Diving Deeper Into 2014 Immaculate Football

Right now, 2014 Immaculate Football is a wave of buzz and hype that is sweeping over the people in this hobby. In many ways it deserves some of the nice things people are saying about it. In other ways, it deserves to be kicked in the head and thrown in front of an oncoming bus.

It should also be mentioned that arguably the biggest card in the product hit eBay recently, and it has a price tag around 10k. Behold:

2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Auto NFL Logo Shield 1/1

I mean, at least its not a card like this, where you literally cannot understand why it was even created:

2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Auto Letter Patch 1//9

Beckham has been doing well though:

2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham RC Patch Auto

With that, here are some other thoughts on the way the first few days of this release are shaping up.

The Good

Panini did a good job in making the product appeal to a wide range of collectors. I think that if you are a patch collector, this set is for you. If you are an autograph collector, this set is for you. If you are a rookie collector, this set is for you. It is one of the better singles product that Panini has put out in years.

A card like this is just insane. Pure insanity:

2014 Immaculate Walter Payton Jumbo Patch With Part of Autograph

The star of this set is the on card autograph content that composes about 50-60% of the set, with almost no redemptions. Manziel is the notable exception, but Panini just tweeted out his cards are in stock. Like Flawless, Panini did a good job taking care of business and getting Beckham, Teddy, and all the big rookies to get their cards done. They also got some really nice on card content from Manning and other vets, including a surprising inclusion of Adrian Peterson.

Additionally, there are some rreally huge patch hits in this product, including QUAD logo cards. This is what I dont understand, as a product like this has a ton of crazy patch logos and Flawless has almost none. How does that make sense? Although I dont like the layout of many of the patch cards in the slightest, and would rather they be made into booklets to showcase both a good design and a huge patch, im not going to say they arent going to be big hits.

I think there is some definite kudos to be passed along on the design of the Immaculate Moments cards, even though they are almost a direct copy of some other cards we have seen in Upper Deck. They look great, and they celebrate moments that many of us have a nostalgic connection to. Im a bit shocked that Franco Harris isnt in this set, as the Immaculate Reception seems to be a ridiculous exclusion. Upper Deck got it done, right?

I also really love the acetate cards, which come in a number of different flavors. The patch autos on the acetate stock are amazingly awesome. They are just really cool cards, and I consider myself a connoisseur of fine acetate cards.

Lastly, the Helmet logo cards, presented in a shadowbox style format, are a really interesting addition to the lineup of different swatches available in the product. They turned out awesome in most cases and are really tough pulls.

The Bad

When I first got wind of this product, I heard it was going to be all on card – even the non-photo shoot guys. Obviously that didnt happen, and the number of stickers all around are a stain on an otherwise amazing autograph lineup. There should not be stickers in this product with a $375+ price tag and a release in February. That is just inexcusable, especially considering how much the stickers detract from the high end look.

Similarly, the autograph checklist and patch checklist is so beyond diluted, that I question why Panini continues to include some of these players in their biggest products of the year. Second string non-RC scrubs like Gavin Escobar should not be in Immaculate, and Nate Washington and Delanie Walker should not be either. There are other products during the year where these guys would be more than welcome, but not in a set like this. After watching about 8-10 cases broken online yesterday and 3 in person, there are some people I saw pulled where I wanted to hop in my car, drive to Dallas and chuck them at the guy who built this checklist.

Panini is notorious for choosing cost cutting measures over making a product look good and have a good checklist. Its a main reason why their products struggle to build brand equity after the first year. Collectors feel so cheated in a lot of ways that they stop buying the second and third year of a product because the first was not produced correctly. Buzz or no buzz, you cant continue to chip away at people’s confidence and loyalty. The community is just not big enough that you can let high end buying customers walk away feeling like they got kicked in the nuts after a break. You have to give them SOME reason to come back, and if Panini made the investment to use a Silhouette format on some of the giant patches, or a booklet format, people might feel like there is a reason to keep buying. If its just a border on a card with no design, its only going to appeal to some people, and you can only pack so many event used logos into a product before it gets tired.

The Ugly

It should be no surprise that I am going to talk about the points situation here. This program is a fucking train wreck, and to see the cards replace hits in boxes of Immaculate is a kick in the nuts all by itself. Panini made a conscious decision to include these cards in the product instead of using redemptions, and that should not go unpunished. To open a 375 dollar box and see that one of your hits is a 250 point card? I might throw some shit. I might tip over a table or two. That is not the type of reaction a box break should illicit.

Panini almost expects that a lot of their crap is going to be broken in group break format, where the pain wont be as tough to stomach, but they have lost sight of a significant problem. Points give them a cost free way to expand out a print run without adding any content. Not a good situation for collectors.

Similarly, lets say that by some fucking miracle they actually add some Immaculate cards to the Rewards Store (unlikely, I know). Do you really think the average 250-400 point card is going to buy anything worth missing a hit for? No. When you also factor in that they are going to charge 5 dollars for shipping and processing, you are basically allowing them to short you a card and replace it with a shitty leftover from a more undesirable product. How is that okay? At the very least, they should make Immaculate point holders the only people that can buy the Immaculate cards if they are ever introduced into the store. I mean, that’s only if they continue to roll with this fucking bonkers idea of not giving people the choice of waiting on the redemption they are entitled to.

God forbid, would it damage the program to say “YOU HAVE WON A REDEMPTION FOR JOEY ROOKIE’S AUTOGRAPH OR 500 POINTS”? No, but Panini is not staffed by people who get that. They are staffed by people who were absorbed from other defunct card companies and really only care about making money NOW. They dont care about brand perception or worth. That is a huge problem, because anyone with any fucking sense in their head would know that this program shouldnt have even entered the conference room discussion about product format. It should have stayed in the trash bin next to the intern’s desk. Thats where it belongs.

I have a theory on how the points cards are being used in this product, as replacing hits is something that really should never be done with these cards. Because there is no checklist of how many points cards are included in the products, or how many cards they are meant to replace, Panini can actually beef up a product print run without adding cost to the product. As an unverifiable situation, Panini can actually scam collectors out of cards they should have gotten, because they chose to run a few extra hundred cases off the line.

Here is how it works. Basically, as an example, I have 1000 cards that need to be replaced with points because the scrubs didnt sign. That brings an allocation of boxes that go with it, because the points cards replace hits in the box. Then, lets say I want to add another 1000 points cards, because no one can ever say they werent meant to replace a card that never came in. That gives me an extra allocation because I can basically add a box to my run for every 5 that I create. Do that enough times, and you have hundreds of thousands of dollars that basically came out of no investment to the product. Its like printing free money, and there is nothing we can do about it.

The scariest thing? How much do you all think a stupid decision like the ones described above will affect Panini or their terrible mindset for producing products? NONE. NONE AT ALL. Who else cant wait for 2016?

SCU Go Live Report: 2014 Immaculate Football

Right now, there are a load of collectors rushing out to buy a few boxes or at least participate in a few group breaks of 2014 Immaculate. It promises a lot, especially considering its basketball sister product and recent baseball release. There are some massive cards to be had, and it is attracting some major buzz as a result.That being said, im not sure Panini really put the kind of thought and planning into this product as they should have, and that is beyond depressing considering the potential it had.

Here are some of the big hits up so far:

2014 Immaculate Mike Evans Logo Auto 1/1

2014 Immaculate Dan Marino Logo Jumbo Patch Auto /49

2014 Immaclulate Tom Brady Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Immaclulate Teddy Bridgewater Auto Patch /99

2014 Immaculate Odell Beckham Auto Patch /99

The best part about Immaculate are the on card autographs, which are extremely nice. They are so nice that many of them are nicer than Flawless, which cost significantly more per box. Many of them are worth setting up a saved search for your target players, and that is no joke.

Adding to the allure, the relic cards have some really nice patches in them. If you are a patch person, this is your product and its not even close. As mentioned before, I hate giant patch cards with no design elements to them, so that really didnt intrigue me all that much.

What I wasnt prepared for was how bad some of the boxes are. In many cases, you might as well set your cash ablaze, because that will be a better use of your hard earned money. Not only are there some TERRIBLE autographs in this product, but there are a ton of sticker terrible autographs. Fuel to the fire, there are at least 2-3 points cards per case, and from what I saw from 3 cases at my local shop, they actually had the fucking nerve to replace a hit with them. I honestly dont understand why collectors continue to support this bull shit, as it will get worse. I dont care if you still get two autos when you get a points card, they should never replace a hit with how Panini has handled that fucking joke of a program at almost 400 a box. That is plain robbery.

Bottom line, this product breaks like Ultimate collection did back in 2009, where there is literally no middle ground. You either walk away a huge winner, or you get killed. The points cards only make it worse, as does the stickers in a product that costs this much money.

Of course, there are going to be a ton of big hits, just let someone else break the boxes and stick to singles. Trust me. Your box of two jersey cards, a 600 points card, a Michael Sam auto and a Rod Streater auto is out there. It has your name on it.

Breaking Down Theories on Diminishing Returns

There are some major issues with football cards right now, and many of them look to be getting worse rather than better. In many ways, the same could be said for all sports, but ill frame it in Football because of the pending exclusive that will be running train on the hobby in 2016 thanks to Panini.

One of the biggest issues that I have is product shelf life, which has taken hit after hit over the last few years, to the point where even good products have a shelf life less than 2 weeks. It used to be that when a new set hit, the cards would hold up well. They would start high, but only drop 20-30% over a long period of time. In today’s hobby, cards can drop 30% over the first week alone, and sometimes end up at 40-50% of their first day value. That is a sharp drop off from what we are used to seeing.

Even worse, if a product is a new set or a dog, the cards may not even have the luxury of 2 weeks. I have even heard manufacturers try to build product proposal plans knowing that the goal is to have over 60% of the run opened in the first two weeks. That never used to be a discussion that had to exist. Rookie class performance can also be linked to declining prices, or even how many products rely on them to be successful.

This begs the question of why the decline continues to persist, and what it might mean come 2016 with the pending transition to a one company model of doing business. There are a few theories that are worth considering, and Ill talk about a few of them below.

Theory 1 – The Hobby is Shrinking Rapidly

If you havent heard this theory floating around, you have had your head buried in the sand. Let me make sure to explain that when I reference the hobby, I am referencing the customers, not the manufacturers or dealers.

To be honest, this is not a crazy theory either, as its clear that there are less people in the hobby today than ever before. The debatable point is whether the decline will continue at the pace that it is at, or if the pace will slow/pick back up.

I stand by my assertion that the hobby will never die, as there will always be people who want to collect cards. If people collect old parts from boats, there will also be people that collect cards. However, this does NOT mean the industry will continue to be sustainable, which is becoming more and more evident by the day. I dont see many of the card companies rolling in money, including Panini who seems to have a relatively blank check from “Big Daddy Italy, Inc.” to produce cards on American soil. Card companies are in a tough spot, and it has led to business practices that have weeded out casual collectors at every turn.

Because the cost of existing in the card business has increased, and no one is willing to change the way they do said business, the industry has suffered. Product prices have increased without adding much content, and that has driven people away.

With collectors being driven away, there are less people to buy the cards for sale, which leads to a reduced perception of value in the end product, and lower sales prices. With lower sales prices on the secondary market, fewer people are opening boxes, which leads to less money in the pockets of the card companies, and you see where I am going.

Product shelf life reduction can be argued as a sub point of the above debate, even when initial prices are high. The reason the prices are high to begin with stems from the people who want to either A) collect a player, B) collect a team, or C) collect a set. There are other factors like national attention or player performance that can also impact things, but A, B and C are all the main reasons. Player and Team collectors will overpay, but if there are less of them around, prices will drop more quickly as the remainder pick up their target cards.

At the same time, casual collectors tend to be more susceptible to hobby trends and buying into hype, but with less around, those prices will no longer be supported as long. Its really too bad, because football is literally the most popular sport in the country, yet the card business for the NFL is the most unstable. Very interesting.

Theory 2 – The Economy is to Blame

Cards are all about spending discretionary income. Always has been, always will be. When people have money to burn, they spend it on items that contribute to 3 things – Power, Sex and Happiness. Cards obviously are adverse to the first two, but its always a good time to do something you enjoy.

During the last 10 years, the US economy has been in shambles, arguably until the last year or two. Even then, it still hasnt recovered fully. As a result, more Americans are opting to save their discretionary income rather than spend it, and that impacts all within an industry like Sports Cards. With the cost of a box on the increase, and available funds to purchase on the decrease, the formula doesnt work out.

In all reality, there is no way the economy cant be PARTIALLY to blame, especially when you consider how many shops closed up doors in the last half decade. The last estimate I saw was that fewer than 1000 sports card shops remained in the entire US, and I think that might be generous. Of those 1000 or so shops, Im guessing 5% are in a position where the store has no issues with hitting monthly numbers. The other 95% are likely struggling or at least on that edge of struggling.

Now, this isnt all a direct result of the economy, and many would argue that online retailers have cut drastically into the way these shops can make money, but its all a factor.

Theory 3 – Online Retailers and Ebay Have Ruined Things

I am not one that subscribes 100% to this theory, but it has a lot of merit. I have seen arguments made that eBay has brought value to the forefront of the hobby more than ever, and as a result, people have been conditioned to think in terms only related to money.

Personally, I dont think this is all truth, as value has always played a part in cards- an intrinsic part – even before eBay. That’s why Beckett was able to make money drawing their price guide listings out of a hat and calling them gospel.

Where eBay and online retailers have made their mark is in availability. Ebay is open 24 hours a day. COMC is open 24 hours a day. At any given time, almost every card in existence is available for sale. Its no longer the same chase in a lot of ways.

The years of collectors driving show to show and shop to shop to complete their sets are relatively over, as are opening pack after pack of cards trying to pull that one short printed card. Chances are, you can get it right now, and it doesnt have to cost you all that much MORE money to do so.

Access to a product can diminish demand over time, as unavailable products are always more in need for the people that want them. I posted a few weeks back that its no longer worth it to open any box of cards, and that remains the truth. Its even more evident when you can buy whatever you want whenever you want, with few exceptions.

That’s not saying that price isnt impacted by eBay or that value isnt at the forefront of our minds. They are, especially when a new product hits shelves. If the perceived “ebay value” isnt up to par, the product tanks. Yet, we still see companies trying to cut corners and put out poor content with the hope that something will catch on.

Theory 4 – Distributors Impact Everything

Right now, a collector cannot go to Topps or Panini and buy a box at a competitive price directly. They have to go to a third party, or in some cases a fourth party. Even many of the shops out there dont buy direct from the manufacturer, because for decades, distributors have run the show.

Allegedly, they set prices, they hoard inventory, and most importantly, they offer the most competitive prices. Why is that such a big deal? Mainly, it can give the card companies an out if their product doesnt sell. The closeout structure allows them the opportunity to unload unsold products at drastically reduced prices, thus making it easier for them to clean up the bottom line, and rid themselves of the burden an unsold product creates.

None of the card companies want to sit on unsold inventory, because for the most part, it costs money they dont have. Warehouse space is limited when you produce 16-30 products a year, and they would rather unload it to someone who can afford to store it, than let it rot in their own space.

This leads to drops in prices, in most cases. It also puts the local shops in a VERY difficult situation mainly because they would have needed to buy it at normal cost. This is why online retailers can sell at 30 to 40% off hobby store prices in some cases. They just didnt have to pay as much. Its a vicious circle, as it can impact every stage of the game.

On the flip side of it, allocations on a hot product can also favor the distributors, who can put a stranglehold on the river of available product if they so desire. Theoretically, if a hot product is making waves, and they know that they can hold back allocations to increase price, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. There are some products where a single entity can own huge percentages of a print run, and yet only sell it in small portions to manipulate prices.

The latter is a RARE situation, but it will have a negative influence over other products who are seen as very available and over supplied. In almost every case, the distributor is in a win win situation.

Hell, if a product cant be moved? Dont worry, here comes a Black Friday or Father’s Day promotion that will help. This is only the tip of the iceberg, trust me.

Which Theory is Right?

All of them. Plain and simple. All of them are correct in some ways, and that is what is so scary about this whole situation. With Upper Deck and Topps both in the hundreds of millions in debt, and Panini not really making all that much money (if any), one has to question where we will be in 10 years. Shit, one has to question where things will be in 5 years.

With the absolute fuckload of money that Panini paid for the NFLPA exclusive and more for the NFL exclusive, it should be obvious that they will need to do something drastic to make that money back. They need to be profitable, and its only going to happen one way. They have to make more products, and they have to expand their portfolio.

There are people who will likely say they have confidence that Panini will take that seriously and deliver higher quality goods, but their track record doesnt reflect that. Without incentive to be creative due to lack of licensed competition, apathy and indifference sets in. Look at every exclusive that has ever been instituted. It rarely works out well for anyone.

More importantly, the people who come out the other end looking the worst is the average collector. I have commented previously that Panini is out to own every exclusive that is possible. They currently own all but Hockey and Baseball. If things continue down the path we are on, they will be the only company left standing that produces pro league licensed cards.

The worst part is, it will not be because they have produced the best product, or even had the best business practices. Its because they have a parent company that has the money to float all the losses they incur. That only serves to reinforce how bad things have gotten, as the best company who produces the best cards isnt the one left standing.

On the Radar: 2014 National Treasures Extended Preview

Here is the previous write up on the first preview if you want more commentary about the cards.

Today we got a deeper look at 2014 National Treasures, and for the most part, it looks better than it has in previous years. Up to this point, I dont think Treasures has deserved the brand equity it has received, as there have always been better looking products that should be recognized above what Treasures has represented.

Here is a quick break down of previous years of National Treasures:

2006:Brandon Marshall Rookie Patch Auto

2007: Calvin Johnson Rookie Patch Auto

2008: Jamaal Charles Rookie Patch Auto

2009: LeSean McCoy Rookie Patch Auto

2010 (My other favorite year): Rob Gronkowski Rookie Patch Auto

2011 (My least favorite year): Demarco Murray Rookie Patch Auto

2012 (A bad one): Russell Wilson Rookie Patch Auto

2013: Eddie Lacy Rookie Patch Auto

When it was released as DLP’s answer to Exquisite in 2006, it never lived up to the best of the best. Stickers for the product rarely performed the way Exquisite’s 100% hard signed product did, for good reason. Although they added hard signed rookie cards in 2007, the product was 90% stickers until 2013. Even then, it still had a ton of sticker based content. In 2010, when UD lost the NFL license, Topps released Five Star for the first time. It looked better than Treasures, it was all hard signed, and the compact checklist was stellar. Yet, by default Panini got the new top spot. Its sad that is the case consider how much better other products have been. Collectors are weird in their loyalty.

As we roll into 2014, National Treasures is being shown up again, this time by products from┬áPanini’s own stable. Both Immaculate and Flawless have made NT an afterthought, and Five Star football looks great for the fifth year in a row. Funny enough, this might be the best that the rookie auto patch cards have ever looked. It could be a waste, depending on how the collectors compare it to previous releases.

I think it goes without saying that the big belt buckle design in 2011 was the worst that NT has ever looked, and this will look significantly better in almost every single way. The cramped rookie auto patches in 2012 were similarly horrendous, but this will be better ten fold. But, because those products went up against only Five Star in 2012 were similarly horrendousand a late release of an NCAA branded Exquisite, there wasnt a real competition. This time, that wont be the case, especially with Immaculate looking as good as it does.

Panini is going to have a very interesting issue on their hands come 2016, with a need to build many more products than have ever been required in any league from one company. If they still want NT to be their big release at the end of the year, they need to play their cards in a more strategic fashion.

Even though the patch autographs look great with the simple approach, the set will automatically go up against the examples we will see this week from Immaculate. I have ZERO confidence that Panini will make the right call, and from what we have seen to this point, you should too.

My Argument Against Oversized Jumbo Patch Cards

I stand by the statement that the jersey card is dead. Although card companies want you to believe that it is still alive and kicking, its not. Its filler at this point,even more evident by more and more cards trying to go a different direction in the structure of their “hits.” Because the quantity is so great, collectors have lost interest in paying good money for jersey cards, with one major exception – one type of jumbo style that I am very upset about.

If a relic has some crazy patch and is oversized, the collector base goes bonkers. It doesnt matter if the card is just a half inch border on a large piece of material, or if the relic is worn for 2 seconds at the Rookie Photo Shoot, people want it.I am sad that we have gotten to this point. Here is what I am talking about:

2014 Limited Odell Beckham Jumbo Patch RC

2012 Platinum Drew Brees Jumbo Patch Auto /5

2012 National Treasures Roddy White Jumbo Patch /4

2013 National Treasures Le’veon Bell Hats Off Jumbo Patch Auto

2014 Immaculate Baseball Bryce Harper Jumbo Letter Patch

The scary thing is, with the relic cards looking the way they do, the card companies dont even have to put much work into the look and feel of the card. They dont even have to make the card look good as long as the swatch is huge and has a ridiculous patch. I have always been someone that gravitates towards the players on the cards, as I feel as though there really is no reason to celebrate a card where the subject is not the focus. What is the point of buying a card of your favorite player if they are crammed into a corner?

Panini has been previewing a product stuffed to the brim with cards like this in 2014 Immaculate football, and it only goes to show where they are trying to place our attention. Despite the fact that the autograph cards are looking as good as any Panini product (or Upper Deck product if you saw my previous post) has ever looked, Panini is leading us to believe that their under-designed oversized relic cards are a bigger deal. It is beyond disappointing to see that they are actually correct in a lot of ways.

I know me bitching and moaning on here is likely not going to change the mind of the general public, but I hope that everyone can see my perspective here. We are literally rewarding the card companies for putting in less work, and letting them off the hook on creating ugly cards with no redeeming part other than the content of the patch. Card companies should separate themselves by finding awesome ways to do both, similar to what we see in Silhouette style presentations. They will say those cards are too expensive to make, but I think they SHOULD be worth the investment. Instead the sheep migrate towards the Panini style of showcasing a patch off of one of the FIFTY – yes you heard that right – FIFTY jerseys used for each player at the shoot.

People, I urge you to demand more. When Panini takes over the NFL license in 2016, they will no longer have the incentive to be creative as the only game in town. Speak with your wallets and show that you do not want to put up with this shit. That’s my two cents.