On the Radar: First Look at the 2015 Contenders Ticket Design

I have said on numerous occasions that Contenders is probably the set that Panini is most associated with. Its easily one of the most rabid loyal fan bases that Panini has been able to maintain, and its history is responsible for some of the most iconic cards of the modern era. That being said, outside of those iconic cards, the brand has been poor to mediocre at best in the way it looks, and I fail to see why people love it as much as they do.

Here are the worst of the worst designs:

2011 Contenders Cam Newton Auto Ticket

2009 Contenders Matthew Stafford Auto Ticket

2008 Contenders Joe Flacco Auto Ticket RC

2014 Contenders Teddy Bridgewater Posed Photo Variation Cracked Ice

When I saw the post for the new Contenders ticket for 2015, I tempered my expectations to very low. In my opinion, the last time Panini created a good looking ticket design on their own was in 2013, and before that, you have to go back to 2010. It has been a long road of shitty looks for the product, including the worst ever in 2011, and a horrible take in 2014. Contenders is rarely good looking, and that scared me for 2015.

Luckily, the design is actually great. They look to have gone back to a normal style ticket design, which almost looks similar to 2013 in a way. The vertical card fits in nicely with previous successful years of the product, and this time there isnt an autograph the players will have to sign going up the side. Its pretty simple looking, and SIMPLE IS FUCKING GREAT.

We have yet to see the rest of the set, for which Panini could resume being their normal selves, bringing the standard ugliness for the remaining unseen cards. At least as a whole, the Ticket should do a great job anchoring the product, leading to my happiness once again with a product I have had major problems with. Kudos to them.


What Makes 2015 Panini Spectra Football So Bad?

Today marks the release of a product I put on my list for the worst products of the new millennium. Spectra is so bad, that it sucks on more levels than just design, or price or content. It sucks on all of them. Other bad Panini products like Certified or Clear Vision suck on multiple levels too, but nothing of this type of suckage. This product blows so hard, that it makes the duds of previous years look like winners. That is not a good way to get into the market with a product on the highest price tier. Here is a breakdown.

Box Price

Since its inception, Spectra has been a whopper at close to 300 per box. In 2013, there was a lot of on card content, and the design wasnt horrible. Last year, there was a lot of on card content, but the design was god awful. This year, the autographs are all stickers, and the design is legendary in how fucking horrible it is. When you have a product that costs above the normal expectations, there has to MANY things that make the set worth buying. Whether its a combination of great looking cards, on card autographs or even great looking relic cards, something has to justify the price tag and exceed what people expect. Spectra not only does not exceed, but it doesnt even meet the basic expectations we have for low end. That is a disaster waiting to happen.

Card Design

This is where Spectra takes terrible to a whole new level. When you see the first design, you think to yourself that there is no way things could get worse. Then you see the next and the next, and it all goes downhill from there. The cards are plagued by giant boxes behind the sticker autographs, odd swatch placement, and terrible design composition. The dual auto patch cards are by far the worst, with Panini choosing that the heads of the player are really the only part they feel like showing. There is not a single good looking chrome stock card in the entire set.

Spectra’s cards seem to showcase a general lack of brand separation from the rest of what Panini has put out this year as well. When you look at the way the cards look, the similarities in the structure of the design is pretty easy to spot. It would be one thing if the design they replicated was good to begin with, but its not even close to that level.

Product Content

I cant even find the right adjective to describe how the cards look with the neon pens used to sign the stickers and what I have started calling "seizure stock" due to its likelihood of inducing seizures when viewing it. The crazy patterns used on the card stock have been used in other sets before, so Im not saying that it hasnt been bad until now. It has been. The seizure stock has never been used in this way in a high end set that I can remember. Coupling the nauseating look with rookies who signed their stickers in neon colored pen onld makes things more disgusting, and that isnt really giving the correct gravity to the terrible look.

Panini also chose to steal the card stock design from Topps' wildly popular Superfractors, which just looks like a dick move. Dont get me wrong, things get ripped off all the time. Hell, Panini even ripped off an entire Upper Deck product back in 2013 – name and all. It happens. The issue is that Superfractors kind of have Topps’ brand name written all over it. Stealing the look only makes it look like your team doesnt have the creativity to come up with a similarly valuable parallel structure. When you see what Panini typically has to offer, I guess that isnt a surprise though.

The biggest complaint is that just a few weeks ago, Panini released 2015 Certified, which offered a jumbo patch auto with a sticker for 1/3rd the price of this shit. Both products have been panned online, but the difference in price showcases how few elements of unique content are available in this. Although on card autographs of some Top HOFers are included, the use of Seizure Stock, combined with general rarity makes it almost a moot point.

Panini should be ashamed of themselves with this product. I sincerely feel that way. With every product release, there are certain people I look to as a barometer for how it will perform. Every time something comes out, one of those people seems to think there is some redeeming factor worth looking at. This time, none of them do. I may be biased towards Panini the same way Fox News is biased towards democrats, but even the more objective individuals think this is a bloodbath. Pretty telling.


2015 Topps Football: What Works and What Doesnt Work

Now that 2015 Topps Football has been on the market for almost a week, I think its worth taking a look at some of the ups and downs of the product. Topps did a really good job of adding some extra elements to the set this year, and they also missed the boat on a few different parts of the product as well. Here are some thoughts.

On Card Rookie Content

Topps has done a good job with these programs over the last few years, and 2015 is no different. The cards look really good with few exceptions, and as a whole, the Rookie Premiere autos look better than they ever have. Some of the on card autos are generating some high end prices compared to previous years, especially the multi-signed cards done during the photo shoot. I absolutely think these cards are the best of the entire product, and that might be a huge understatement. Considering we will be, AT MINIMUM, 11 products into Panini’s calendar before they have any potential at a large on card rookie program, Topps is kicking their ass.


2015 Topps Mariota/Winston/Gurley/Cooper Quad Rookie Premiere Auto

2015 Topps Melvin Gordon 1987 Super Rookie Auto /25

2015 Topps Ameer Abdullah Rookie Premiere Auto

2015 Topps Devin Smith 1976 Retro Auto

Verdict: Touchdown

On Card Rookie Content SP List

Despite looking incredible as a whole, the SP list is rightfully generating some complaints. In previous years of Topps Football, the SP list really didnt apply in quantities from the on card programs, but in 2015 its everywhere. The best rookies are all out of 25, with even some second tier guys being SPed significantly. Although this increases value on the secondary market CONSIDERABLY, its not something wax breakers are happy with.


2015 Topps Jameis Winston 1963 Mini Auto /25

2015 Topps TJ Yeldon Rookie Premiere Auto /75

2015 Topps Devante Parker 1976 Retro Auto /25

Verdict: Punt

60th Anniversary Auto Set

If you are going to make a set like this, it had better be on card, or at the very least look really fucking awesome along the way. Although this retro set is stickers, the choices for sets that they used for the players works incredibly well. The checklist is also crazy strong, including some of the top signers in the game. I usually dont get excited about stickers for non-RC guys, but this is a set I really, really like. Its worth noting that in 2015 Topps Chrome mini, the sell sheet says they will be on card. Now that’s a blockbuster.

Check these out:

2015 Topps John Elway 60th Anniversary Auto /15

2015 Topps Dan Marino 60th Anniversary Auto /15

2015 Topps Odell Beckham 60th Anniversary Auto /35

Verdict: Touchdown

Veteran and Retired Base Autos

I love that Topps started adding base autos for non-RCs back in 2013, and I am happy that the checklist is strong. However, I cant get over the box around the sticker. The cards would have looked so much better without that frame, and it could have created some of the better base autos ever inserted in a set of this kind. Instead I just feel like the design cheapened the cards, which I know is more my pet peeve than anything.


2015 Topps Odell Beckham SSP Variation Auto

2015 Topps Roger Staubach SSP Variation Auto

Verdict: Interception

Rookie Base Autos 

These look the way the veteran base autos should look. In 2011, Topps first started adding cards like this to the set, and they were insanely popular along the way. Of course, they were also SO MUCH rarer than they are today, and as a result, much more valuable. The 2015 ones look good, but because they are so common, they tend to be a lot less valuable. I still like them a lot, and I would collect them if the Vikings had a rookie I was collecting.


2015 Topps Todd Gurley Auto SP Variation

2015 Topps Breshad Perriman Auto SP Variation

Verdict: First Down

SSP Photo Variations

I dont collect base cards very often. If something isnt autographed, it needs to be something of value to be in my collection. When these first started showing up back in the beginning of the decade, I really liked the concept, and started collecting my guys. Even though the rarity has definitely decreased over the last few years, I still love to pick up the Vikings who have variations. The addition of HOF players to the set for certain cards in the set is a wonderful idea, and the pictures looked great. The issue is that with 40 rookies plus a bunch of vets, I believe the SSP count was over 100. That’s just too much. It gets flooded at that point. Either way, they are still cool.


2015 Topps Richard Sherman Holding Turkey SP Variation

2015 Topps Brett Favre Retired Player SP Variation

Verdict: First Down

Topps Huddle Set

You are probably wondering what I am talking about, and its because this set doesnt exist. In both Topps Series 2 Baseball and Topps Apex Soccer, as well as Topps Update Baseball coming out soon, the corresponding Topps Digital app has a program included. In Series 2, Bunt had pack inserts that provided access to free coins in the game, as well as digital card redemptions for powerful rare cards. Both were very successful. Huddle, likely due to lack of an NFL license at the moment, was not included in Football. Although the logistics may be muddy, its a huge miss, and something that should have been done some how, some way.

Verdict: Interception

Overall, I am sad that Topps wont likely have a set in this capacity come 2016, but this does serve as cool way to end the product square on their 60th anniversary. It has its peaks and valleys, but overall, its a great set.

All Time Fail: The Worst Products of the Last 15 Years

This is going to be a fun one, and I hope you guys will add some of the ones that I missed. I want to take some time to walk through some of the products that I think are the worst of the new millennium, and holy shit, there have been some fucking terrible ones. Im not talking about the annual shit storms like Prizm and Triple Threads, but more in the vein of individual examples of craptastic diarrhea. Some are so bad you just dont even know what to do. One coming out this week is on the list, and its not even in stores yet. Without further adieu…

2014 Panini Hot Rookies

This could easily be the worst of the worst. To say it was bad is an understatement like saying Barry Bonds only took a few steroids. This was the king of bad. Horrible looking design, horrible airbrushed head shots, sticker autos everywhere and a box format that made people beyond confused. In 2014, Score was a retail only product, so to make it high end, Panini foil stamped a logo over the score brand name on the cards. They printed the cards on rainbow foil, and these things could not look more disgusting. Inside the box, you had a pack of hits, a pack of base cards, and another pack of other cards. It was wrong in every possible way. I could also use 2014 Prestige here too, because they used the same pictures.

2014 Hot Rookies Jadeveon Clowney Purple Auto /50

2014 Hot Rookies Victor Cruz Auto Relic – I guess they forgot to stamp the Hot Rookies logo over the Score one?

2014 Hot Rookies Johnny Manziel Black Auto RC

2008 Topps Lettermen

All I need to say is Sticker autos on manufactured letters and everyone will know exactly what I am talking about. What might be worse is that the box was insanely expensive, and was in the bargain bin before the year was out. Every last possible thing about this product was bad, and that’s going lightly, especially when you see the way the stickers were applied. The funniest part was when they made Superfractors a part of the set for no reason what so ever. I cant make this shit up.

2008 Topps Lettermen Barry Sanders Letter Auto X Fractor

2008 Topps Lettermen Joe Flacco Manufactured Nameplate Auto Booklet

2012 Panini Prominence

For having such a tremendous rookie class, Panini sure put out some terrible products in 2012. Prominence was the worst, combining all the gimmicky and bad elements of sets they had axed and rebranding them under this new product name. Panini is known for trotting out their dog boxes year after year, but the fact that Prominence was one and done should say something about how much of a train wreck it was. Signed rubber helmets, manupatch autos, manuletter autos, and those signed football fields. To be honest, every product that wasnt 2012 Contenders was relatively bad in that year, something that is a shame considering the importance of the class. It could be argued that the success of 2012 Contenders was only because it was a redo of the 1998 set. They really had no success at all from newly created designs that year.

2012 Prominence Andrew Luck Manupatch Auto

2012 Prominence Alshon Jeffrey Manuletter Auto

2012 Prominence Nick Foles Football Field Auto

2015 Panini Spectra

Yes, this is not even in stores yet, but I can already say its on this list. How could anyone resist seizure inducing stock patterns, poor design, and neon colored sticker autographs? Its the holy trinity of suck. Im not sure what is more scary: people at Panini giving this product a green light or that they actually decided to bring it back after 2014’s dumpster fire. Dont open this stuff alone, just in case you have a reaction to your eyes being blinded by the look. Also worth noting the price per box. Good god, what a bloodbath.

Its all here in this preview for your enjoyment if you so desire.

2012 Bowman Draft Picks

This did have on card autos, and it did have a great rookie class to support it. However, the monochrome look to the airbrushing made it so you could not distinguish one player from another. They might as well have used stock photos and we wouldnt have been able to tell the difference. It was expensive, it was ugly, and boy was it bad.

2012 Bowman Draft Picks Andrew Luck On Card Auto

2012 Bowman Draft Picks Ryan Tannehill Helmet Auto Red Ink /15

2012 Bowman Draft Picks TY Hilton Base Auto

2006 Leaf Certified Materials

Someone at DLP (now Panini) thought it was a good idea to design a card with a background resembling a uterus and ovaries. Im not sure I need to say anything else, but it gets better. Clear stickers hadnt been used in DLP products at that point, so the old opaque gray ones were used. Just a ton of fun.

2006 Leaf Certified Vernon Davis Auto Triple Relic

2006 Leaf Certified Larry Johnson Auto Gold

2009 SP Signature Edition

The cards didnt look terrible. The price of the box wasnt outrageous. On the other hand, the checklist was easily one of the worst that had ever been assembled. UD was on the verge of losing their NFL license, and needed to dump a warehouse full of unused sticker autographs. This meant creating 8 way autograph cards with all 8 players being 3rd string scrubs or even out of the league all together. Thats how bad it was.

Just take a look at this search to see the combos on some of these cards.

Quantity does not always equal quality. There are some gems though, you just have to search through thousands of duds to get them.

2011 Panini Contenders

I dont really know why Contenders is such an enormously popular set. Some of the designs have been so bad that they should be joining 2011 on this list. Either way, I was literally floored by how bad the ticket design was for a class that looked pretty solid. Its worth mentioning that Panini tried to add value by photoshopping the tiniest little things to make the cards variations. Things like helmet brand logos, and shit like that. Easily the worst Contenders set there is, which is saying a lot considering 2009 exists.

2011 Contenders DeMarco Murray Auto Ticket BGS 9.5

2011 Contenders Cam Newton Auto Ticket

2011 Contenders JJ Watt Auto Ticket

2007 Ultimate Collection

My complaint with this set is not that the rookie cards looked bad. They didnt. It was every other card in the set. Instead of designing a full set around some nicer looking rookie cards, UD just used one design and changed the text on the card. It wasnt even a good design at that! Let us not forget the Triple Threads-like auto relics either. Consider that this was over 300 a box, and that is just inexcusable.

2007 Ultimate Collection Marshawn Lynch Auto

2007 Ultimate Collection Ladadian Tomlinson Auto

2013 Totally Certified (Well, Every Totally Certfied Set)

I dont understand why Totally Certified exists. Furthermore, I dont know why anyone would CHOOSE to name a set Totally Certified when a product with the name Certified is already in existence. What does being Totally Certfied mean over regular Certified? Awful, awful, awful looking cards that have no business being designed. Micro etched foil is bad to begin with, and TC just made the case more apparent. Stickers everywhere, oddly composed cards that looked like someone made them in MS Paint, plus more. Having one of the shittiest rookie classes of the modern era made this product worse, as if that was possible.

2013 Totally Certified Le’Veon Bell Auto Relic

2013 Totally Certified Eddie Lacy Auto Patch

2008 Topps Finest

In today’s market, Topps Finest might be one of the top products that Topps makes. This was not the case in 2008. The set was a horrible example of how to parallel your refractors, including the usage of Manufactured NFL logo shield patches that, to this day, people argue are real. This is despite the fact that they are not to scale and not well made. The box format was similarly bad, well before 2010’s switch to the current format. Lets just say it, 2008 was not a good year for Topps.

2008 Topps Finest Joe Flacco XFractor Auto BGS 9.5

2008 Topps Finest Darren McFadden NFL Logo Auto /15

Its kind of sad that there are so many I could add to this list, but dont really feel like reliving that horror. Its a gallery of barf to walk through, and that’s just not an experience I want to continue regurgitating.

SCU Go Live Report: 2015 Immaculate Baseball

I think its a good idea for Panini to try to use products like Immaculate to continue using their MLBPA license. It has potential to work well, especially if the cards look as good as they have in other sports. However, if the product quality slips, even in the slightest, we will continue to see the enormous drop off that happened with last year’s product. Bottom line, Immaculate has huge potential to be a winner, but Panini’s consistent decisions to use low cost methods on a high end product is a terrible idea. Lack of on card content, horrible sticker replacements, and points in the product as hit replacements are horrendous ways to devalue the brand in a another sport where you are gum on Topps’ shoe.

For instance, these cards looks great, but think of how much better they would be if done with quality in mind:

2015 Immaculate Kris Bryant Auto Patch Jersey Button /6

2015 Immaculate Jose Abreu / Miguel Cabrera Dual Tag Auto 1/1

2015 Immaculate Jameis Winston Auto RC /10 – Funny that the only good looking football card of the year from Panini is in a Baseball product!

2015 Immaculate Carlos Correa RC Auto Patch Logo

2015 Immaculate Cal Ripken Jr Quad Patch Auto 1/1

These, on the other hand, are straight visual diarrhea, and are laughable attempts at making high end cards:

2015 Immaculate Anthony Rizzo Black Paper Scrap Auto 1/1

2015 Immaculate Kris Bryant Black Paper Scrap Auto

The best cards in the product, in my opinion, are the shadowbox silhouette patch autos and the base shadowbox autos. They look cool and sleek, and can easily stand up against most of what Topps puts out. However, when you decide its a good idea to do 8 boxes per case, the checklist gets relatively watered down. They definitely have that situation here, which is only devalued further with the lack of MLB logos in play. Either way, they are the best cards in the set.

Additionally, many of the auto patch cards, and other autograph cards look really good. The non-baseball autographs look tremendous, and should be some of the biggest draws of the product. The problem is that in every other sport they are all on card, and here – a product that really has no excuse for NOT being on card, 90% of the autos are stickers or sticker replacements. Panini could literally produce these cards at any time with no logos, and have no issues completing the signings as the year progresses. Instead, they are taking the stupid way out and using stickers in all the baseball products. Even cards that were hard signed en masse last year, are stickers this year. Not a good precedent to break at all. These could have been humongous.

The worst cards in the set are easily the nauseatingly terrible black construction paper autos, which are quickly becoming Panini’s new signed manupatch autos. These cards are some of the shittiest cards Panini makes, using the black construction paper as either a sticker replacement (disgustingly bad), or on card (which defies all fucking logic as to why you would use a black area on a white card). The contrast between the white background and the black signature area is bad enough, but to think that someone at Panini believes these to be worthy of being in so many of their products is fucking horrifying. Some of these cards are so bad, I dont even have words. There are people who will come on here and say, “WELL I HAD A GOOD BOX OR TWO! This whole product is awesome!” Yeah, go watch some youtube videos and see if that holds true.

Without a doubt, the main draw of the product are the jumbo 1/1 relics, which feature enormous swatches of some pretty unique items. The issue is that the player picture is relegated to a tiny part of the card, and the rest of the design is basically a foil embellished border. This is where I dont get the hobby. These days, people seem to care more about the content of a relic than the way a card is designed, and it could not make me more frustrated. These would be incredible cards as booklets or as silhouette style cards with a larger player picture, but Panini chooses to save that cost instead making the top cards into true PC centerpieces. Booklets cost more money than a stupid border, so they feel that they can avoid investment instead of making a lasting impact. This product seems to be plagued by this approach in so many ways.

Think about it this way. Look at the way Immaculate is produced in Basketball and Football. Now look at what Panini is trying to sneak through the infield for a dribbling single. Its no wonder the secondary market value took such an enormous hit last year. Similarly, there is no Harper, no Trout, no Puig, and none of the really big name guys that draw huge value. The only two big autograph subjects in the product are Correa and Bryant, both of which will likely be unavailable come next year thanks to exclusive deals. Bryant may not be sewn up yet, but if I had to guess, its coming soon. We also see that guys like Kershaw and company, who were in the product last year, are not making a return appearance. The diluted checklist is responsible for some really bad box breaks, and thats even if you hit one of the bigger things on the checklist.

Then we come to the points. There are points as replacements for hits in this product, which should be borderline illegal. Because Panini doesnt share the hits that the points are replacing, we cannot verify that they actually replaced any missing signers. It could just as well be a way to stretch the run from 6 boxes per case to 8 boxes per case, without producing any cards to fill those slots taken up by points. Sneaky sneaky sneaky.

Overall, Immaculate is a product that singles can produce some really nice cards. That being said, there are so many gaping holes in play that it makes you wonder how anyone at Panini can feel proud of the set as a whole. Thus, this is the problem with Panini all through their entire brand portfolio. The flash is there in a few areas, but when you put the spotlight on things, it showcases the true shit that lies beneath.