (Poop brown? Really?), the scarcity is definitely worth buying in for at least a box or two. This goes double if you were looking to buy anyways.

My only concern is whether or not the lack of numbering on the cards, plus the “promotional” nature of the inserts will have an effect on their value. From what Panini has said, these cards are severely short printed, with many less than 20 copies per. Seeing that these autographs are guaranteed, if you hit any reasonable rookie, you should cover some nice cost of the box back – in theory. When things are guaranteed like this, collectors dont always put the same value on the numbering if they had found them in packs the old fashioned way. The difficulty of pulling an auto /20 in a regular box of Prizm is pretty fucking hard. If its guaranteed because you bought direct, is that the same? I want to think it is, but with the rookie class lacking real buzz, im curious if this will fall flatter than normal.

The issue with 2017 products is the comparison back to last year, where two rookies were setting the world on fire for one of the most popular teams in the league. Deshaun Watson is having a great year, but its the Texans this time. Same goes for Kareem Hunt, who plays a disposable position for a relatively unpopular team. Trubisky hasnt played terribly, but the Bears are pretty fucking horrible. Its not 2013, but its not anywhere close to the buzz we saw last year.

I want to see more stuff like 1st Off the Line. I think its a great idea. I want to see more dependency on direct distribution, instead of shifting risk to the distributors and shops. Hopefully there will be further focus on making this program great, and Prizm is definitely a good place to start. Im curious what happens when shops start to figure out that this isnt really the best sign for Panini’s faith in the brick and mortar, especially now that every week brings a new shitty product they have to peddle. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Creativity in Football Cards: Have We Hit Rock Bottom?

This week, we have the release of Panini Phoenix, which comes on the heels of a few months of lack luster content from Panini. Obviously sets like Impeccable (as I posted earlier) are a bit of an exception to the rule, but overall, these last few months and next few months are a terrible time of year for Football. We have seen the likes of garbage products like Certified Cuts, XR and Spectra, none of which showcase any real innovation in the market.

Adding in the dilution of further products from the NCAA license in Immaculate and National Treasures Collegiate, and all of a sudden we are in the middle of October with nothing to show for the top rookies other than a repetitive approach that feels both stale and played out. Although it hasnt been all dark clouds this year, I feel like we are entering year two of a life sentence for shitty middle of the year sets who have no purpose to exist other than just filling out a license that was negotiated extremely poorly.

I have often said that more products offer more shots at good content, but with no competition in the game, its not the case at all. There are so many products that have to be built with a team already hurting for creative success, that it creates a vicious circle of boredom that makes us all nauseous. I mean seriously. Look 25 years into the future. Do you really think someone is going to be combing boxes at the national trying to complete their set from any of these worthless sets? Probably not. If one of the rookies goes onto be the next big name in the NFL, will these products measure up to the legacy releases that everyone counts on year after year? Fuck no. There is a reason the Fleer Mystique rookie of Tom Brady is worth so much less than the sets that matter.

Im just fucking done with this same product different name cookie cutter that Panini has trotted out week after week. How many cards do we have to be tortured with that dont offer a unique take on anything? Is Phoenix really going to be any different than the 150 other relic cards with sticker autos we are forced to endure? How do we justify our continued purchase in the name of player or team collecting, if nothing new is ever brought to the table?

Panini’s answer to creativity has been to jack up the price tag or embed a precious like item into a card. This is not the answer, clearly, as so many of their new products have bombed on the secondary market. Every time they preview a new set that hasnt been released before, I literally laugh to myself wondering what the price will be in six months. Product shelf life under the new exclusive is excruciatingly short, because there is rarely any real driver for anyone to purchase this particular box over one of the legacy products released later in the year.

When the calendar in place requires 40+ football themed products a year from one company with one take, we start to see big bland paintbrush that washes over any real advancement in the calendar. Adding insult to injury, their football app depends on this content, as so far they have yet to release an original digital exclusive set in Blitz the way Topps used to do and still does every day.

The scariest part is that we are often told to speak with our wallets. That’s the way the companies hear that shit isnt going the way they expect. Unfortunately, most collectors have spoken with their wallets, showcasing on eBay how little they are willing to spend on same shit different day, but at that point its too late. In fact, its too late by almost three steps. Because Panini has no real direct business that means anything, they never feel the pain unless the distributors who really sell the product complain. In the past, Panini hadnt printed to order, so that means production rarely changed if pre-orders were soft. They are notorious for closing out major parts of print runs to places like Blowout and the like, offering major discounts to rid the warehouse of unsold product. However, because it was part of the plan, there wasnt really a huge loss.

Group Breakers also play a huge part, because the pressure of a shitty product is spread over a wider audience who has less invested in their purchase. Instead of paying for a box or case of cards from a worthless set, they buy slots which are significantly cheaper. Because the weight of return is so much less, it artificially inflates the success.

Overall, you can see that this isnt really the recipe for success and sustainability. At some point, we need to ask ourselves whether or not this is what we want to support. Panini is clearly not making the most of their opportunity to create loyalty and build great products, instead opting to shove garbage like Preferred down our throats.

Collectors deserve and need better products in their hands or the success of 2016 will be well in the rear view mirror. This is a sport that is continually under fire for injury concern and participation is down at every level of play in this country. If Panini cant find the fortitude to give us a reason to believe they know what they are doing with their sets, they will see a drop off very similar to what the sport is feeling on a nationwide level.

Similarly, it does fall on our shoulders to ensure that we do offer feedback as much as possible – especially when things are good. Good is subjective, and doesnt have to be all or nothing. You can like parts of a product and not like others – but make sure your voice is heard. Its also important to look past the patches in the card or the name on the front. Really study what looks good and what doesnt. Build your own standard for a quality approach with creative elements versus that of a shiny piece of vomit that someone cooked up in a drug induced haze. Lastly, it is essential to NOT participate in a product you dont support. I am a serial breaker of this rule, as I am addicted and cant break away. I have curbed my addiction lately because I know that buying the dumpster fire of the week wont help me or anyone in the long term.

I long for the days when we could count on three companies to deliver three different takes from three different perspectives. It forced better quality and competition, and some of the hobby’s most iconic cards were the result. That’s all gone now. We are left with neon paint pens signed on stickers and cut signatures of living and active signers as the standard bearer. That fucking blows. It just does.