On the Radar: 2016 Contenders Draft Picks Football

When Panini announced this set at the end of 2014, I could not believe the decision to dilute the Contenders brand in a way like they did. Not only were they going to reuse a HORRIBLE 2014 Contenders design, but they were also choosing to use sticker autographs instead of hard signed cards. It was literally the worst type of retread there was, bringing absolutely nothing to the table in terms of a product worth creating, let alone buying for the same price as regular Contenders.

The excuse I was given for no on card autographs, despite EVERY ONE of their competitors (including Topps) releasing hard signed sets, was time. I was told the timeframe of the acquisition of the NCAA exclusive license didnt give them enough time to make it work. Well, we just got our first look at 2016 Contenders draft, and absolutely nothing has changed despite the extra time. The delay of regular Contenders into January makes this even worse. I am left literally scratching my head, wondering why they would choose to start off the first year of their widespread football exclusive, with more retread trash, just like last year.

I have said a hundred times since Panini signed away the fate of the Football category, that they will need to innovate to ensure that we dont for the door as fast as possible. They cant just sit back and hope that collectors will put up with their previous set construction models, and not want to set their collections ablaze with frustration. This is the opposite of that notion, as it is clear that this set exists outside of any fresh ideas what-so-ever.

Instead of using a new design, a new perspective, or even just a new level of quality, they trot out exactly the same formula as last year. I just cant make sense of why they would consciously choose to take one of their most important brands and take a huge watery dump all over it. When you see how far the secondary market has tanked on the 2015 set, and how far the box price has fallen, some sort of change was needed. Obviously that didnt happen.

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Im not saying that the pre-draft space isnt ripe with collectors who are so thirsty for new draft picks, that they will drink the proverbial sand in the desert they are walking through, I am saying that a commitment to quality is something that seems to be lost on Panini’s brand team. They want to churn out as many sets as possible, with as little effort and cost as possible, without realizing that short term sales numbers may end up hurting them long term.

Regular Contenders was just released this week, with College variation tickets. Considering that the same thing will likely happen this year too, I question how much of this niche market the pro collectors will stand for. Upper Deck found out first hand how much having too many sets can impact the way people respond to their products, and Panini is already far beyond that point in their calendar scheduling.

When we look at the way 2016 is going to shake out, I am fucking frightened as to how many of these types of sets are coming. Sets that do nothing but put another product on the shelf, knowing that closeout and group breaks will help float the boat. Its sad, and people wonder why collector attrition percentages are in the double digits over the last five to ten years. If you want to go out and support garbage like this, you lose the right to complain when nothing progresses to a better state for the industry.

SCU Go Live Report: 2015 Contenders Football

Despite what I feel is a very spotty history of good looking cards, the release of Contenders is an event each year. Personally, I feel like this product has delivered some of the worst looking cards I have ever seen, and people seem to love it regardless. Luckily for us, this year's ticket design actually looks pretty damn good.

Here are some of the top hits up so far:

2015 Contenders Jameis Winston Rookie Ticket Auto

2015 Contenders Marcus Mariota Rookie Ticket Auto

2015 Contenders Chip Kelly Coaches Ticket Auto

2015 Contenders Amari Cooper Rookie Ticket Variation Auto

2015 Contenders Stefon Diggs Championship Ticket Auto /99

I really like the way the ticket design went back to being much like 1998, where the ticket actually is present on the front of the card. The full player picture looks great, and the on card signatures work really well. I still dont like the cracked ice or foil versions of the cards, but people go fucking ape shit over them. They are back this year, and thankfully, it looks like the busy stock isnt as prominent this time around. I can actually focus on the card, without straining my eyes. Thats a good thing.

As for the subsets, these are where things have usually been the worst of the worst. This year isnt great, but it isnt as bad as we have seen in previous years. To be honest, no one really buys Contenders for these cards, so I dont think a mediocre showing takes away from the success of the set. These inserts are relatively boring, but I would much rather have boring instead of absolute hideousness.

I also dont like that the college ticket variations are back for the first time since 2009, as it has already been done early in 2015 with their awful draft set. I dont see the point of watering down the pro product with further reminders that Panini now has a college license. Although the autographs are on card, it is another exercise in whipping out the NCAA cards whenever they can.

With on card autographs come redemptions, and I am starting to be curious why they didnt delay the set even further. There are an absolute ton of redemptions for the top players in the product, with missing cards from Gurley, Winston, Cooper, and a large number of other rookies. Although I would definitely expect many of these to be filled quickly now that the season is over, some of them had live cards in previous products released within the last month. Im curious what happened, but I am sure its a priority thing.

There is a new element to Contenders that I am quite intrigued with, especially with the coaching carousel going down as we speak. The Coaches Ticket set has some pretty big names, and not all of them may be with the same teams next year. I hope this is back next year with an expanded list, especially if they can get guys like Belichick (not part of the coaches association), or Carroll.

Overall, I feel like this is finally a good class to match a good Contenders design, and I will be eager to see the way it performs. After seeing how much some of the cards dropped last year after a few weeks, hopefully we will see more people respond to better looking cards.

Hobby Headlines: Best and Worst of 2015

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With only one day left in the year, its time to go back through all that was 2015 and talk about the best and worst things that shaped the year. If you dont like these kind of recap posts, I completely understand, but I think its pretty interesting to run back through the things that we experienced over the course of the year.

Best Product: Topps Dynasty Baseball

I know, its a cop out to pick something recent, but this one deserved all the hype it got. I still find myself seeking out case breaks to watch online, as each one is exciting to see what comes out next. Although the product DID have flaws, I cant think of one that I had more fun chasing. Not only are the patches absolutely insane in just about every way, but the design just screams super premium. Parts of the checklist might have been weak, yet the dud to win ratio in a case is very good for a high end product.

Check out these cards:

2015 Topps Dynasty Will Ferrell Auto Patch 1/1

2015 Topps Dynasty Cal Ripken Auto Patch Laundry Tag /5

2015 Topps Dynasty Ichiro Suzuki Mariners Logo 1/1

2015 Topps Dynasty Mike Trout Angels Logo Auto Patch /5

Worst Product: Panini Spectra Football

Like every year, Panini had some huge fucking dogs on their calendar. Gridiron Kings, Rookies and Stars, Playbook, Clear Vision, all disgustingly awful products. Nothing compares to Spectra. I understand that there is a cult of people out there that like it, if not only because its easy to pull 1/1s. I dont get it personally, as I dont want ugly pulls, even if the player quality is nice. The eye burning crazy patterns, the horrendous neon paint pens, the price point, the design of the actual cards, all were so bad I cant even put it into words.

These hurt my eyes to look at:

2015 Spectra Amari Cooper Auto Patch Blue /15

2015 Spectra Marcus Mariota / Jameis Winston Dual Patch Auto Green /5

2015 Spectra Todd Gurley Rookie Auto Jumbo Patch Pink /5

Best Storyline: MLB Rookie Madness

Lets break down this rookie class. Bryant, Correa, Sano, Schwarber, Matz, Buxton, Lindor, Pederson the list goes on and on. Every week in Baseball there was a new rookie to chase, and many of them had great years. Although both Bryant and Correa didnt get far in the playoffs, the class itself was legendary. Lets hope that many of them go on to be stars. The hobby was absolutely enthralled with each of these players and rightfully so.

These prices on many of their cards were astronomical:

2015 Topps Chrome Kris Bryant Blue Refractor Auto

2013 Bowman Chrome Carlos Correa RC Auto

2014 Bowman Chrome Kyle Schwarber RC Auto BGS 9.5

Wort Storyline: Panini’s NFL Exclusive

As a huge fan of what Topps has done in football, it killed me to see that Panini had secured another league exclusive. Even though they do have some products that are worth our time, as a whole, this spells disaster in many, many ways for collectors. Not only is a 60 year presence in the sport gone, but it is replaced by a company that doesnt even produce the best sets. Its sad to think that this will be the first year in almost 60 years without Topps.

Biggest Flop: 2014 National Treasures and the Odell Beckham/Teddy Bridgewater Disaster

Right around draft time in April/May, Panini released what was going to be the set with the most value to many collectors. The problem was that hundreds and hundreds of cases were being opened without any of the best cards being pulled. At the time, Odell Beckham was the top rookie in the class, and Teddy Bridgewater was a clear second place. For a few weeks, no one pulled their main cards. Each were numbered as high as 99, and they were AWOL from the first wave of cases to hit. Many blame Panini or collation issues, which are all rooted likely in some aspect of the truth, but in the end, it was just a sheer train wreck.

These remain some of the most sought after cards in the product:

2014 National Treasures Odell Beckham Auto Rookie Patch /99

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater Auto Rookie Patch /99

Biggest Surprise: Digital Cards Take Center Stage

Both Topps and Panini now have apps that focus on digital cards. Both will be making huge investments in digital come 2016. Although Digital has been around for years, nothing made more news this year. Topps recieved mainstream coverage online and in print surrounding Star Wars Card Trader, and Huddle was NFL licensed for the first time. In fact, Huddle may end up being the way Topps continues to be competitive in the football market next year, and I love that in so many ways. Digital opens up doors to a world of consumers that never pay attention to physical trading cards, and that means the hobby can grow for the first time in almost a decade. With Topps users numbering in the hundreds of thousands, you can see why this is such a big deal.

You can see how high some of the digital cards can sell for:

Top Star Wars Sold Cards

Top Huddle NFL Sold Cards

Top Bunt MLB Sold Cards

Overall, the one thing I took away from 2015 is that things are changing and changing big time. Some things for the better, others very much for the worse. Either way, its clear that 2016 might end up being quite a boom or bust year for all of us, and for everyone’s sake, I hope it turns out well.

How Big Are Star Wars Cards Right Now?

If you havent seen Star Wars yet, you are probably in the minority. It has quickly become one of the biggest movie releases ever, and Topps has been at the forefront of the trading card part of it since March. Now that the movie has been released, Topps has started to release some of their best and brightest, to much fanfare among SW fans, and non-sport enthusiasts.

Star Wars cards are known to bring some insane asking prices:

2015 Topps Force Awakens Harrison Ford Auto 1/1

2015 Topps Chrome Jedi vs Sith Carrie Fisher Auto /10

2015 Topps Star Wars High Tek John Boyega Auto Gold /50

2013 Topps Star Wars Galactic Files Mark Hammill Auto

Of all the sets out there, there are two big ones that even I have busted boxes of. Yes, you heard that right. There are sets that are non-sport on shelves that I have actually wanted to open. Star Wars High Tek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are so hot that it is very difficult to find MSRP priced boxes anywhere, and for good reason.

Starting with High Tek, it is one of the only Star Wars products to have hard signed autographs. This is actually a pretty big deal, as non-sport autographs are notoriously hard to obtain. With actors, getting them set for a signing can be an exercise in futility, especially actors who are as in demand as the SW ones are. Companies like Cryptozoic have done great work with on card autographs in the past, but their products are typically not on the scale of what Topps is doing here.

2015 Topps Star Wars High Tek Rey Galactic Difractor Black 1/1

2015 Topps Star Wars High Tek Billy Dee Williams Gold Auto /50

In my opinion, a theme like High Tek was made for something like Star Wars. The acetate and the design work is almost too perfect a fit. The checklist is pretty impressive in its own right, including the first hard signed autographs of John Boyega, or Finn from the new film. Naturally they are selling for a ton.

Like many of the non-sport sets these days, 1/1 sketch cards are a big part of the allure as well. Topps has a stable of sketch artists that do some pretty incredible work, and High Tek has a lot of quite impressive examples.

As for the flagship set associated with the Force Awakens, there are a million reasons to rip some packs if you can get your hands on some. Not only do they have some incredible sketch work of themes from the movie, and the autograph checklist is quite strong to boot. There are extremely rare mystery redemptions that should end up as Daisy Ridley, which are easily some of the most valuable non-sport cards released this year. If you have seen the movie, you know why. I wont spoil it.

When you see the prices that some of the relics and other cards can get, it might bring about questions of whether or not you are collecting the right thing. Star Wars is the gold standard right now, and Topps has been making great cards since 1977. The retro themes in the Force Awakens set brings about all sorts of interesting nostalgia, and that’s just the base cards.

Last but not least, Topps has absolutely blown the doors off the digital side of things with Star Wars Card Trader, which has been releasing amazing Episode VII content since Force Friday. They are finding ways to get national publicity around the app, and continue to prove that physical cards are almost second fiddle to digital. If you havent played SWCT, now is as good a time as any to get signed up and start trading. Check out my other blog – digitalcardcentral.com if you want to read up on what the app is all about.

It should not surprise you that there is such a huge market for SW related materials, and Topps could not have been more lucky to have the license in place during all the madness. Its worth checking out the products if not only to see what non-sport sets look like.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2015 Topps Chrome Mini Football

Last year, regular Chrome’s overproduction led to an absolute disaster in the way collectors perceived the value of the product. Although the good hits were there, and looked great, they were impossible to get in a pack. Chrome mini came out a few months later and delivered much of what collectors believed regular Chrome should have been. Better odds, low parallels were easier to pull, and value was pretty consistent. Chrome mini was the better chrome product. This doesnt look to be the case this year.

Here are some of the cards up so far:

2015 Topps Chrome Mini Jameis Winston Black Refractor Auto /25

2015 Topps Chrome Mini Dan Marino 60th Anniversary Auto /5

2015 Topps Chrome Mini Marcus Mariota Blue Refractor Auto

2015 Topps Chrome Mini Matt Jones Super Rookie Retro Superfractor Auto 1/1

The biggest thing that really gets me fired up is that these cards are almost entirely sticker autographs. The sell sheet depicted the product as having on card autographs, which would result in another Chrome set that is definitely worth breaking. Instead, we have mini cards with full sized stickers, that lead to all sorts of sizing issues and a misrepresentation of what the sell sheet was showing. Now, sell sheets are NEVER final, and that goes without saying. At the same time, I feel completely taken out of this product because of how awful the stickers look, especially when seeing how nice the regular on card stuff is in comparison.

Im a sucker for on card Chrome. Ill buy pretty much anything with on card chrome autos, and that’s what I thought I was going to get here. Unfortunately that isnt the case. The sell sheet also looked to have previews of the first hard signed non-rookie chrome cards in a very long time, and that didnt happen either. Its clear that Topps has a bad draw with finishing out 2015 knowing they wont be back for 2016. That is clearly a situation I hate, and wish was not the case. At the same time, I dont think that gives them a pass here.

Right now, I dont see a reason to buy this version of Chrome over the hard signed regular version. Not only is the price point similar, but the content is far diminished. More people want the regular sized cards, and without on card autographs, this becomes very much less valuable to collect. Some of the refractor parallels are going to be valuable in low amounts, with collectors looking to pick up cheaper versions of their favorite cards, but I wouldnt break this unless you have no other options of Chrome to break.