Has Panini Replaced the Manu-Patch With Something Worse?

Back in 2007, DLP (now Panini) started to use a kind of card that eventually permeated all of the sports they made cards for. The embroidered patch piece, signed by the player, eventually deemed the “manupatch,” was a staple for Panini's products up until 2013. Since that time, the cards have tapered off considerably, now only used for holiday promotions and very few other instances.

Here are some of the ways Panini has used the hideous Manupatch cards over the years:

2007 Rookies and Stars Calvin Johnson Auto Manupatch

2012 National Treasures Barry Sanders Auto Pull Out Manupatch

2014 Black Friday Andrew Luck Manupatch card

However, with the welcome and celebrated fall of the manupatch, a new kind of card has surfaced, one that is just as trashy as the one it similarly replaced. The “colored paper” autograph cards have steadily invaded products since last year, including high end examples in Immaculate and Black Gold. As we start to see more previews for upcoming products, its clear that these cards are now the trademark go to design for Panini, taking over the hole left when Manupatch autos went away.

Here is what I mean:

2014 Black Gold Richard Sherman Colored Paper Auto

2014 Immaculate Baseball Jose Abreu Colored Paper Auto

Personally, it would have been a hole that should have stayed empty. The colored paper autographs look horrendous, even if it is a replacement for sticker autographs in products. Although collectors dislike stickers, many times the clear presentation doesnt force designers to obscure a large portion of the card. With the colored paper, it automatically becomes the focal point, taking away all focus from the parts of the card that matter as much as the signature from the player.

In Immaculate baseball, and some examples from Black Gold football, the card was built to be signed by the player on card. Even though the colored paper looks like a trapped cut auto, that isnt what is actually happening in some cases.  The player is sent cards with the paper already inserted, which implies that Panini could actually just send a normal card for them to sign instead.

I think as a sticker replacement, there would be some support for using trapped cuts, just because of the reputation stickers have gained. I disagree completely, as I think the visual appeal of the card shrinks exponentially with this new approach. The cards look so terrible that I refuse to acknowledge any type of superiority over a well crafted sticker auto. Then again, this is Panini, so well crafted doesnt usually belong in the same sentence with their brands.

The bottom line is that companies should spend less time trying to find out a replacement for stickers, and spend more time finding ways to make better looking cards that are better with hard signed autographs.

Here is some of the upcoming visual diarrhea that is slated for Immaculate basketball:

Diving Deeper into 2014 Topps Five Star

Lost a midst the drama surrounding missing cards from National Treasures, is one of the strongest high end sets I have seen in a long time. 2014 Five Star has some amazing looking cards, and from what I have seen in person and online, the product is delivering case by case unlike many of the other high end sets that are out there.

Here are some of my favorites from the set:

2014 Topps Five Star Tom Brady Auto SP

2014 Topps Five Star Russell Wilson Silver Signature Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Peyton Manning Auto SP

2014 Topps Five Star Andrew Luck Silver Signatures Auto

Not only does it have a great and concise checklist, but it also has a very sleek design that works extremely well. Although much of the relic content has been removed from the set, it does have a lot of different things that make it up for it. Considering all rookie relics arent game used anyways, its not that big of a deal to an autograph collector like me.

The Good

Five Star has been the penultimate autograph product since Upper Deck lost its license in 2010. It has always focused on the parts of the product that cater to autograph collectors, and as a result, I have loved each and every version of the set. This year’s design is perfect for the football version of the product, as every card almost presents the player as a work of sports art.

Adding in that Topps has done away with the base, and made sure every card in the product is autographed (with few notable exceptions), takes away a lot of the needless bulk. Where NT is pumping up the cards per box with 2 dollar shitty jersey cards, Five Star is focusing on what collectors should want – on card autographs from all the top players in the game.

The checklist definitely reflects this, as Five Star is less about the scrub rookies, and more about the top tier guys and non-RCs that player collectors chase until they are blue in the face. Unlike Treasures and Exquisite, all the big rookies are live, as are on card autographs from elite subjects like Brady, Russell Wilson, Luck, Favre, and Emmitt Smith. The only big name redemptions I have seen are Marshawn Lynch and Aaron Rodgers, who will both likely not be too tough to nail down.

My favorite cards in the product are the gold and silver autographs, which have improved significantly in their pen strength since Baseball rolled out similar cards. Where silver and gold autographs usually fail, Five Star succeeds more than ever before. Although some are still misses, there are a lot of really bold autographs.

Booklet cards this year have become exceedingly rare, but when they pop out of a box, they look nothing less than stunning. I dont see a bloated rookie premiere checklist on these either, as the majority of the booklets in the product are top tier guys.

Lastly, with relic content reduced, the jumbo patch autograph cards are that much more of a chase. The design is a transfer from Baseball, and I am glad they stuck with it. The horizontal 1×2 inch swatch always looks good, and provides a lot of room to sign and a lot of room for design elements.

The Bad

I think that some of the major issues that plague this product havent changed year over year. This product is targeted more at people who collect great looking autographs, instead of the people who just want ridiculous patches, regardless of the visual appeal of those patches.

The industry’s focus on relics, even ones that are not game used, is so frustrating to me that I cant put it into words for everyone to digest. I am glad that Topps focused on improving the checklist, getting top signers on card, and forgetting about all those other things that Panini still worries about. However, I also understand that this choice makes it so that many collectors wont assign the same value to the rookie cards or non rookie autographs. Bonkers to me.

All year long people complain about stickers. So much so that every sticker based product gets its own thread on all the top message boards. Its the first thing people complain about with each new set that is solicited. “UGH STICKERS AGAIN. I HAS A SAD.” Then, when a product comes out that is hard signed, its either 1500 a box in Flawless, or a much more affordable box in Five Star. Yet, for some stupid reason, Five Star never gets to be the bride. Always the bridesmaid to Treasures, which people love because of the stupid oversaturation of event used patches.

I feel like the hobby is going in the wrong direction here, and that Five Star deserves so much more credit on the secondary market than it gets. We undervalue what it brings year after year, and even after Panini’s product doesnt deliver as promised, Five Star remains lower than I think it should be.

My one major complaint remains the lack of inscription cards, as they were my favorite cards of the year. I have already moved on to start collecting some of the other cards that have stepped up to replace the big hits, but the absence still stings.

The Ugly

This is Five Star’s second to last year in its current format. That alone is ugly enough to make me cringe. To think that come 2016, stellar sets like this will be gone is so devastating, it causes me to consider my continued place in the hobby.

Panini does a terrible job in just about every way, shape, and form. From design, to configuration, to price, all the way up to the fiasco with Flawless Jerseys and NT missing cards. They are a terrible card company, and I am sad that they will force Five Star off the map. Instead we will be left with sticker riddled National Treasures products that never deliver as promised.

Hopefully Topps will find a way to continue producing football cards, as I am not ready to say goodbye to their presence in the sport. Sets like this are just too infrequent to let go without a fight.

2014 National Treasures Debacle: Learning from History

Despite Panini telling people that they are SURE the missing Teddy Bridgewater and Odell Beckham Rookie Patch autos and booklets are in the product, evidence from message boards, group breaks, and ebay show that something is going on. As mentioned before, there are a lot of theories, but nothing has been solidified as of yet.

Just so everyone is clear, these cards are NOT what I am talking about:

2014 National Treasures Odell Beckham Sticker Auto Patch

2014 National Treasures Odell Beckham Colossal Auto Patch

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater Colossal Patch Auto

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater NFL Gear Auto Patch

I also dont buy the late arrival to packout excuse, as many of the cards from the blog preview have surfaced:

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater Notable Nicknames Auto

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater Laundry Tag Auto /5

The missing cards are the redemptions for the RPA and Parallels numbered as high as 99, and the Booklets numbered as high as /99. These are identified as the "true RC" in the set, and though I dont care about that designation, it makes them more valuable than any other version. Even if the cards were SPed to something like 49, its still a statistical impossibility that we could reach this point in the product without any of them showing up. Every other rookie on the checklist has been pulled in multiples.

The funny thing is, collation and packout issues have caused problems in the past, and its not uncommon to see cards not show up for a day or two past the release of the product. At the same time, its VERY uncommon to see the best cards of the product, with high numbering not surface – even after 6 days from the first auctions being posted.

I remember back in 2008, when previews for Exquisite football showed up, there were images of a special round of retro Rookie Patch Autos for Tiger Woods that Upper Deck posted on their blog. When the product hit in late February, many collectors started their chase. It took until late April before the first Tiger was pulled and posted, leading to a very similar anger among those who bought the boxes looking for the card. Of course, there were only 14 Tiger cards to be pulled, so it is a much different situation than what we have right now. At the same time, pack out and collation could have pushed the Tiger boxes to a later allocation, and a later surface date.

There have also been collation issues in Panini products too, with Immaculate Basketball and National Treasures Basketball experiencing some issues. In 13/14 NT, a blowout group case break of 40 cases led to so many Alex Len rookie patch autos, that Panini actually had to step in and make good with a set of 1/1s to make it up.

In Immaculate, some of the non-NBA autos and certain players were allegedly part of a second wave of cases that didnt show up until later on in the release. Both of which Panini faced a lot of criticism for, but nothing like what we are seeing with the current situation.

Similarly, with Topps, there have been autographs from largely collected sets like Heritage baseball that have never shown up, even to this day. I specifically remember a Bo Jackson auto that was previewed, and has not surfaced from what I can tell. Same could be said about the fabled Bowman Chrome Evan Longoria superfractor.

With Tiger, and the other situations mentioned above, the collation issues did not effect the biggest cards in the product. Arguably, Tiger was the top chase, but his cards were never the focus of 2008 Exquisite the way Flacco and Matt Ryan were. If those two were missing, you could bet the hoopla would have reached fever pitch just like today.

Tomorrow marks one week, and its not looking like we are running towards a resolution anytime soon. I would guess that Panini will either make a statement or artificially remedy the situation shortly, but im not sure if that will be enough to quell the discontent. They have earned themselves a reputation now, and every product will have the question from this point forward. The longer it goes without addressing the issue, the more those questions will impact their online presence.


2014 National Treasures Football: Where Are Missing Rookie Autographs?

If you havent been online since the release of 2014 National Treasures Football, you have missed a considerable reaction to a group of missing cards that have yet to surface. As of 3pm on 4/10, some 3 days after the first cards from the set hit eBay, there have been zero Odell Beckham and Teddy Bridgewater rookie patch autos or booklet autos listed for sale or posted on a public forum.

Although both rookies have other cards in the product that are live (all of which are stickers or redemptions for other cards), the redemptions for the rookie patch autos have yet to show up in any of the boxes broken and posted on any of the public mediums.

Here is a search for Teddy Bridgewater in National Treasures.

Here is a search for Odell Beckham in National Treasures.

No group breaker, no message board post, no twitter posts, and no eBay auctions have surfaced with a redemption for any of the base rookie patch autos, parallel rookie patch autos, booklet patch autos, booklet patch auto parallels or the like. NONE.

To provide some color to those who say its still early, every other rookie has had at least four posted, some many more than that. I have collected Teddy the entire year, through all 30+ products, and his absence has never happened in this fashion, even in the more severely short printed Flawless set. This is not a coincidence in my opinion, as it just seems too far fetched that one has yet to show up for either player.

Panini has confirmed to shop owners and others that the cards are in the product, despite every indication that there is something seriously wrong. In the wake of a real explanation, there are a few theories floated by users on Twitter and the boards:

  • Cards Held Back: Citing similar situations in Immaculate Basketball and National Treasures Basketball, collectors are saying that there is a second wave of NT cases that have yet to be shipped to distributors that are packed with cards from these two players.
  • Holding the Cases Hostage: From multiple posts on the message boards, collectors have heard that to get access to the second wave of cases, they will have to buy allocations of one of Panini’s previous under performing releases.
  • Huge Mistake: Packout issues have caused the cards to be allocated in an odd manner that may not have been captured in QC. Collation has contributed to cards being packed in a certain section of the run that has yet to hit the market.
  • Cards dont exist: Panini planned on having the cards in the product, but due to lack of signing agreements, decided not to have ODB as a part of the RPA checklist (Panini has said this is not the case to a few different people).

I personally dont know what to believe, but surely there is an explanation out there. There could be a giant impact to distributors, group breakers, and collectors based on what is gong to happen, and Panini needs to tread carefully here to avoid another debacle like what we saw when “mislabeled” cards were inserted into Flawless football.

If Panini is deliberately scheming to keep the cards for a second wave, I dont even have words for that. Although it may not be technically illegal, its definitely shady and unethical, especially considering that these are the two biggest players on the RPA checklist. I cant see them doing this, as it is just too obvious of a stunt to pull. It would damage their brand more than it would help sales.

Similarly, if the cards just dont exist, its the easiest out for them, but its one that is going to tank the value of their boxes by a significant margin. Because checklists arent a guarantee that the cards are there, I think its the direction I would go with. Then, when the cards show up on the rewards point store, its a situation that can be written off more easily. There will be a huge backlash none-the-less, but its a backlash that can be managed. If the cards were held hostage in exchange for buying other products, that is an indefensible decision to try to battle.

Eventually, someone will pull one of these cards, or Panini will address the controversy directly. A collector has already reached out to them, and received a deflection of a response, but no word has officially received. Until we see the card or we see the statement, the conspiracy theories will continue.

At least we know that at one point, the cards were planned to be included. What happened between then and now is still a mystery.

panini-america-2014-national-treasures-football-pre-ink-peek-55 panini-america-2014-national-treasures-football-late-arrivals-13

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Topps Five Star Football Review

Every year, Five Star is one of my favorite sets released. 100% on card content didnt exist outside of this product until Flawless came around, but you dont need to spend over a grand for a better looking design. This year’s checklist looks to be one of the stronger ones since 2010, and I think that as people rip into boxes, they will see how loaded it really is.

Here are some of the bigger hits up so far:

2014 Topps Five Star Tom Brady Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Andrew Luck Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Brett Favre Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Russell Wilson Silver Signature Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Odell Beckham Auto RC

That being said, configuration wise, there are some major changes. Structures that havent existed in Five Star are new this year, and it could undermine the potential of competition between the other sets. First off, signed relic card content in this product is minimal. Where in 2013 and 2014 there were almost an auto patch per box, this year, they are exceedingly rare. They have added some awesome looking new booklet parallels, but the basic auto patch is gone.

Booklet content is severely reduced as well, focusing more on delivering autographs for top signers in other parts of the product. For me, this makes perfect sense, and I support the decision 100%. I DONT CARE ABOUT EVENT USED JERSEYS. That being said, very few other people feel this way. Because rookie auto patches are so common elsewhere, people will raise an eyebrow when they see how this is built.

Here is the thing we need to consider. Topps has packed Five Star year after year with the best looking rookie auto patches in the game. People dont care, as they still want to go and pay that much more for Treasures ONLY because the patches are bigger and have more logos. Customers are choosing something that looks worse but has larger patches, rather than the cards that look beautiful, and have all on card autographs. Instead, Topps has tried to help the other complaint about high end products, adding more top autographs per case.

So few people understand that the event used jerseys arent even put all the way on at the Premiere/Pro Bowl. They are worn for 1 second, taken off, and loaded into a plastic bag to be flown back. Its become so happenstance, that Panini and Topps havent even bothered to get the actual player's jersey due to cost. If it mattered to collectors, they would spend the money. It doesnt, so they use old model jerseys and ones that will never be worn by the player in a game.

Instead of speaking with their wallets, the general base is ignorant or indifferent. They always choose Treasures over the better looking Five Star, so why even try to play that game? In that type of a situation, I understand WHY the decision was made to forgo that cost and focus on delivering better autographs.

On the other hand, I REALLY dont agree with removing the inscriptions from the checklist. They were the heart and soul of what made Five Star special, and now that they are gone, I am left feeling empty. They were always the best cards of the product, and it wasnt even close. If this is truly an autograph collectors’ main set, Inscriptions needed to stay. Big mistake.

Similarly, Im reading that collectors are pretty frustrated with unnumbered base autographs, all of which were numbered in previous years. Again, collectors oddly value rarity over look and presentation, and this decision doesnt really do much to help things.

Loving Five Star as much as I do, I almost feel like that guy who is sitting in the indie theater and loving that great movie that only the real movie fans like. People will line up around the block to see Fast and the Furious, but others that deserve the attention dont really get it. That’s the competition between Five Star and Treasures.

Ill give Panini credit because they press all the right buttons in catering to the type of collector that loves their crap. Big swatches, tons of logos, and TONS OF MOJOSZOZ! They dont care about stickers, they dont care about design, and they only care about pumping the market full of stuff that makes group breakers use those animated logos I cant stand.

The issue is that the substance doesnt match the flash in the slightest. Treasures wraps a 100 dollar bill around a wad of ones to make it look like a fat roll of cash. Instead its just pocket change.

Dont get me wrong, Treasures offers some really nice looking cards every year. However, in comparing side by side with Five Star, Ill stick to my under-appreciated indie film. Transformers 4 may sell the most tickets, but it never wins any awards.

The booklets in Five Star look like finely crafted pieces of sports art. The booklets in Treasures look good, but its not the same. Guess what collectors will want? The one with the bigger patch, even though it is only worn for a few seconds. No one will even miss that there are no longer any non-rookies on the checklist like 2013.

Sadly, Five Star will only have one more year under the NFL umbrella, and Panini will be able to continue on. Im going to sit here and appreciate my fine wine, and watch as the bubble bursts eventually. Collectors can only take so much of the gristle before they start to want a real steak.