I dont think there is any doubt that Contenders functions as Panini’s most popular product. Every year, the release of the set is something that almost every football collector pays attention to, even if they dont plan on partaking in the break of any packs or boxes. Being that Topps is no longer around to divert attention, this should be a golden age for Panini to build on the loyalty they believe they have built since taking over in 2016. Instead, I dont feel like that hasnt happened in any concrete fashion, even though I think 2016 Contenders was one of the better versions of the set released in a long time.
The 2017 version doesnt even come close to that standard, bringing forward a very plain design with little to offer in terms of a rookie class riddled with injuries to top players.
2017 Panini Contenders Mitchell Trubisky Cracked Ice Auto Ticket /25 – The horizontal 2017 design is horrendous.
I have said this for years, and I will continue to bang this drum, Contenders doesnt deserve to be the bedrock of the Panini NFL calendar just because it exists. Back when it represented one of the only sources of autographs for rookies that were deep in the class, the set was important to have. Now that so many rookies have autographs in products through the entire year, its lost the one thing that made it special. That’s not saying it isnt worth continuing the tradition, but it does bring a very important fact when that unique benefit is no longer unique. With rookie autographs now the most important part of football cards, Panini actually needs to TRY when they build this set. They have lost the luxury of collector loyalty based on concept.
Yet, without competition, Panini hasnt really stepped up the game, especially so in 2017. Although the ticket design isnt bad, it isnt great either. I liken the effort to that of 2014, when it was clear Panini literally put zero thought into the look of the cards. This is a lot more successful than that dumpster fire of a set, but it isnt something that shows Panini is thinking outside the traditional confines of this set. The insert autos range from less than acceptable to absolute garbage, and that just cant happen in a set like this.
Topps has taken a very similar approach with Triple Threads baseball, opting to deliver year after year of shitty phrases die cut into relic windows, because they just dont want to mess with something that isnt broken in their eyes. Personally that is the opposite of progress, and should be frowned upon from every single collector.
Although Panini did add veteran ticket autos for the first time, building on the Coaches’ tickets from last year, I feel like that is taking a pen and putting a phone stylus on the back. You didnt really improve the pen, you just made it slightly more useful. That isnt a victory, and I might actually say detracts from the overall concept.
Contenders during the 2000s and 2010s doesnt exactly have the best track record either. Disastrous designs in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2014 have shown that this set fails on regular occasions to deliver consistently. That includes a 2012 design that was just a reprint from 1998. Additionally, the dilution of the brand with needless college themed draft pick products really doesnt help the cause much either.
At some point in all of this, its time to question the team behind this product, failing on a regular basis to improve upon the set that defines their business. It should also be mentioned that Panini’s team hasnt really had any success that outshines this product from the Playoff, Leaf and Donruss days, even though they want everyone to feel like they win consistently.
I will go as far as saying Contenders has started to feel like just another set, instead of the one product that all these collectors freak out over. That is a crazy proposition, especially when you see how important rookie cards are for football. With the sport in decline, its time for Collectors to expect more innovation and less maintenance. I dont feel like we have gotten it here.