Panini Instant Aims to Launch a Copy of Topps’ On Demand Trading Card Program

CaptureWith the success that Topps has had with Topps Now, it was only a matter of time before the copycat police decided to get into the game. To accompany their recent rash of taking a successful Topps and repackaging it under a similar name, Panini “Instant” will be their version of “Now.” We havent gotten many details, but Im guessing it will be their version of Topps’ program with Basketball and Football rolled in. They recently announced on Instagram that their coverage of the Copa America soccer event will also have an on demand component.

On demand trading cards from Topps have sold well, some even going above the 10 dollar purchase price after the fact:

2016 Topps Now Trevor Story RC #6

2016 Topps Now Bartolo Colon Home Run #57

2016 Topps Now Nomar Mazara RC #12

The reason Panini is even thinking of doing something like this, stems from the national news coverage that Topps has had with their baseball version. Their Bartolo Colon was trending on Twitter for half a day, when they printed a card of his Home Run that made him the oldest player to do so. Panini seems to think they can replicate that success, even though their brand has maybe 1/100th the recognition that Topps does with trading cards.

As we see with anything that any trading card company tries to do, it takes much more than just an idea to make it work. That being said, if you are going to directly rip off a competitor, you better bring the heat. As we can see with their foray into digital, I dont think we are even in the same zip code of effort that is needed to show potential for any real competition with Topps.

Instant might turn out to be a great counterpart for Panini, as their Football and Basketball licenses will allow them to avoid direct competition with Topps’ already established and successful idea. They might be able to improve upon it as well, which is the advantage of being late to the party.

If they think that this is going to be a cake walk, and they can just do exactly what NOW is already doing, I will be standing there waiting to laugh in their face. On demand trading cards has been great for Topps only because national news has picked up their efforts. Collectors have been relatively mid range in excitement for everything else. I think that is exactly what is going to happen with the NBA and NFL as well, and they have to hope the money they overpaid for the licenses will grant them access to coverage from their partners. Remember, for most of America, Panini are grilled sandwiches, not trading cards.

Overall, its clear that the industry is shifting towards a way to get people connected to cards as quickly as possible, something that I have been desiring for a long time. Im interested to see how this plays out, because there could be a lot of ways to make this more than what Topps has already done.

If I am Panini, Im finding ways to incorporate loyalty and set building into the allure of buying regularly. That means offering checkpoint “awards” similar to what is done on the digital side for people that complete the run. Similarly, I would offer special parallels of the on demand cards for buying in bulk.

Autograph content would also be great, and though the cards may not be on demand, I would offer the option for special cards to be autographed. Either apply a sticker, or wait redemption timeframes for hard signed availability. If the card is purchased, the buyer will have the option at Panini’s discretion for autographed versions. Obviously not every player is available, but as we saw with eTopps years ago, its a way to get people interested.

I would also see if there is a way that the instant cards can be transferred to COMC ports for reselling purposes. With a COMC fulfillment option, there is a much more attractive secondary market for the cards that can be controlled by Panini and their partners.

These are off the top of my head, and Im sure if anyone actually put some thought into this, they could think of a million other things worth talking about.

Either way, Panini needs to innovate, because right now using Topps as their source for creativity just makes them look weak and unoriginal. Not great traits for your brand image. Sure, many ideas are ripped off in many different ways – but they are usually minor elements of a larger idea, not the entire umbrella concept itself. Taking Topps’ Inception set and copying the look and name is not being shy about it. Taking Topps NOW and rebranding it “Instant” is way too blatant. Even before the details are laid out, we know they are just renaming the existing stuff from Topps.

I cant wait to see how Panini Khrome and Panini Phinest turn out if this trend continues!

SCU Go-Live Report: 2016 Topps Archives Baseball Product Review

Over the last decade, Topps has had a lot of success with retro themed products retooled with modern players. Like the enormously successful Heritage line, Archives is very much about using the history of the brand to market the product as something that nostalgic collectors will like to open. Although I dont think it has the following that Heritage does, its a product that A LOT of people look forward to.

Here are some of the big hits up so far:

2016 Topps Archives Carlos Correa Auto Red /50

2016 Topps Archives Kenta Maeda Auto RC

2016 Topps Archives Bryce Harper Auto SSP

2016 Topps Archives Darryl Strawberry Auto Red /50

The crown jewel of this year’s product is another set of cards based around a movie, similar to what we saw with Major League a few years ago. This time, Kevin Costner and the crew from Bull Durham are featured, including autographs of the bigger named actors from the film. Although Major League was a big deal, there are two Baseball themed movies that EVERYONE can quote the entire script. One is Field of Dreams, another Costner movie, and the other is this cult classic that follows a minor league farm club through the trials and tribulations of a season.

Here are the big names to look for:

2016 Topps Archives Kevin Costner Auto SSP

2016 Topps Archives Susan Sarandon Auto

2016 Topps Archives Tim Robbins Auto Red /50

Getting the rights to use the film’s cast in costume, as well as finding a way to get Robbins, Sarandon, and Costner to all hard sign their cards is pretty impressive. I am not going to lie, this is a set that I have a huge nostalgic connection to.

Another gem of this product is the usage of the 1991 Topps Desert Shield base set as a case hit SSP parallel. These cards are in the original design with the foil stamp, and as someone who had a few back in the day, this is pretty special. I remember buying the Kirby Puckett at a show in the mid 90s, and I think I might still have it somewhere in my collection. The originals can sell for a good price, and its cool to see them brought back as a quirky addition to the archives set.

The rest of the product features hard signed autographs across the entire set, and many of the fan favorite cards are as cool as they always are. Even though there is no 1500 dollar Will Ferrell card this time around, Archives is always worth at least ripping one box. You never know what fun stuff will show up, and thats what makes this such a great set every year.

What Makes a Good Buyback?

In 2016 Classics, we saw that Panini went out and got the players to sign a bunch of cards they had in their inventory. These buybacks are supposedly one per case, and for the most part, have attracted some nice attention from collectors who appreciate the cards they had signed.

Here are some of the bigger ones up so far:

2016 Classics Peyton Manning Buyback Auto 1/1

2016 Classic Tom Brady Buyback Auto 1/1

2016 Classics Curtis Martin Buyback Auto 1/1

2016 Classics Jason Witten Buyback Auto /8

Personally, im a big fan of buyback autograph cards but I know that others might not be as big a supporter of their usage. I honestly wish more companies used buybacks in their products, as it creates a way for them to use pre-obtained content to get hard signed autographs. If you dont need to print the card, all autographs no longer have an excuse to be stickers. So, the question remains – what makes a good buyback?

Base Cards

Lets face it, finding a way for an autograph and a relic to be included on such a small surface is tough. So tough that Panini seems to fail at it about 10 times more than they succeed. Base cards dont have to deal with that type of composition, so there is a lot more room for bigger player photos and uninterrupted design elements. This can mean autos might be tougher to see, but with the right design, the card can be absolutely stunning.

Rookie Cards

Aside from the fact that this can get expensive for some of the superstar players, the importance of their rookie card to collectors is undeniable. If you ask a collector which type of card is the most important to the hobby, a rookie card is easily top 3 if not the most important. Getting one autographed by the player can make the buy back insanely attractive, especially if the rookie is tough to get.

Iconic Sets

Everyone remembers 1989 Upper Deck Baseball. Everyone remembers 1952 Topps. 1986 Fleer Basketball is an institution. These sets are iconic examples of trading cards, and they arent alone. Obviously, there are a lot of reason why getting 1952 Topps stuff for people to sign wont work, but the thought is there. If you can get an iconic set combined with a rookie card for a buyback signature? Thats where things can be really special. This luxury car price tag on a 1986 Jordan Buyback is not a joke.

Chrome Cards

There is no more attractive card than a chrome card with a hard signed signature. Unfortunately, many of the chrome cards feature sticker autographs outside of Topps Chrome. I think if a company really wants to make me fall in love, this type of card would be a great way to do it. Topps has actually done chrome buyback autos a few times, and they remain valuable in many of the examples.

Inserts

Can you imagine if UD did a widespread buyback program of some of their rare inserts from the late 1990s and early 2000s? Although Fleer Retro had a few examples, it was mostly focused around Michael Jordan. I would love to see them get some of the PMG cards and have them signed. I would buy the shit out of those cards. In all honesty, many unsigned insert cards do look pretty awesome. I would love to see how many would look with hard signed autograph cards.

Again, the need for more unique autograph content is huge in the industry right now. Collectors are routinely giving up on the same old shit year after year, and its time to make sure that we get some fresh content – even if its based in nostalgic connections to older sets. History sells in cards, and companies need to use it more often in creating premium content.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2016 Classics Football Product Review

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A few years ago, Classics football was the first set to offer NFL rookies in their new digs. Since that time the product has been canned, and rightfully so, and then resurrected when Panini needed to scrape the bottom of the barrel to hit product guarantees. Classics was dead as a product, and I dont think that much has changed in the time it has been away.

Here are some of the hits up so far:

2016 Classics Laquon Treadwell Auto RC

2016 Classics Dan Marino Auto 9/10

2016 Classics Jameis Winston Auto /10

2016 Classics Rob Gronkowski No Name Variation

Instead of the NFL uniforms, we are stuck AGAIN with college sticker crap, only this time its on vintage stock instead. Im not sure why that makes a difference, other than a cheap gimmick, but Panini seems to think it will change people’s mind. They added in their version of Topps’ Heritage SSP ideas, but in a set that has maybe 1/240th the following.

The cards dont look bad from a base perspective, but at some point we need to ask ourselves why something like this is necessary on the calendar. Sure it adds a product with a retro feel to the mix, yet I dont see much other reason for it to exist. Sticker autographs of rookies in college uniforms have already happened way too many times this year, and over-saturation has hit hard.

Funny enough, if Panini added stickers for some of the 8x10s they got signed at the Rookie Premiere, I might be signing a different tune:

2016 Classics Ezekiel Elliott Signed Photo

2016 Classics Jared Goff Signed Photo

2016 Classics Joey Bosa 8×10 Signed Photo

If Panini is trying to create their shot at a football version of Heritage, they are so far off base, I dont have words. If they are trying to create a retro product in the same vein as other sets, even then I fail to see the appeal of this set, save the cheaper box price. Like I said, the cards dont look BAD, but I also dont think anything here is game-changing.

Cheaper box price also means fewer autographs, because Panini cant seem to deliver at the same rate we see the other companies deliver, including Leaf who gave us 5 on card autos for 80-85¬†bucks. Panini needs to really figure out their plan for the next few years, because if we are going to get 30 different versions of cheap crap like Classics all year, this license will be even more unsustainable than it already is. I guess we shouldnt be surprised that this is already showing up on the Father’s Day list, after all, I havent seen a ton of buzz. Then again, that is par for the course here.

2016 NFL Rookie Premiere – Saturday Takes Center Stage

nflpa-rookie-premiere-logoIf you are unfamiliar with the Rookie Premiere, today is the main event. The rookies put on their NFL uniforms for the first time, and head to the stadium for their first dress rehearsal as part of their new teams. Obviously, if you are not a fan of Panini, this day is going to be torture, but at least we can see some of the incredible things that Topps Digital is doing with their apps.

Panini

If you expected them to spend the day taking action shots of the guys running simulated scenarios on the field, yeah you picked the wrong company to follow. Even though Panini had the entire field to work with for most of the day, it looks like they spent just as much time taking rookies off the playing surface and using them for stupid gimmicks that dont involve the reason why everyone goes to the event.

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Back when the event was conceived, it was to provide a place where the card companies could simulate photography that look like in game shots. Because some of the rookies wouldnt see the field during their first year, at least in time for actual photos to be available and processed, the Premiere offered a unique opportunity. Similarly with all photos taken at the premiere belonging to the companies themselves, there was no cost to acquire rights. Those principles are still in place today, and for many years Panini has completely made terrible use of this opportunity.

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Their signature is avoiding the visually stunning photography that can be generated at this event, instead opting for goofy posed pictures of the rookies without their helmets on, or in a room constructed for them to pretend to tear a football in half. If anyone wonders why so many cards from Panini feature this type of horrible looking pictures, its because they spend so much time at this event generating it.

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In fact, for some of their cards, instead of retouching college action shots for use in NFL branded cards, like they did in previous years, all retouching was done on publicity head shots taken around the NFL draft and during the premiere’s opening days. Yes, it seems as though Panini is DELIBERATELY moving away from photography that looks the best on a trading card, in favor of the inexeplicable Human Bobblehead and other questionable uses for the time spent during the event.

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This is why I hate Panini’s cards. They opt to produce them in a way that literally drives me up a fucking wall. I love football for action on the field, not glamour shots in a studio. From the looks on the rookies’ faces, I can tell they probably feel the same way. Considering that the field is there for the best results, and they choose consistently to avoid it, makes me angry. What is the point of this event if they are not going to use it for what it is worth?

Topps Digital

 

For the first time, Topps is appearing at the event without a physical license. As a licensee with the NFLPA under their digital license, Topps was granted space on the field, but likely no access to the players running around for Panini’s photography. Obviously Panini wants the event to themselves, especially when the Topps Digital team has just signed a long term deal with their exclusive physical provider.

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Huddle has shown that the market for football cards on the digital side is a booming industry, much the opposite of the slowly collapsing physical side of the card business. With tens of thousands of users, Huddle likely has more people engaging with their product on a regular basis than Panini does with their new physical products at any given time.

Topps had some great ideas for the event as well, with live signatures and drawn plays by the rookies all to be featured in beautiful cards featured in Huddle. It also looks like they made use of their tent space, looking for ways to get photos of the rookies for the app, despite not having the field to work with.

Topps has always produced better cards than Panini has from a design perspective, and its clear that they know what they are doing on the digital side as well. With new content delivered multiple times PER DAY, at ANY TIME of the day, collectors can engage with the app at their leisure without leaving their homes.

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This is the first time the Huddle app has been NFL licensed at the time of the rookie premiere, and its going to be very cool to see how they adapt to life without the anchor of a physical license in their back pocket. Where Panini seems to be absent of a thought of the difference between their ass and their elbow, Topps continues to innovate across the brands they have left.

As we have seen from Panini, all they care about is cardboard cutouts of instagram windows and ripping off Topps’ old ideas than actually doing anything creative on their own. This is as sad as I have ever been for Football cards, and the rookie premiere is the first experience of what life will be like when Panini has full control. What. a. fucking. joke.