On the Radar: 2016 Panini Flawless Baseball

If you didnt see this one coming, im going to question your foresight here. Panini's Flawless brand has invaded all facets of the industry, including an upcoming release in Soccer. Even though I hate the name of the set, I do think that it has merit in some capacity in Basketball and Football. My main complaint is that the brand has rarely offered anything that isnt available in every other high end product that Panini does, and begs the question – should we really have to pay 1500 plus just to get a realistic shot a better players on the checklist?

We know super premium products can work in Baseball, but im wondering if the performance will be too low to justify the price. You can get really nice NT and Immaculate cards for not a lot of money:

2015 Panini National Treasures Michael Conforto Logo Patch Auto /5

2015 Panini Immaculate Kris Bryant Shadowbox Auto

2015 Panini National Treasures "Shoeless" Joe Jackson Bat Relic

2015 Panini Immaculate Carlos Correa Auto Patch RC

Baseball is even tougher to imagine being a rightful direction of the brand, especially when you consider they are unlicensed and almost every big name is under exclusive contract with Topps. Trout, Harper, Correa, plus a number of other top guys will not be able to be used in this product, and that means there will be a large hole that can only be filled with more autographs of guys who I dont see being that important in the grand scheme of things. Add in the fact that the cards will have no logos, and I can see this playing out very similarly to the other high end baseball products Panini has put out.

The cards are simple and nice, like they were in Basketball this past year, and likely will be in Football. I think the simplicity here is where Flawless tends to differ from normal Panini designs, and that is a VERY good thing. They chose to go with a white dominated look, something that plays very well for the autographs and patches, and it looks like photo choices are good too. Unlike just about every single Panini product in existence, design isnt the main issue at play.

When its tougher to sell the cards on the secondary market because licensed cards sell for significantly more money, im curious how this will be accepted. I would much rather have Dynasty or even cards that will be released in the Mint, but that isnt saying the Flawless cards arent some of the nicer unlicensed stuff that is available. In the end, its not about how I feel, its how collectors feel, and the history isnt on the side of Panini here. Im guessing it will be hot at first, but like we see with all of their previous baseball products, its not going to be sustainable.

Obviously, Panini only cares about selling the boxes, and not the secondary market performance, so they will get some of what they need up front. However, this is almost a group break exclusive product, as its going to be tough to see individual collectors wanting to pony up money for a set that has so much prospect content, and none of the big names in Baseball.

The one main redeeming factor of this product should be the REALLY old guys, pre war relics from Ruth and company. Somehow, Panini still has relics of these guys, and that is where they have a place to market Flawless as a big draw. Mixing them in with low to mid range prospects is still confusing to me, and I still see very little unique content outside of these types of historic players.

I wouldnt touch boxes of this with a 10 foot pole, but as mentioned prior, this is group break city. Then again, people broke Spectra football, so anything is possible.

On the Radar: 2016 Panini Prestige Football

Ah yes, one of those sets that has been relegated to the back of the line over the last few years. Prestige has been around for literally ages, but like many of Panini’s brands, is only brought back year after year because they did it the year prior. It literally has existed just to exist, and last year was a perfect example of what that notion is all about.

2015 Panini Prestige Jameis Winston Same Day Autograph – This was literally the only on card set in the entire product, and it was a joke with these goofy ass pictures.

2015 Panini Prestige Amari Cooper NFL Uniform Variation – They had the opportunity to get NFL uniform cards in the product but all autographs were college for some reason.

2015 Panini Prestige Todd Gurley Auto /25 – Even the shortest print versions of the autos dont sell for much.

2015 Panini Prestige Marcus Mariota Relic – Cant have a Panini product without the goofy ass posed player photos!

Here is what I dont get. In 2012 through 2014, Panini used the rookie premiere as an opportunity to get hard signed content for Prestige, but last year it was gone. In fact, the on card content was taken out of Elite and 10 other sets before something hard signed really came along en masse around the time Immaculate hit. In the years where on card content was part of prestige, I bought a few boxes just hoping I wouldnt hit the rest of the ugly content that was all over this set. Now? I see absolutely no point.

Although I do like the design this year, the new format of the boxes, combined with more sticker autographs of the players in college jerseys just take my interest out of the whole situation. Prestige used to be a box that had a lot of packs, a lot of base, and a lot of inserts. It was practically Panini’s base set. Now, it has switched to a hit per pack set that offers 5 autographs per box, including 1 non-rookie.

If past years of the set are any indicator, the autograph checklist will be pretty weak, so that really makes me question the point of switching the format. The overall design of the base is actually nice with full bleed game photos. Hell, all but the Draft autograph set looks pretty good. Just about every one of these format changes make me scratch my head. Although the jumbo packs of 40 cards should still have a lot of base, Panini is basically forcing all those low end set collectors who may have bought packs in the past to pony up the dough for 25% of the box price every time.

Either way, this isnt a product I am running to my LCS to open, especially with a weak draft class that is already struggling to sell well in the on card Leaf products. I have a feeling we are in for a long and lonely road with Panini this year.

My List of the Best Types of Autograph Cards

Yesterday I put together my personal list of the worst type of autograph cards. Cards that literally make me cringe every time I see them. Today, I want to talk about the ones I like the most, and for an autograph collector, this is most of my collection. Im sure everyone has their own opinion, but this is where I stand.

1. Inscription Autographs

Right now, autographs are commonplace. They are stale even. Every product released has some sort of autograph component down to the lowest end products, and it just isnt special to have one in your collection anymore. To me, Inscriptions add a lot of appeal, because it adds a flair that isnt available on a sticker, or isnt available without some sort of personal touch from the player. When 2010 Five Star FB really launched in deep, but Upper Deck had them even before that. Today, an inscription set happens once or twice per year, and they rule the roost for me.


2015 Definitive Collection Barry Sanders Inscription Auto /10

2010 Five Star Kurt Warner Quotables Inscription Auto

2012 Five Star Nolan Ryan Inscription Auto /10

2015 Upper Deck Inscriptions Jameis Winston Auto /25

2. Framed Autographs

When Museum Collection released the first batch of framed autographs a few years ago in Baseball, I was pretty floored by how they looked. Now that Topps has updated their usage of the framed autographs to include framed auto patches in Definitive collection, I feel the examples speak for themselves. It adds a gallery style point to the card, and makes it look super premium for display with the rest of your collection.


2015 Topps Museum Collection Ken Griffey Jr Framed Auto /5

2014 Topps Museum Collection Mike Trout Framed Auto /15

2015 Definitive Collection Todd Gurley Framed Auto Patch /10

3. Buyback Autographs

I am a huge fan of buyback autographs, especially when they have on card autographs on them. Most of the time, the companies will choose iconic cards to buy back and have signed, or at the very least, good looking base cards. Some of these buybacks have gone for thousands, but it all depends on the player. Some of my favorite cards in my collection are buyback autos.


2010 Bowman Chrome Bryce Harper Buyback USA auto BGS 9.5

2009 Upper Deck Derek Jeter 2003 SP Buyback Auto RC

2001-02 Upper Deck Michael Jordan Buyback Auto /10

4. Shadowbox Autographs

When Upper Deck released the first of this style of autograph in 2008 SPX, I was floored. I was absolutely shocked by how amazing the card looked with a lenticular approach. Since that time, the shadowbox style has morphed into some amazing stuff, including Strata’s shadowbox auto relics. Of course, Panini had to go and bastardize the genre with stickers, but that’s not what I am talking about here. If you get a nice Shadowbox auto, it can be a collection centerpiece.


2014 Upper Deck Exquisite Tiger Woods Dimensions Shadowbox Auto

2014-15 Immaculate Andrew Wiggins Shadowbox Signature

2013 Strata Deandre Hopkins Rivet Shadowbox Auto Patch /5

5. Acetate Autographs

If done right, acetate is a great medium. The issue is that lately, it has been overdone in completely the wrong fashion. Stickers, signed scraps, its really bad. That doesnt change that if a company takes the time to design a great acetate autograph and gets it hard signed, it is up there with the best. The transparent quality of the stock can make autographs pop, and I think that if acetate werent treated like bacon is in cooking, we would see the gem it is.


2014 Tier One Mariano Rivera Auto /69 BGS 9.5

2013-14 Immaculate Stephen Curry Auto Patch Acetate /30

2015 Strata Marcus Mariota Clear Cut Auto Patch

Again, there are other types of cards that maybe belong on this list, but this is where I stand at the moment. Hopefully we get more of this type of thing as the autograph continues to go through changes in the hobby, but it all depends on companies taking time to do things with quality in mind instead of quantity. Any of these can be abused, I hope that doesnt happen.


My List of the Worst Types of Autograph Cards in Sports

I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to sports cards, and I feel strongly enough about them that I will forgo buying a PC player card if it doesnt adhere to my rules. I like VERY specific layouts, photos and autograph types, and I am not a person who will give up quality to obtain quantity. With that, here is a list of my five worst types of autograph cards in sports. This is my nightmare!

1. Manufactured Patch Autographs

These embroidered eye sores are a Panini special, and continue to be a part of many products. They arent the only ones who have used these, although no one does it en masse like them. I hate signed swatches in general, but these are the worst of the worst. There too many examples with bleeding ink, players signing in a spot that is covered up, among other things. The card design for many of these is about as bad as it gets, with just a border slapped on the outside ring of the manupatch. What a fucking joke.


2009 National Treasures LeSean McCoy Manufactured Patch Auto

2015 Panini Black Friday Julius Randle Manufactured Patch Auto

2012-13 Upper Deck Exquisite Michael Jordan Limited Logos Manufactured Patch Auto

2. The Big White Box or Separated Signature Area

Im sure you guys have seen these cards. Ones where the design of the card literally walls off a place for the athlete to sign, or uses a big white box to emphasize the sticker on a dark background. Considering that some of this issue can be solved by fading out instead of boxing out, I dont get it. Its lazy, its ugly, and it pisses me off. Signature areas should be done as part of the flow of the card, not as its own element. If a designer needs to do this to make the signature pop – DESIGN THE FUCKING CARD DIFFERENTLY. Dont put a dark background on a card that is going to use clear stickers. This isnt rocket science.


2015-16 Select Karl Anthony Towns Auto Patch Tie Dye /25

2014 Spectra Teddy Bridgewater Auto Relic RC

2011 Elite Cam Newton Auto RC

2016 Topps Industry Summit Kris Bryant Auto

3. Cut Autographs of Available Signers

This could be any number of things, but its basically a sticker replacement method used in a situation when the athlete cant sign the card directly. Panini has been terrible at this over the years, especially with those horrible black construction paper scraps they have people sign and then insert into the cards. Other companies have used this method as it is obviously a way to avoid stickers.


2015 Black Gold Jameis Winston Cut Auto /99

2014 Immaculate Clayton Kershaw Black Paper Auto

2006 National Treasures Joe Montana Cut Auto

4. Signed Letters

Continuing on the signed fabric kick, I have seen letters become so popular that people dont even care that they arent game used. People like spelling weird shit out on their wall, or spelling out their own name, but that doesnt change the fact that signed letter patches are fucking stupid. Many of the team patches feature letters that are in a thinner typeface, which makes the signature area really hard to autograph. It leads to unintelligible scribbles that are much worse that the normal unintelligible scribbles. Enough is enough.


2007 SP Authentic Emmitt Smith Signed Letter Auto

2015 Immaculate Jameis Winston Signed Letter Auto RC /7

2008 Threads Matt Ryan Signed Letter Auto RC

5. Acetate Scrap Autographs

Another Panini sticker replacement, and one that has yet to look good. Because the signed scrap needs to have a blank area behind it for the effect to work, a huge portion of the card’s design needs to be obscured. It leads to half designed cards and ugly looking examples, and yet Panini feels the need to put them in EVERYTHING. Sticker autos are only the enemy when on card is possible but not used. When you cant get a card hard signed, just use the damn sticker, dont go this way.


2015 Clear Vision Kevin White Acetate Scrap Auto

2015 Panini Threads Andrew Wiggins Rookie View Auto

2015 Stars and Stripes Kris Bryant Acetate Scrap Auto Relic Tag

The sad thing about all of these items on the list is that they are done OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. No one ever learns from the egregious mistakes. Every time I see them, I just cringe, and I cant be the only one. Just writing this post makes me nauseous. I need a shower.

A Discussion of NFL Pre-Draft Products

At a National Convention about 5 years ago, a representative of one of the major card companies asked me a question that really took me by surprise. They wanted to know how to make pre-draft products better. We ended up having a long conversation about it, and at the end of it, we really didnt get to a point where either of us came out with an answer. Some of the elements of that conversation eventually became embedded in their process, but nothing really solved the eventual beating the products took on the secondary market.

The question is still valid today – what can you do about a timeframe where the NFL's place in cards really isnt center stage? Because its impossible to create a draft product that has NFL uniforms pictured, can you really ever create a set that collectors will buy through the whole year? Do companies even WANT to build a product that collectors will buy through the whole year? Is this time of year more about cashing in on offseason collector boredom, or cashing in on a top pick before the rookie premiere takes place? That’s a lot of question marks in this paragraph without many answers.

Lets start with last year’s sets, featuring a crop of rookies that was pretty nice. It wasnt 2012, but definitely a SOLID class. Most of the products can be had today at roughly half price, singles arent doing much to write home about. There are a few boxes are doing a bit better, but overall its a bloodbath. Bowman looks to be the best performing at about 66% of the original box price. That should be an indicator.

Here is the way this works every year. Basically, the pre-draft products are all released and sell meh to okay until the first main product comes out after the rookie premiere. Being that Panini has to produce 30+ products this year, not including NCAA, this might change. They might be forced to push more products before the premiere, which would only be worse, at least for pro-collectors like me.
If they continue to push more products before the time premiere photos are done, it just elongates the pre-draft portion of the calendar.

Oddly enough, I feel like Leaf has done a great job making a mockery of Panini Products during this timeframe, if not only because the sets are all hard signed. Collectors stupidly avoid the products because they arent NCAA licensed, something I dont understand. 5 autos for 80 bucks, all on card, including a shot at Tom Brady should be something everyone wants a piece of. Instead, people either decide to bust a horribly priced, rehashed 2015 Contenders sticker product or just wait for other stuff. To me, just because something is airbrushed, doesnt mean it sucks. Most of the Leaf products look awesome, and being that they are all on card, makes them more attractive to me than Panini’s sticker trash.

Check out some of the cards already released for 2016:

2016 Leaf Ultimate Draft Tom Brady Auto /3

2016 Leaf Metal Draft Jared Goff Auto Refractor

2016 Leaf Metal Draft Cardale Jones Red Refractor Auto /5

2016 Leaf Metal Draft Eziekel Elliot Blue Refractor Auto

If you are going to buy, are your standards low enough to buy Panini? I mean, there is no excuse for Stickers in pre-draft when Leaf can get them all on card. Even if some logistical nightmare is at play because of approvals or licensing, Panini cant be happy with the way their products look compared to Chrome stock hard signed material. They should wait for on card.

In fact, waiting is really what I wish would happen. Instead of putting out 5-10 sets pre-premiere, just wait. Of course, that isnt in the DNA of these companies. Panini cant afford to wait, especially with all the minimum guarantees at play. Panini bought themselves into a bad deal, with the hopes of pushing out competition. I think collectors are going to be upset with the way that turns out.

Because they have to pay CLC, NFLPA and NFLP a certain amount of money and a certain amount of releases, they cant afford to wait. That sucks for us, because all these products are being produced with one reason only – get them out the door. Quality doesnt seem to be at the forefront of their calendar, and that doesnt look to be changing. They cant even design a new look for their Contenders product, which shows me they dont believe in the product’s potential at all. If they werent planning on selling off remaining product to distros at close out prices, they would spend the time to make a new brand. Of course, as we see, that isnt a priority, because they know they cant beat the bank.

So, this brings us back to the original discussion, if collectors really dont care about these products once the year progresses, and the companies are forced to make the products for any number of reasons, what is the solution? Is it worth putting in effort when you know it isnt going to sell? I hpoe the answer is yes. Personally, I think it starts with the content. Hard signed autographs, cool inscriptions, and even potential redemptions for NFL branded cards. Get creative. Find ways to keep people engaged, or wait. If you cant do it, wait. Its not worth damaging a brand.

Here is what Panini doesnt seem to understand or cant afford to adjust. College collectors are a small niche of people, much smaller than the already shrinking hobby. I cant tell if they overpaid for CLC just to push out UD, or because they thought it would actually make money for them? I would laugh if its the latter, because they way they are treating it makes it look like they dont know their ass from their elbow.

Either way, if pre-draft Panini products in their current state were removed from the calendar, I would be shocked if anyone protested. If they actually put some quality content in there, instead of rehashed sticker shit, I would be interested to see if anything improved. Overall, I think this is a dead time of year, and any licensed company that thinks this is the answer to the hobby’s issue is really playing with fire. Let Leaf have their moment in the sun, they already do much better than what I have seen from any of the top guys.