Maybe a better question is do some collectors hate Panini because they have stolen their brand ideas from so many of the other companies out there? I was conceiving this post in my head, and I have a clear narrative I want to tell, the problem is, Im not sure how to put it into a coherent article that will make sense to convey what I am trying to convey.
Basically, my opinion is that Panini owes the majority of their football product line to sources that are not organic to their football team. Most of the products, down to using the Superfractor pattern that was made famous by their competition, feature ideas or “identities” that arent theirs. So much of their product line is either directly ripped off from Topps and Upper Deck, or grandfathered in from the team at Donruss. Hell, some of their products from the last few years didnt even bother to change the name before taking it for their own.
To be fair, its clear that stealing from other brands is a standard practice in the hobby. Lets all remember that the jersey card started with Upper Deck in 1996. Within a few years, it had expanded to every manufacturer. Same thing with autograph cards, booklets, shadowboxes and every other creative idea. The thing is, Panini owns zero of those ideas, and they seem to make it their mission to integrate the creativity from other companies into their own products.
Adding to my personal disgust is that many of the ideas they rip off are like photocopies of the original. Just not as sharp and definitely not as desirable. I am curious if the growing negative sentiment over their imminent desire to take over the hobby’s exclusives stems from the fact that people are genuinely upset that rather than establish a brand identity on their own, they have taken pieces from the beloved corners of the hobby and tried to re-purpose them without making anything better or making anything really for themselves.
If you want to go through a super fun exercise, go through their product calendar for Football and start looking at what products are homegrown Panini fun houses, and which ones are the photocopies from previous products. Origins was a hilarious attempt at Inception, Luxe is based solely on a subset of Framed Autographs from Museum Collection, Prizm is Chrome, Select is Finest, Immaculate Collection is Exquisite with a new name and sticker autos, Spectra is modeled after a Bowman Sterling product that no one liked, there are Superfractors everywhere, and the rest of the products are either carry over loyalty products from DLP, or exercises in how ugly a trading card product can be. Wonder how a year like this could still have so many products selling below MSRP on Blowout? Is it because Panini (and the rest of the industry too), have cut so many corners that it is no longer able to sustain a quality pricing structure? Personally, I say yes.
Panini uses the minimum advertised price program as a way to prevent its products from losing value off the bat, and its really sad that that has to be in place. Although MAPP pricing exists in other industries, its not used in the way its used in trading cards. Its clear to me that the cost of making cards has gotten more expensive, but not all corners that have been cut with box content, autograph checklists, and relic practices need to be cut as much as they have. From what I have been told, in football, they negotiated such a ridiculous deal to get the exclusive, that they have set up collectors to shoulder the burden of extra licensing cost beyond what most probably are aware of.
At some point, my perceived lack of sustainability in card production catches up with the other companies as I think it might eventually, Panini likely will be the last one standing in the physical card industry. They have the most stable source of funding among the big four companies. The problem is, their lack of success around building products in the major sports that have staying power really concerns me to no end. They cant keep hoping that this plan works out for them. Collectors have tired of it, even though the Cowboys’ rookie class has masked some of the results in their dismal product line additions for the year. Take away Dak and Zeke, and the picture looks a lot different than it does right now.
We have seen many hobby shops closing doors because trends of moving towards online and group breaking has already made it difficult to operate a retail storefront. If the takeover trends continue and Panini does find a way to take over more than they already have, Im not sure the constant flow of the product shit river that runs weekly through shelves across the nation, can continue to have profitability built into it. Group breakers have even started complaining about how bad things have gotten, and if no real creativity is brought to the table, will there be a growing tidal wave of boredom that eventually envelops the entire hobby? I have often said the hobby will never die. A group of collectors will always exist. The problem is that the industry is not immune, because it has to remain profitable for the businesses that support it to exist.
For me to change my tune, Panini needs to get off their ass and start bringing new ideas to the table. They were woefully outgunned on digital, and they are building their existing products around found items from the scrap heap. I have yet to really see anything groundbreaking come from them in their entire existence, and that needs to change. I want it to change. I want there to continue to be a reason to buy boxes of cards. Right now, buying boxes as a whole is a losing venture because nothing changes week to week. I can buy the singles I want cheaper on ebay than ripping packs, and I can get the thrill of gambling from other means. A similar article like this can be written about many of the other companies out there, but Panini seems to have the trajectory that many people like me are dreading.
I want to see the industry change. I want to see Panini change. I want the hobby I have dedicated my life to begin to flourish again. The arrow is not pointing in the right direction. This lack of brand identity that Panini exhibits angers me to no end, because I know it just makes things worse. For 99% of the casual sports fans out there, Panini is a sandwich, not a card company. Organic growth doesnt seem to be happening, and good years seem to stem more from a market of people that are already aware of cards, not new collectors. Its not like Panini brought thousands of new people to the hobby with Dak and Zeke, the existing base just bought more than normal. Digital helps a bit with Topps, but not enough to fix what ails us.