2015 Score vs 2015 Prizm Draft: Lesser of Two Evils?

Tomorrow, Panini is going to release two different products. With Score Football, you get a TIRED brand, representative of cheap cards and inferior content. With Prizm Draft Picks, you get a lackluster Chrome knockoff that is full of stickers on NCAA jerseys. Im not sure which is worse. Although both seem to be improved representations of the brands they are representing, that’s like saying the Nissan Cube is an improvement on the Kia Soul. They both suck, regardless of slight improvements versus previous failures.

Prizm has been live for a week or two because of pre-release product broken by “special VIP guests” at the 2015 Rookie Premiere:

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Marcus Mariota Blue Refractor Auto

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Bryce Petty Auto

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Devante Parker Purple Refractor Auto /99

Score has had a few cards that were released in special packs at the NFL draft:

2015 Score Jameis Winston NFL Draft Promo

2015 Score Kevin White NFL Draft Promo

As we saw in previews over the last few weeks, Panini approached both products as a prime opportunity to use their new NCAA exclusive. Even though Prizm is a new design, unlike we got for the horribly disappointing Contenders Draft, it still doesnt work as well as other examples from similar sets like Leaf Metal. I would much rather have the slightly retouched on card autographs from Leaf, than full college photos and stickers. Same thing will eventually be true for 2015 Bowman, releasing next week.

With Score, its a bit different. Last year’s Score (and subsequent gag product in 2014 Hot Rookies) was easily one of the worst looking products ever released under the age old banner. Panini chose to use sideline shots of the players without their helmets on, instead of taking the time to retouch the pictures like they should have. What we got was just laughable in every conceivable way. This year, the college pictures are a welcome respite from their terrible decisions made in past versions.

I understand that Panini wants to use Score as an affordable way to keep those “I HATE HIGH END!” collectors around, but lets be honest here, that’s a lost cause in Football. Considering they are already about 90% of the way from driving out the one set that those type of collectors still love, this is another poor decision to try to hang onto that tiny thread.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!? WHY WONT SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!?!?!?

Ugh, please drag a sharp rusty spoon across my ball sack every time this discussion comes up. Kids are gone, and they shouldnt be a focus. I have commented endlessly about how fruitless of a venture it will be to spend the shit ton of money it will take to even get a tiny portion of that market back. No matter, people still think that is the answer to all our problems. Releasing Score once a year wont make that happen, especially if its before the Rookie Premiere content is ready. Thinking of Score as a gateway to bringing back kids is pretty fucking hilarious.

The bottom line is that Panini has no clue how to manage their brands, as has been clear in Football since 2008. They believe its more productive to throw lavish parties and send positive vibes to the collector base through their adverblog. Even though they have been defaulted some brand loyalty by Upper Deck’s exit from the business, lets not forget that 99% of their products not named Treasures or Contenders have fallen as flat as the Patriots footballs. I have even made the argument that Treasures and Contenders have missed out on HUGE potential because of terrible decision making. No wonder their football business is so far in the red, that they needed to buy out the ability for their competitors to make their far superior products. Winners by default, as previously stated.

Prizm wont be worth a damn after a week or two, and even less once the real products start to hit. Considering that Bowman, even with retouched “unlicensed” photos, has been able to create cards that hold serious value through the year, Panini should be looking to revamp their approach. Instead we have two sets that will be forgotten faster than ever.

My anxiety over 2016 grows with each passing day, even though there are rumors floating around that Panini is having issue locking down the sister exclusive with NFLP to match their NFLPA exclusive. Obviously, my bitterness over this situation does nothing to help Topps stay in the game, but one can dream.

2015 NBA Finals: Hobby’s Biggest Names on the Sport’s Biggest Stage

I dont watch a lot of basketball other than the biggest games of the year, and I definitely dont delve much into basketball cards – mainly because of who is the dominant force in producing the sets. However, there are always a few things that get me interested, and hobby reactions to the play on the court is always fun to see. To put this bluntly, Basketball plays like the high stakes room at a Vegas casino, and it has a lot to do with the collectors who make their PCs from the sport. Even though the vast super majority of the best sets in history arent made by the company that has the exclusive license, the hobby's valuation of the players in the sport is fascinating.

When I say High End is king in the NBA, I mean it. Check this out:

2003-04 Exquisite Lebron James Rookie Auto Patch Lot – BGS 9.5 – I dont even have words here.

2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor RC BGS 9.5

2009-10 Exquisite Steph Curry Auto RC BGS 9.5

2009-10 National Treasures Stephen Curry Rookie Auto Patch BGS 9

2009-10 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry RC Refractor

There are two big names in Basketball that will forever be the poster children for any set. One of them is obviously Michael Jordan, whose cards remain some of the most valuable in any sport. That one is a no brainer. The other is Lebron James. Aside from the fact that Lebron is arguably the best player of this generation, he came into the NBA at a time when Super High End really took hold in the hobby. Kobe Bryant has many more titles and records than LeBron, but his hobby legacy isnt what it could be. His rookie year was during a time where the big cards werent rookie auto patches, and that means his legacy is built around cards that are many years after his rookie season. Lebron’s rookie year coincided with the biggest modern set in existence, 2003-04 Exquisite Collection, and as a result, his rap sheet starts with a rookie card that can be traded for a fully loaded Mercedes.

Oddly enough, his competition in this series is Stephen Curry, whose rookie card is at the complete other end of Exquisite's run, some 7 years later. Curry’s Exquisite rookie card closed out the NBA license that Upper Deck had built into a top brand, coming full circle with what started in 2004. Although his rookie is a fraction in value of what LeBron’s is worth, that might be changing somewhat as soon as this finals is over. Curry represents the new guard in the NBA, and with an MVP and a potential NBA title under his belt, there may be a future where Curry’s career is talked about in the same breath as the league’s elite.

With that, the question becomes whether or not this finals is the best thing that can happen to the hobby, as two (or three if you count Kyrie Irving) of the brightest stars face off in a historic battle for supremacy. The answer is maybe. I say maybe, because this finals does more for cards that ALREADY exist, not ones that are likely to be coming in the future. Panini has no ability to produce Lebron James licensed autographs at the moment, and Curry's cards from years other than 2009-10 arent exactly elite – yet. Panini has also shown that they are almost incapable of living up to the standard that Upper Deck was able to set, and dont even get me started on their efforts to recreate Topps Chrome. Panini hasnt been able to carve out the niche they need in Basketball to be successful, frequently highlighting ineptitude in a way that only makes older cards that much more desirable.

Either way, its going to be interesting to see how this series plays out, especially without Irving on the floor to help the Cavs. Curry is likely on his way to his first title, and in the process, hobby immortality. Its hard to ignore a player’s potential when he can pull off the trifecta – League MVP, World Title, and Finals MVP. Lets just hope my kiss of death doesnt backfire, as there is nothing more satisfying than a new sun in the hobby universe.

Another Take on the Redemption Discussion

Redemptions.

Just the word itself can make people want to take a card and drag it across their eyeball. This goes doubly so if the redemption is for a big card. The subject is so touchy with collectors, that it is brought up at just about every public Q&A that is offered. People really just dont like any bit of the concept of the IOUs that redemptions represent.

In fact, it is so polarizing, that I really dont like talking about it too much on the site. Its a subject that many people refuse to think logically about in many cases. It breeds very personal resentment over situations many of have experienced over the last few years. Most of it is warranted.

Even though recently, Topps has even tried to take a new step forward in trying to do all redemptions on card, it doesnt matter much to the people who have been waiting months and years for their cards. Stickers or on card, people want their goods, and they deserve to get them.

The reason I am bringing it up again stems from a twitter post that Topps recently tweeted this morning. For the first time in about 4 years, Julio Jones is signing on card for his cards in 2014 Five Star. He was a redemption in the product (as he has been since his rookie year), and it looks like Topps nailed him to his chair and forced a pen into his hand.

Julio is a popular and dynamic player from a top college program. His cards sell for a lot, mainly due to lack of availability:

2011 Crown Royal Julio Jones Silhouette Auto Patch

2011 SP Authentic Julio Jones Auto Patch RC

2011 Topps Julio Jones Rookie Premiere Auto

2011 Topps Chrome Julio Jones Variation Auto BGS 9.5

If you remember back, Panini offered redemptions for Julio Jones in their 2011 Contenders product that some people have been waiting years for. Not figuratively, literally. When I retweeted the picture, I was met by a few collectors who tied the event back to their own outstanding redemptions with Panini. I started to think about what would possess someone to wait THAT long for a redemption that was likely never coming.

Think about it – Julio Jones had zero on card 2012 autographs, zero in 2013, and only the Five Star redemptions in 2014. There were a few stickers here and there that were likely leftovers. He was likely added to the autograph blacklist back during 2011, and it takes a lot for the companies to trust the players again. For whatever reason, Topps thought it was worth the risk, and today it paid off.

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I have always taken the stance that I would wait for an autograph of my favorite player for as long as it takes, and I believe that applies for many people in this specific scenario. Maybe I cant fault them for holding out hope. There is also a calculation of risk that needs to be taken with redeeming a card, and Im not sure if Julio ever met the positive that situation being that he had signed SO little.

It wouldnt be the last time that a player surfaced after many years, as Chris Johnson returned a batch of stickers to Panini a few years ago that they were able to use for his long outstanding 2008 Treasures stuff. Those redemptions were outstanding for a very long time. Julio is in that same boat as of now.

Does one wait or does one opt for replacements? That question brings about a completely different discussion, as I believe the redemption piece isnt really the part of the process that collectors hate. I am of the group that believe that a solid redemption replacement process would do wonders for the reputation that plagues missing autographs. If we had the opportunity to replace unfulfilled redemptions with cards we wanted, there might not be such a fear around redeeming cards for players where they are a huge risk to not sign.

Even that is a touchy situation, because value is so subjective in its own right. Player collectors and certain individuals place certain added cost on their own cards vs those that are sold online, and that creates a problem of valuation and “fairness.”

Panini was actually onto something in creating the points system, but the design was such a clusterfuck, that it negated any progress that was potentially available. Instead of offering points to fix the actual problem of redemption replacements, they offered points to fix redemptions – which really arent even a big deal in 95% of the cases where they are used. Inventory and processing of orders were also a joke, but that’s just Panini for you.

I mean, in an ideal situation, every player wouldnt be Julio Jones. Instead, the players seem to be just as much of a problem as anything, and they will NEVER be anything different. The card companies need them exponentially more than the players need the card companies. When you have no leverage, redemption situations happen.

Luckily, the NFLPA requires rookie year signatures as part of their licensing deal with the card companies, so they will usually provide a big help if players dont want to play along. Agents can also be favorable too, especially if they understand how much autographs can be a part of their client’s branding. Its rare, but it does exist.

More times than not, players tolerate autographs. In the case of some, they hate it so much, that they decide to find ways around it. Unless a company rep is present, there are too many stories of unverifiable fraud. This only makes on card autographs even more of a logistical nightmare, especially if you are like Topps and want to send someone to 9 out of 10 signings. Sure, that prevents what happens to Panini more times than any other company, but its a bigger burden of cost and resources as well.

Because collectors will likely never understand the behind the scenes situations that contribute to autographs (nor should they be forced to, really), it creates a hugely negative experience when something doesnt work out right. Its true, they should have a right to the content they were promised, and historical accounts have provent that when things go wrong, they go very wrong. Companies have become increasingly horrible at handling customer service, only further exacerbating a bad issue.

I do not support the abolition of redemptions. Too many players would not be available for products, and it would force more sticker autographs. On the other hand, I completely support collectors having more of a voice when a player flakes. If we cant get what we are promised, we should be able to be paid back for the trouble. What is worse, is that the cost to do this may be prohibitive at this point. Budgets are already TIGHT, unless you have a blank check from your Italian sugar daddy. Considering that most redemptions are filled eventually, is the opportunity cost too high to take this on? Maybe.

It serves as a reminder that Julio Jones is just one player. Most of the time, he isnt going to be afforded the trust to continue being a part of the hobby. He doesnt care, though. For every Julio Jones, there are three Mike Trouts, who will sign anything that Topps puts in front of him, and in a timely fashion. It might not be a good idea for us to get caught up in the extremes of the availability spectrum.

However, that doesnt excuse the companies from working on new processes to help collectors when a new Julio Jones comes around.

On the Radar: 2015 Panini Clear Vision Football

About a year ago, I would have told you that I am a fan of anything acetate. Its a great medium to use when producing trading cards, as many times it highlights all the right things about the product. Since that timeframe, acetate has become a feature in so many sets, so much so that we are reaching a point of oversaturation. This is none more clear than with Panini’s recently solicited product High Tek Clear Vision Football. Sometimes I wish there were a rule that prevented Panini from abusing a cool technology.

Dont get me wrong, Acetate can be a powerful tool when used correctly:

2012 Strata Signature Relic Russell Wilson Auto Patch /15

2014 Black Gold Teddy Bridgewater Sizeable Signature Relic

2014 Topps Hi Tek Mike Trout Auto

2013 Tier One Hank Aaron Clear Rookie Reprint Auto

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1997-Barry-Sanders-Pinnacle-Inscriptions-Auto-Acetate-Lions-/281707303831?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4197105397

Of course, it can also be a complete train wreck:

2014 Playbook Johnny Manziel Auto

Believe it or not, the product’s design is actually NOT the weirdest thing about this product. That designation belongs to its format, which for the first time in many years, is highlighted by a one autograph per CASE outline. Yes, Panini is going to attempt the impossible – create a product, in an autograph dominated hobby, with barely any autographs. Not only is it beyond risky, it might actually be something more than that. To me, if the one autograph per case format holds, it serves more as a test product for 2016 than anything.

Here is why I think that is the case.

Basically, when Panini drastically overpaid for the NFLPA exclusive, they set themselves up for a very difficult task. Not only would they have to absorb all the calendar slots from Topps, but they would have to make those products VERY successful to even entertain the prospect of breaking even. After hearing some musings on the minimum guarantees that Panini will have to come up with just for the NFLPA, there are a few things that will have to be accomplished.

One of those things is creating products that dont rely on autograph content as much, as it seems like the autograph deals that many players will sign are going to have to get a lot larger. To fund 30-35 products per year, their team is going to have to come up with double the amount of autographs they would normally do, unless those new products some how create value without adding additional autograph content to the pool.

Clear Vision looks to be a product that could end up being the first of those sets that focuses more on content outside of the autographs. Funny enough, I have heard that distributors revolt against products that want to move away from relic content. I have heard the same is true on the autograph side. Im not sure how Panini plans to sell this to the only customers that matter to them, if that indeed is the case.

They might tout on card signatures with this product, but I think its clear that they are stretching the definition of what “on card” really means. This looks to be those ever-horrible manupatch autographs, but with an acetate insert instead of a signed piece of embroidered cloth. That isnt on card, people. That is a sticker replacement device.

There is a big potential for this set to explode in their face, but it all depends on their ability to execute on all those elements that speak to customers. Even though its 50-60 bucks a box, and features the first Panini cards with rookies in their NFL uniforms, I really dont see much potential here. Football is the wrong sport to be in the conundrum that Panini put themselves in. This sport is autograph dependent, and I think they are going to have a very tough time hitting sales numbers for the PA in general. Releasing products like this will only make it tougher, but then again, Panini isnt known for their hobby intelligence.

Personally, I see this as a knock off of Hi-Tek Baseball and Football, which featured a set comprised mostly of acetate cards. In football, Hi-Tek offers true on card autographs, and does it in a normal format for a similar price. I cannot understand why Panini wants to try to compete with that. This set seems destined for below cost prices on boxes, especially after the allure of new rookie cards wears off.

I guess we will have to wait and see how the collectors react to something like this.

2015 NFLPA Rookie Premiere: Wrap Up For The End of An Era?

For the last decade plus, the Rookie Premiere has been an event where every card company who has a football license sets up their goods and prepares for the entire year’s worth of rookie cards. Signings, pictures, the works. Over the last few years, thousands of autographs are signed. It funds many products, and that doesnt even begin to talk about the photographs taken at the stadium on Saturday.

During the entire span of the event, there have always been multiple companies who are attending. This past weekend will unfortunately be the last time that happens. There is no guarantee that the 2016 event will be as big or as fun, especially when Panini is the only trading card company who has a license.

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Now, I fully intended to get on every night and write a post about the happenings at the premiere. Over the last 5 years, it has been a weekend filled with cards to be signed, autographs to be showcased, and pictures to be viewed. Instead we had Panini come and do nothing of the sort, and Topps literally blow them so far out of the water that the debris has yet to land. Social Media, Cards, Autographs, basically everything was in Topps’ corner, and that doesnt even begin to describe what is likely going to be coming in digital with the Huddle team in attendance for the first time ever. I really didnt even need to offer any opinion because the results were so clearly laid out.

This was really the Topps show all weekend, and as happy as I am to see them go out with a bang, I am sad because I know that that means for 2016. The football card hobby is about to go into a famine of unheralded proportions with Panini at the helm, and that scares me to fucking death. They literally walked into this event with the rookies available for FOUR straight days to sign cards. From what we saw, they spent that time signing non-card materials. Stickers, paper inserts, everything BUT cards.

When the cards they did sign ended up coming to the surface, they were some of the ugliest examples in recent memory. Panini either played everyone for a fool and showed nothing in their hand, or they really fucked up the biggest event of the year in a way that hasnt been done since 2010. For as good as 2014’s premiere signings were for Panini, 2015 was as bad, if not worse.

Their same day signature cards look so ugly there arent any words. Aside from the fact that the rookies arent even in their gear (because the shots had to be taken a few days before the reveal on Saturday), they put them in Panini t-shirts for some god forsaken reason. Add in some giant text and an inexplicable vertically signed autograph, and you see what happens.

Dont even get me going on the Pen Pals cards, which are back to head shots instead of retouched NFL jerseys like they were last year. Just ridiculous. Yes, we see that sketch cards are more important than hard signed NFL content like they have done since 2012.

Here are the types of things they did all weekend:

On the other side of things, Topps really did a great job with Inception, Topps Football and other sets taking center stage. As usual, Inception was the brightest star on the stage, as it has been since 2011. It was another year of great looking cards, and lots of inscriptions. The design this year looks very similar to previous years, but there is no reason to change a formula that always plays to the big time. Inception is a high end product in the disguise of a pre-premiere set, and that takes a lot of talent to pull off. Sure, the NFL took away some of the luster with forcing them to use 00 jerseys for players who had late jersey number assignments, but the set looks good enough to me that I will set that aside.

I also LOVED that they used the 1976 and 1987 Topps designs for the retro cards this year, as both have a long history in this industry. Being that 1976 was the same year that Walter Payton was a rookie, that was a perfect way to close out the run. Although 1987 was in the beginning of the junk wax era, that design was always a favorite of mine.

Oddly enough, the most convincing win of the weekend for Topps was in their social media. Susan Lulgjuraj kicked some ass and took some names. If it wasnt clear that she was a great hire, this is a perfect example. She did live chats, live signings, and gave fans all sorts of ways to experience the weekend. Topps’ twitter was easily where I spent most of the time watching for new cards, something that was a bit unexpected. Usually Panini is all over things, but not this time. This was a big win for the team from New York.

Here are some of the awesome cards that Topps had done:

Bottom line, people should be really pissed off. REALLY pissed off at Panini. Even if they have on card material with College jerseys for their first few products, that is not what this event should be used for. This event is not about those stupid fucking sketch cards that everyone laughs at. It is about getting some great looking cards done for use in the first products – NFL style. Topps has done that and done it well now for 5 years, Panini still seems to be fumbling their way through everything, focusing on setting up big events to make themselves look good, instead of delivering substance in their products.

This mentality will hurt the hobby and hurt in a way that might not be something that we can ever recover. Panini has always been a hot mess, and this is just the icing on the cake. Some how, if Elite, Prestige and other sets end up being stickers or on card autograph replacements, they deserve all the venom they will get.