Taking Two Leaps Backwards With 2010 Absolute Football

I think that if you read my previous post about suggestions for moving forward in the industry, Absolute is the one set that infringes on just about every single one of those rules. Aside from the fact that the product hasn’t changed design-wise at all in the last however many years, Panini never seems to get how poorly the product holds up against others in the same price range. What used to be a fun product with innovative cards has become stale, overpriced, and poorly designed to say the least. I would even go so far as saying that this is the one product that Panini needs to axe or revamp, because right now, it’s a dinosaur compared to what it could be.

Now, I will say that this year’s offering looks better than last year’s horrid excuse, but it still has not veered from that same old design that never offers anything worth collecting in my opinion. This product will again be riddled with damage evident foilboard on EVERY card, sticker autos across the product, subsets that are paralleled to hell in the typical panini way, and cards that are so weirdly conceived that I don’t even know where to look. When you hearken back to 2005 and see how cool and popular Absolute Baseball was, this is a vanquished shell of that former greatness. Really too bad.

Here are the preview cards:

The Industry and Moving Forward at Half Strength

I love this part of the year, both for cards and for sports. Training camps are about to open, Baseball season is starting to heat up, and Football cards are finally entering into the meat of the season. Because I am such a huge football fan, I start to get revved up for everything that comes with the start of a new year. New players, new targets, and usually much more news and interesting tidbits to write about. The difference is that this year, at least on the card front, lots has changed, and Im pretty sure its not for the better.

For the first time in close to 20 years, Upper Deck will not be producing licensed football cards. Because they usually produce the best looking cards in football, period, its going to be a long card season having to put up with the monotony spawned by Panini’s long line of clones, or Topps’ terrible high end offerings. Although I have seen bright spots in Panini’s line with some parts of Elite and Classics, they still don’t even hold a candle to what was taken away from the market when Upper Deck was forced into using their NCAA license. I said before that licensed Veteran on card autos went from multiple sets in multiple products to NOTHING this year, and its starting to look like that is going to really hurt my propencity to buy cards this year. I am not an NCAA fan, and I will not be buying any of Upper Deck’s products due to that fact, so when I start to look at what is coming, boredom sets in.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited for Topps Chrome and their Flagship product this year, but those are two sets in a calendar of 30 plus. I recently continued my tradition of buying a few boxes of Classics, but I am only doing that because there is nothing else available. I wonder how much longer I can sustain my own interest in a industry that will support and produce some of the most BORING sets in recent memory. I mean, has anyone ever sat down and really looked over the calendar? It’s a complete snooze fest this year without the normal blockbuster products that Upper Deck brings to the table. Sure, SPA will most likely look great as it always does, but the wow factor escapes me because they cant produce cards showing NFL logos or uniforms. SPX looks great for the first time in a few years, yet I am left out in the cold because I don’t care which college Sam Bradford went to now that he puts on a Rams uniform for a living.

At least in the past, when Panini would put out set after set that looks exactly like the one before it, I could stand it because I always knew there was something better coming. I don’t have that luxury anymore. I am seriously debating whether or not to purchase a case of Topps Chrome and just open it slowly throughout the year. Its really the only bright spot on the entire calendar for me, and its not even scheduled until october. That’s a long time to wait, especially when you consider that there isnt anything in between to garner interest among the people like me.

With that, I want to list out a few things that Panini and Topps should consider now that there is a big hole left by Upper Deck’s departure from the licensed game:

1. Enough With the Foil

I get it, there are a lot of collectors that gravitate towards shiny things like a baby to keys on a keychain. Does that mean that it has to go in every product? I think I counted once or twice that Upper Deck used foilboard last year and it was in subsets NOT THE WHOLE PRODUCT. They did fine, so that means that having good sales numbers is not contingent on the use of that horrid crap. Its amateurish, and looks like it is used to hide terrible design work. In most cases the designs are terrible, so maybe that says something.

2. Start Phasing out Stickers In Boxes That Cost More Than $75

Upper Deck made a name for themselves with more than 8 products last year that featured some sort of on card signatures. Most of those products featured an on card element from veteran and HOF players, usually with great success among collectors. Both Panini and Topps, despite the ridiculous price tags on some of their products, did not find a way to produce even one. Im not asking for the farm overnight, but they have to start somewhere. I would forgive some of the other egregious errors if they at least made an effort. So far, they have shown nothing but laziness.

3. Evaluate Content In Relation to Pricing

Panini is known for giving you 3 crap jerseys and a crap auto for 100 bucks. It’s the backbone of Prestige, Elite, Gridiron Gear, Classics, and just about every other product they sell. Topps isnt much better with their high end products, as Triple Threads gives you two shitty hits for a whopping 180 dollars. I don’t even know where to start on that. If they want to move to a different level of sales, they need to figure out ways to lower cost and raise content. Although that seems mutually exclusive, there are ways to do it as evidenced by a number of products from last year’s calendar. I think a lot of people out there would be happy to give up their jersey cards if it were replaced with a patch card, or another auto, but even patch cards are becoming commonplace now.

4. Make High End Products Look High End

The reason Exquisite was Exquisite was because of the way it looked. Every card was hard signed. Every card was ornately designed. Every card had an element that differentiated itself from other Upper Deck products during the year. Last year there was not a single jersey card without an auto on it. It was either a patch or nothing. National Treasures is completely stickers with few exceptions on the rookie front, and the rest looked like an over priced version of Donruss Threads. Complete poop. Triple Threads is even worse in that department because of how terrible the cards look. A lot could be solved with a little bit of reimagining when it comes to the way the high end products are produced.

5. Less is More

Panini has become famous for using weird lines and oddly placed elements on a card front. Topps has become famous for trying to stuff 89 relic windows onto a card front. Why? Topps low end products are wildly successful because Topps never tries to do more than is needed. SPA was the best looking product because Upper Deck wasn’t afraid to use negative space to their advantage. You know that addage “KISS – Keep it simple stupid”? That most definitely applies here. There is nothing prettier than a field shot and a border. No need for a photoshop bonanza. Just give me the player and the field, and let the rest speak for itself. This is overkill. This is worse. This is makes my head hurt. This is more of what we need.

6. Parallels have no place in a mid to high end product

You know why Chrome can use parallels? Because for 50 bucks a box, its catering to a different audience. When you start getting up into the products like Limited and Platinum, there is not a need for 123 parallels of one card. Panini has a formula, and that formula makes me want to take a human life. You have the normal card, the numbered normal card with 10 parallels, the normal card with a jersey, the normal card with a patch, the normal card with an auto, the normal card with an auto and a jersey, the numbered card with a patch, and then ten parallels of that card. Is any of that necessary? Not at all. If the product cost nothing, then fine, parallel the shit out of it. But if that product is National Treasures then there is a MAJOR problem. Did someone see that any given player in Triple Threads can have have up to 3,500 cards? That is parallel hell. How about developing unique content instead of just stuffing parallel after parallel into the set? Interesting idea, no?

7. Use Player Pictures To Your Advantage

Cards look better when the subject of the card is the focus, not the jersey pieces. Panini has gotten MUCH better at this, but Topps is a complete EPIC FAIL. To the Topps design team, its more important to have 73 different relic pieces than it is to have a player picture bigger than a pinky nail. We collect cards for the players on them, relics are the add ons. Not the other way around. I actually avoid buying cards with crappy pictures, even if they feature everything else I am looking for. The picture can make or break a card, and its time for the companies to start considering that.

8. Re-evaluate Where Scrub Autos Fit In to the Industry

I get it. The best players charge out the ass for signatures. Even the rookies charge a ridiculous cost per card. That’s a given. But, when I pay a bunch of money for a box, and the box hit is an undrafted free agent, I swear off buying more of that product unless there is something else in the box to make up for it. The problem is that when the cost of obtaining autographs is rising at rapid rates, the need for cheap autos is essential. However, then you consider #3 on this list, you are taking even more out of the products than just star autos. Not every box can be a winner, but every box needs SOMETHING. Put the sweet patch cards in the boxes with the scrubs. Redo seeding in the products that feature scrub autos as box hits. If there is a scrub in the box, give it value SOME other way. That’s where the 1/1 parallels need to go. Panini has actually done a better job of seeding the boxes with the crap autos, but there is still a lot of untapped potential that could be used.

9. Offer a Loyalty Program That EVERYONE Can Participate In

I have no idea why this wasn’t done before, and I am not talking about the diamond club for UD where only the whales get the preferential treatment. Im talking about getting something in the works that rewards people who buy the cards that the companies want them to buy. If the companies showed appreciation to the customers on every level, it would give us another reason not to go to ebay for singles. For example, for every X number of packs or boxes, give me a shot at an exclusive unreleased card. Offer lotteries for good prizes. There is so much here and it is completely unexplored.

10. Find a Way For The Best Common Box Hit To Be Worth More Than the Price of a Box

If I can go on eBay and buy the best card in the set for less than the cost of a box, something is wrong. A lot of this is a result of the numbering on the card, the strength of the rookie class, or even the looks of the cards, so its time to make the best rookie hit worth enough for people to consider spending money on the unopened product. 1/1s only go so far in a product.

11. Speaking of 1/1s, Make Them Important Again

Triple Threads features over 4,000 1/1s in the product. Many of them being crap parallels or printing plates. That doesn’t give me any reason to want them. Upper Deck was notorioous for making most of their 1/1s worth the time of the collectors who bought their products. Especially high end. If companies want to create the chase element, learn from rule #6 and take the one of one in a brand new direction. If it says 1/1 on the card, it needs to bring something than no other card brings in the set.

12. Enough With The Lame Subset Names

In most Panini products, all of the autos are coming from the subsets in the set. But when the subsets have terrible names as well as terrible designs (like they usually do), the whole product suffers. It is paramount to create a theme for the set and build on it, not just throw words together and hope they make sense. Why do you even need a name? Cant you just throw different player pics with different designs on it and let us sort it out?

13. Hire Some Consultants

Products are conceived months, sometimes years in advance, which gives ample time to consult with people before heading to production. As I have said before, I can think of no less than 500 people who would do it for free, myself included. I honestly think that I could easily offer some valuable advice before something like this hits the production line.

That’s all I can think of right now, but im sure there is a lot more that the blog community can offer.

Triple Threads and What It Says About Us

To me, triple threads is that dreaded shit after a night of Mexican food. You know its coming, you prepare yourself for the pain, but in the end, it gets you all the same. This year is no different, and really, its says a lot about what Topps thinks about the collecting base. What I mean, is that by structuring the set the way that they have, it shows how little confidence Topps has in how people view each part of the card. Instead of focusing on putting together a top notch design, they thought that jam packing needless junk and gimmicks were more important than a good looking set. From the reaction I have seen, it worked.

The most talked about part of the product is always the “OMG SIKX MOJOS!” that supposedly litter this set. They have about a thousand different 1/1s, each one more ridiculous than the next. Before this year, it was only limited to single and bifold cards, but Topps felt that two entire cards were NOT enough for the junk they had in store, thus leading to the first tri-folds. Stupidly, the tri-fold cards feature little more than a border to encompass the jumbo patches of the card, and that’s pretty much all they have to offer. Topps has basically implied that collectors only want the biggest possible patches with the most colors, and that putting a good looking card together is meaningless. This means there is only a dime-sized player pic, no autograph, and zero concept. What you have to replace that is just the biggest, gaudiest, most ridiculous looking patches that I have ever seen. Never before have I thought to myself how shitty a whole Marlin patch looks when its next to two other similar patches. Its almost like Topps said, “Well, these cards are going to look like crap, make sure there are whole patches on there to shut them up. They are like babies with shiny or glittery things, this will be like crack to them.”

Moving on, the design is almost identical with previous years. There has been ZERO update to the concept of what normal people will get in each pack. You get a tri relic card with some shit spelled out in confusing die cut windows, and an auto tri relic of some guy with some shit spelled out in confusing die cut windows. Aside from the checklist being complete poop, and aside from the fact that there are very few baseball players who can carry a high end set, there isn’t anything in this set that hasn’t been done before. They also went with a stupid partial medieval theme this year with scrolls and shields and crap like that. I say partial because the other cards have a completely clashing identity of linear boxes and junk. Of course, none of this means anything to the people who buy Triple Threads, mainly because they only care about how many windows are on the card. No matter that there is barely a player picture, or a cohesive thought to bring the card together, all they want is relic. Relic, relic and more relic. I say relic, because Topps doesn’t always use game pieces for this set, instead using old timer game jerseys, event jerseys, and practice jerseys. Again, none of this matters because the people who buy this junk have no concept of what should matter.

When you move away from the horrid relic cards, you see that there is still no on card autographs for this set. Even though Topps has the resources to do it, they care more about stocking their storeroom when they meet with a player rather than doing something for you the collector. Not only that, but the stickers bring your focus on the card because they are cut into the fucking design. Each auto card has a cut out spot for the sticker, instead of disguising it like it should be. Why do I want a card that blatantly shows everyone that the prized auto is just a label stuck on by someone in China? That makes no sense to me.

Triple Threads is also single handedly responsible for the parallel hell that so many of us hate. Each of the 300 or so cards has at least 10 parallels, including 5 1/1s – FOR EACH CARD. That’s 4 printing plates and a regular platinum parallel. Seriously, how does anyone think this is okay? Its worse than Panini, and I cringe each time some idiot screams “MOJOOOOOOOO!” when he pulls a Adam Lind 1/1 triple relic printing plate that he can sell for five dollars. Give me a fucking break.

Lastly, the price point continues to be a complete joke. For 170+ dollars, all you get is one autograph and one crappy one color jersey card. If you are lucky you can pull one of the hundreds of worthless players on the checklist, who have up to four cards each in some cases. Then, there is a one per case triple auto that has three players that are drawn out of a hat, and sells for ten bucks, or a 1/1 card that may or may not make you have a seizure from looking at it. The fact is, 95% of the time, you are going to pull less than 20 dollars worth of cards from your box, and even if you pull a 1/1 “REDICOLOUS MOJO” card, its going to look like poop.

I cant say enough bad things about Triple Threads and Topps Sterling, because they are like the Michael Bay movies of the card collecting world. There is a lot of needless action, but when standing alone on a concept, everything falls apart. Right, Transformers 2? Triple Threads is like that, and its an insult to my intelligence that it is always shoved down our throats for 3 sports each fucking year. In fact, my golden rule of Topps was created around this product. In the future, I would hope that collectors realize that supporting Michael Bay Threads means that more of it will come, just like every goddamn needless sequel in Hollywood. Please don’t give them that satisfaction.