Over the last few weeks, Panini has previewed two products that have produced a very polarizing reaction from what I have read from collectors on different message boards and twitter. For the first time, Panini is looking to release super premium products, that are mixed sport focused, under their NCAA exclusive license. Although I think the cards look very good, design isnt what I have issue with.
There have been high end releases that UD has done under their licenses:
2012-13 Exquisite Michael Jordan Exquisite Dimensions Shadowbox Auto
2011 Exquisite Cam Newton Rookie Auto Patch
2012-13 Exquisite Lebron James Auto /30
2014 Exquisite Marcus Mariota XRC /125
My biggest question is the long play and what Panini plans to do. I already believe that they have overused their college licenses, with cards inserted in many products that were pro focused. Although product sales havent dipped quite yet, secondary market values of many of the college based cards have dipped considerably. There are arguments to be made that all secondary market values dip over time, but I believe this is a losing battle, especially with introducing two new collegiate themed products like this.
To me, the hobby is on a downturn in terms of population, and money is slowly drying up when looking at cards being purchased on ebay and the like. Although group breakers continue to have no issue selling slots for any, and I mean ANY product, the bubble bursting cannot be that far away. There is only so much money floating around, and I dont see products like this bringing more people to start collecting cards. There will be people who will disagree, obviously, but I point to Upper Deck as a historical reference. Panini and UD are different companies, with different budgets for publicity, but UD has one thing that their successor does not. UD had/has brand recognition outside of cards. When the hobby was BOOMING, UD was producing cards. Panini in name, was not.
When UD took over NCAA in 2010, they limited the releases by sport, and even then, it was clear that things got too watered down. Although they struggled to use current NBA rookies in college gear, they had full access to the NFL rookies and the most valuable premium card brand in Exquisite. Product performance didnt respond the way they wanted, and people grew tired of their presence. They also had Michael Jordan and LeBron James signing for their products (Panini doesnt), and it only helped for so long.
To this day, I dont think anyone believes that NCAA made any considerable amount of money for them. Adding multiple sports into a single product spreads this thinner than it already would be, and I fail to see why Panini would want to dilute their popular existing brands with a product that is marketed to a small population of college collectors within a greater shrinking population of pro collectors.
To me, Panini is banking on luring pro collectors into trying their NCAA stuff, and they might succeed initially with collectors who chase players or teams. However, let us not forget that rookies from the NFL will already have premium cards released, thus making these a choice rather than the only option available (which was the case for pre-season rookie content like Contenders). The Treasures brand will hold weight, but the question is more surrounding continued viability in a market where college collectors are severely outnumbered, and pro products are sitting next to these on the shelves.
To make matters worse, there will be college themed subsets in the pro versions of Treasures and Immaculate, which only further dilutes the choices put in front of collectors. I personally do not want to open a pro product and get a college card, especially if there is a college dedicated product that houses the same cards. Redundancy, in this case is a terrible thing for someone like me. Its like the collectors out there will not be able to escape college content, even though most of us could give two shits about NCAA branded cards. To us, you are just taking away hits that would normally fit more seamlessly in with our collection.
As an exclusively pro collector myself, Im not going to chase cards from this product, even though the designs are very nice. I normally buy a lot of premium cards and a set like this in pro uniforms would definitely have some targets on my list. Based on what it looks like, I am the type of person Panini wants to convert, and yet I am not ready to even give it a thought. That’s not saying there wont be converts, but how many will come back for year 2 and 3 if they see the cards arent performing the way the pro cards do? How many will keep buying year 1 with that scenario in play?
Either way, there is a place for a product of this nature, I believe that. However, I am not one who would be ready to risk brand dilution the way Panini is with Immaculate and National Treasures. This would be a chance to launch a new brand with a new title, free from the shadow of the pro products. If the cards look as good as these do, a limited run could do very well with the niche collectors. Putting it under NT is not the way I would go. Using Immaculate is not how I would work this angle. However, because of the cost of the license, I would guess that isnt something they can do.