Hobby Headlines: Five Reasons Why Things Are Bad Right Now

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Collecting cards has been around for over 100 years, and I dont see those days coming to an end any time soon. Although the industry will probably fall by the wayside at some point, there will always be people who continue to collect. That being said, there are definitely some bad things going down at the moment, and it is leading to collector attrition at record rates. Although there are elements that still keep people around, more things are happening now that are driving them away.

Reason 1 – Exclusives

Its easy to put this on the list, as they are one of the main reasons why things suck right now. Not only do exclusives prevent variety by their very nature, but it can be argued that exclusives also prevent innovation from being at the forefront of the brands. Its one thing to produce crap with other competitors on the market, as they will just fly by you on the way to a larger market share. Its another thing when you have a marketplace with little competition because of environmental circumstances.

Although it does make A LOT of sense for the company to try to build their manifest destiny with the leagues that offer limited access to their (expensive) licenses, it only serves to hurt the population. Not only are people resentful, but they also get bored. Its easy to see how a Panini card differs from a Topps or Upper Deck card in its design, and to have 30+ products per sport with the same company gets repetitive and uneventful.

Companies will say that they can make better investments in the products knowing that the exclusive deal has a long term impact, but I havent seen how this actually makes it into the final product in any sort of real way we can point to. Both Baseball and Basketball seem to have lost a step since going exclusive, and that’s putting it lightly.

Adding football to the mix of leagues with exclusives in place will only further hurt things, especially when for the second time, the company taking over is arguably not the collector favorite, or the company with any real history in the sport. Its all about money, and thats not surprising.

Without getting into reasons why the pending NFL exclusive is even worse when you dig down deep, as a whole, its one of the next dominoes to fall. People are afraid that a company could potentially take over all four sports, and that is a big topic as to why there is less confidence in prices realized on the secondary market. The correlation between industry health and hobby health is evident in the buzz, and an industry where 1 player remains out of the 6 that were around previously doesnt show health.

Reason 2 – Amount of Products

Before I get into this, I am NOT advocating going back to 4 products a year or even 10. What I am saying is that 30 plus products per sport is just not realistic. Not only is it not realistic, but it is causing more harm than it is helping, especially when companies are actually building print runs with a closeout portion of the cases in the plan. I also understand that the leagues carry a large portion of this blame as well, as many of their licenses come with minimum guarantees that necessitate a packed calendar.

Here is the thing. If you look at how many products are being released, its clear that companies are running out of ways to build a trading card. Look at the way Panini dilutes their brand names, and its should be even more obvious that they are struggling to get good ideas into the pipeline. Then consider further that they are only building HALF of the products in football that they will need to build next year. It shouldnt come as a shock when you see Flawless Basketball, Football, College, Kentucky and Duke editions all in the works. Same thing is the case for Treasures and Immaculate as well.

The biggest issue that this leads to is collectors feeling both overwhelmed and frustrated. There is only so much demand on the market for any given player or card, and most of the trading card manufacturers dont sign an autograph deal without 10,000 signatures involved. It just gets to the point where people are just giving up because they know they arent going to get anything they havent seen 100 times previously. At some point, the cards just start to look the same, with different set names attached. Chrome stock can only be used so many ways before people write off the new stuff as “here we go again with this stuff.”

Reason 3 – Lack of Innovation

The last big thing to happen to the hobby was the rise of the relic card, and that happened 20 fucking years ago this year. Not only have companies bled this idea until it became a shriveled corpse of its former glory, but they havent found a way to take things to the next step. Well, at least not on the physical front.

Right now, the 100 dollar box with 4 hits is happening almost 50 times per year over all the sports. The designs might be different, but much of the methods to create the cards are exactly the same. Acetate and other types of card stocks have been minor innovations, but as a rule, you wont find a box of cards without at least one standard auto or relic in it.

This means when a big signer is part of a checklist, their participation is muted by the fact that many times, they have signed thousands of cards prior to the one they are currently signing. Not only that, but all the cards are relatively similar in nature. The only way to create value these days seems to be adding larger and better relics, or lowering the serial number. Contrived scarcity by a manufacturer is NOT innovation.

We cannot continue to sit back on the laurels of 1996 and hope that things work out. Box prices continue to increase, but its not like they are adding anything different to the mix in any way. People wonder why secondary market prices crash so fast after release, and it all has to do with this. What makes this Mike Trout auto different than the 1000 others that came before it? Even Michael Jordan isnt immune. Its time to see what can be done, and reason 2 and reason 3 are prime culprits.

Actually, 1996 is still a big year for cards, mainly because so many of the card companies produce their sets like we are living in frozen time. The collectibles market as a whole boomed in the mid 1990s, partly because of an economic boom, and partly because things were fresh still. Now, 20 years later, things havent gone THAT much further when you consider the grand scheme of things. I mean, Apple can only produce so many computers before everyone tears them apart for not going further with their creativity. Why do you think iPad and iPhone exist? Its not like Apple was ever a phone company before they decided to innovate.

Reason 4 – Too Many Rippers and Flippers

Because of reasons 2 and 3, many people dont buy wax to collect what they pull. This leads to more people buying wax, hoping to hit the big fish, and the selling for nothing when they dont. Because of this vicious circle, fewer collectors are out there to pick up the pieces, which means that prices are soft all around. If 2 and 3 were different, and there were reasons to collect that Durant auto, maybe we would see that fewer people would open boxes JUST to sell what they get.

Being a rip and flip person isnt a bad thing, either. These people need to exist or the collectors wont have access to buy what they want. The only thing is that the collectors need to outnumber the rippers by any margin for the model to work. If there isnt anyone left to buy, all the prices take a hit. If the stuff for sale is all the same as it was the previous 18 products, there is no incentive to buy THIS card over those previous examples.

The worst part here is that this isnt something that a card company can just go out and change. It has to be a wholesale situation across many different categories. A card company can maybe stave off some of the ramifications by avoiding the pitfalls of what is going on with product construction at the moment, but its not easy. Money doesnt grow on trees in the card industry these days.

As mentioned above, there are a lot of stakeholders in this business that need their fill, two of which are only involved with cards because they can be. The leagues and many of the players DO NOT need to sign to stay afloat. Some players do, but the leagues really dont need cards to be successful in the slightest. Considering the number of complaints lodged against card companies, its probably more of a hassle than we would expect.

This creates a vacuum where products are built with shitty parameters, shitty design, and shitty content, leading to less interest, less people that want it, and a bunch of people looking to sell what they have. Its not a good situation all around.

Because all the companies are swimming in debt, minus Panini, its not like they can fight back without serious issues. Panini’s card business is barely profitable as it is, and they can think their Italian sugar daddies for having any sort of stability at all. Without that, who knows?

Reason 5 – eBay

I love eBay, I love the real time pricing it provides, and I love that at any time of day, you can pretty much get whatever you want. That part of it is not in question. The part that is in question is their rampant desire to look the other way when people work outside the lines.

Even though hundreds of thousands of items are up for sale at any given time, there are a ton of people who refuse to deal on eBay because of how buyers and sellers can take advantage of the system. Buyers can report issues without fear of negative feedback. Sellers can shill auctions without penalty. It has devolved into a wasteland of good people who are left with a landscape littered with unethical douchebags.

If the hobby’s biggest marketplace functions more like Mad Max and less like an actual store, that is a very bad situation. Its clear that eBay needs rules in place for all categories, and cards just happen to be a casualty of some of those changes, but it is what it is.

I cant even count the number of times on two hands where I have had a negative experience buying and selling on eBay. This is exacerbated by the fact that each time I have known someone was playing me, but was helpless because of eBay’s archaic policies.

Top sellers are even more at a disadvantage, because of how their items are displayed in searches if they dont maintain a flawless record.

Additionally, the prices set by eBay are volatile. People will use this as a bedrock for a pro-price guide argument, unfortunately. Price guides arent the answer in any way, shape or form, but im starting to form a sentiment that eBay is causing more problems than ever. As I have said above, all the other reasons listed in this post contribute to each other’s prominence on the list, and eBay is no exception.

Because there are fewer people looking to buy these days, prices are even more volatile. When prices jump all over the place, products can suffer or flourish. Sadly, a flourishing product has become the exception to the rule rather than the rule. Most of the time, a set can tank mere days after release for many of the points already referenced. That puts eBay in a bad light, but its more than that.

Overall, there are a million different reasons why things are the way they are. Not surprisingly, people’s opinions on this matter have reached butt hole levels. Everyone has one, and most of them are pretty smelly. Im not saying I have all the answers or even as good of an understanding as many others that are out there either. We need more discussion, we need more suggestions, and damn, we need things to change.

Next, ill be talking about the five reasons collectors should be excited, so dont think this is going to be all doom and gloom.

More National Treasures Previews Make Me Nauseous

Even though Panini fucked up the release in a BIG way last year, 2014 National Treasures was the best of the entire brand’s run, in my opinion. Massive problems with collation prevented Teddy Bridgewater and Odell Beckham rookie cards from surfacing in a regular way, but most of the set was actually pretty solid. Not only were there a lot of hard signed stuff, but there was also a lot of good looking cards. It still had a lot of stickers, and some really, really ugly posed photo garbage, but it was the nicest it has been in a long time.

Here are some of the nicer cards of last year’s set:

2014 National Treasures Teddy Bridgewater Auto Rookie Patch /25

2014 National Treasures Derek Carr Colossal Relic Auto

2014 National Treasures Drew Brees Notable Nicknames Inscription Auto

2014 National Treasures Blake Bortles Booklet Jumbo Patch Auto

Sadly, after seeing the preview for this year’s set, I dont think they are going to be able to replicate the success of design and look from last year. Despite the fact that the 2015 class has cooled considerably, the designs and photographs used in this year’s set just fucking baffle me. Not only have they chosen to go with more posed photographs than I have seen in any previous year, but the designs are just plain awful, boring or dumb.

Here is the thing. Posed photographs in football are terrible in every way – especially considering that action shots owned by the company are readily available. Topps has all but cut them out of their football product lines, and for good reason. They arent dynamic, the players are usually not photogenic, and action shots make for better looking trading cards. For whatever reason, Panini has made a conscious choice to use them OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER again, and I will argue that it hurts more than they think.

Treasures as a whole, lacks a lot of what we see in past products like Exquisite, Five Star, and even Panini’s own Flawless brand. Mainly that sticker autographs, and cheap relics are all over the place. If you go back to 2006 and 2007, when competition was high thanks to a licensed hard signed Exquisite product, Treasures was still a full sticker set. Now that more on card content exists in the checklist, things are considerably better, but I fail to understand how collectors continue to assign such extreme value to a set whose quality and design shouldnt have earned that respect. I just dont get it. Upper Deck had this figured out almost 10 years ago.

This year’s set looks to be a bit more focused on obtaining hard signed autographs, but it almost doesnt matter with designs built the way they are. Goofy layouts, jumbo patches on vertical autograph cards, and yes, TONS of posed photos.

I had high hopes for this set after last year, and now all of those are dashed. With every preview, I continue to wonder how these people will ever be able to sustain the sport with their exclusive starting next year.

Here is the damage:

On the Radar: 2015 Donruss Signature Series Football

When you do what card companies do, including tens of thousands of autographs in products over a caledar year, sometimes you end up with an abundance of autographs that were signed on stickers, and never used. Players either didnt pan out, or the product needs were far below what was in inventory at the time.

This leads to the need for what we affectionately refer to as “sticker dumps” where products are created solely for the purpose of unloading stickers that would be laughable in better products. Topps had sets like Magic, Upper Deck had SP Signature Edition, and now Panini has Donruss Signature Series. With previews today, its becoming clear that the upcoming release might end up being the worst sticker dump we have seen in a long time.

Here are some of the previous sticker dumps of the past 5-10 years:

2010 Topps Magic Football Autographs

2012 Panini Prime Signatures Autographs

2009 Upper Deck SP Signature Edition Autographs

2009 Topps Signature Basketball Autographs

Even worse, is that with a pending NFL exclusive that requires 30+ products, this could end up being one of manysets they need to build. Unloading these type of autographs is not only completely necessary to cut costs, its also pretty cheap to do. From the article today, Panini might even be trying to hide the fact that this is a huge sticker dump behind a higher price tag, and booklets of multi “signed” cards.

The preview they posted today is likely trying to put lipstick on this pig, as its clear that they are trying to keep the true nature of this product under wraps until unsuspecting consumers start ripping into boxes.

Bottom line, just pulling an autograph isnt really that big of a deal any longer from a secondary market perspective, and they are hoping that the collectors who buy that dont really get what is really going to happen when they open a box. Contrived scarcity is going to be in play from the get go, as Panini is already advertising a low numbered card /10 or below per case – even if that person ends up being Titus Young of Lions washout fame.

My only advice is this. Although the design is a direct rip off of Topps Supreme, WAIT TO BUST THIS OR PARTICIPATE IN GROUP BREAKS. Watch the first few rips and get a good idea of how infrequently the nice cards are pulled. If it turns out that they come more than I am expecting they will, fine. If it turns out to be exactly what we fear, you saved yourself a bunch of money.

The cards do not look horrible, and the set COULD be fine. Everything I have seen about this product leads me to believe this is going to be a fuckload worse than what Panini is showing us.

SCU Go Live Report: 2015 National Treasures Baseball

Let me start off this post by saying that I DONT mind logoless cards, as long as they are done well. Some of National Treasures IS done well, and deserves attention from collectors. Other parts of National Treasures are so bad that it shouldnt have been produced. I think that this product had potential to be a really nice set, but im not sure it turned out that way.

Here are some of the bigger cards up so far:

2015 National Treasures Kris Bryant RC Colossal Auto Patch Logo /10

2015 National Treasures Mark McGwire Notable Nicknames Inscription Auto /10

2015 National Treasures Kyle Schwarber Silhouette Tag Auto 1/1

2015 National Treasures Barry Bonds Silhouette Patch Auto /10

2015 National Treasures Yoan Moncada Cuban Flag Patch Auto

Panini has a history of poorly designed National Treasures cards with low quality production, going back years. This is mainly because they feel like a humongous set with few good looking cards and a bunch of worthless horribly designed crap is a fine substitute for a smaller, well designed product. Ill give it to them, collectors seem to agree, as people bust the shit out of anything National Treasures.

The problem with baseball, is that even though a logo free design can be nice, there are a growing portion of collectors that wont pay up to normal value on the secondary market. Because of this, cards can start off hot during the first few days, and then tail off like crazy. It has happened frequently since Panini started making MLBPA cards without an MLBP license.

Similarly, when the cards have no logos, going deeper and deeper into a giant checklist becomes a terrible idea. There are just not enough people out there to buy the big cards, let alone the piddly shit that Treasures is full of. Awful looking cards only make things worse.

Now, it does have some hard signed cards including some very nice examples of some stuff that I hope makes it into Football. Outside of that, I have seen some absolutely BRUTAL breaks that make me question how anyone can risk breaking into this set.

I think that Panini could have made a product here that is worth breaking, especially when you see some of the cards that they could have produced. Instead, we are left with the bitter taste of under-performance, reeking of Sticker Autos, diluted checklists, and too many crappy relics that never sell for shit. When I see how bad the football sell sheet looked in many examples, I start to get even more afraid for next year when this is all that will remain in my favorite sport. I didnt think more fear was possible, to be honest. Guess I was wrong.

On the Radar: 2016 Leaf Metal Draft Football

Let me start this off by saying that Brian Gray has a history of going big. From the first look at the sell sheet for 2016 Leaf Metal Draft, its clear that he is ready to make quite the statement. Not only is he excited to release a prospect based football product in the midst of Panini ramping up their exclusive, but he has a new future HOF on his roster to sell the product further.

I have been a fan of this set for a while, here are some of the previous cards:

2015 Leaf Metal Draft Jameis Winston Auto Green Refractor BGS 9.5

2012 Leaf Metal Draft Russell Wilson Auto Silver /99

2014 Leaf Metal Draft Derek Carr Purple Auto /25

2015 Leaf Metal Draft Marcus Mariota Gold Auto 1/1

Personally, I think that this upcoming draft class is going to be mid to weak in terms of strength of the talent. We all know that sleepers are everywhere, and a big game can set things off, but there are no Winstons and Mariotas this time around. At least, that’s what it looks like on paper.

Adding Tom Brady as a hard signed autograph to a product like this will sell a dramatically higher amount of boxes, even if the jerseys are retouched to remove logos. Brady has signed a bit more as of late for Topps and Panini, but this is the first time he has signed outside of the normal big companies in a long time. Maybe ever.

Overall, the design looks great, as it has for a number of years. Brian and his design team have done great work making the Metal cards attractive since the beginning, and 2016 is no exception. Although I think the inserts are quite rough in the way they look, the base is what matters. Im excited to see how the set does, as it should be one of the first new class based products of the year.

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