Five Reasons to Love and Hate 2014 Flawless Football

With the pending release of Flawless Football, I feel torn between to very different feelings of sentiment surrounding the product given its history. As much as I want to hate this stuff, there are a number of reasons why it deserves some of the hype it is getting. In basketball, it made an indelible mark with the highest price tag for a licensed product, albeit not really doing much in terms of special content. In football, its doing the same thing, but in a league where rules may hamper its ability to be a sustainable product. Here are my reasons to love and hate Flawless.

1. You Should Love the On Card Content

In football, we have become accustomed to sticker based autograph content. Its literally a part of every product except Five Star. Panini is one of the worst offenders, but some how got their shit together enough to make flawless happen. There will no doubt be redemptions, but you have to give them credit for making this work as early as they have. They have had the foresight to add more non-rookie on card assets to National Treasures, but nothing like this has been done by Panini. Although it doesnt make up for the tidal wave of stickers they have unleashed on the hobby, it is definitely a reason to love the product.

2. You Should Hate the Checklist

If there is one reason that Flawless is destined to be an unsustainable format at the price it is at, the checklist is one of the reasons. In fact, checklist quality has always been an issue with high end Panini products. They have gotten a lot of big names with hard signed cards in the boxes, but they also have a shit storm of autographs that most collectors will be hard pressed to know who they are. Add this in with autographs from ALL 40 rookies at the premiere, including guys like Devonta Freeman and potentially Connor Shaw, and all of a sudden it becomes quite the uphill battle. In Basketball, they were not required to have a certain percentage of rookie content the way they are in the NFL, and the impact will be palpable when you see the checklist.

Here are just some of the low tier names on this checklist: Danny Amendola, Torrey Smith, Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Michael Floyd, Paul Warfield, Doug Martin, Zach Ertz, Carl Eller, Jan Stenerud, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins.

Hell, that is just from one preview. I didnt even go back through!

3. You Should Hate the Cost of the Boxes

Basketball is a sport that thrives in a super high end market. International collectors increases demand for nice cards, which means that the market can withhold a lot of the pressure a high end product creates. In football, there is an ever dwindling pool of collectors, and many of them have been conditioned to give up on a box after a week. Dealers got to buy in on Flawless football at 800 bucks. Add in the normal 16% markup that Panini MAPP requires, and you get 928 bucks a box. Lets call it 950 for the sake of argument. Although that price is still off the charts, its not even close to 1350, which is the price dealers arbitrarily put on this release.

Additionally, the rookie class’ big names are playing mediocre at best, with the exception of Sammy Watkins, who is not a QB. Unless the Browns make some uncharacteristic type of move, the box price will be a joke. Even if Manziel was playing well, it would still be a joke. Football is not basketball.

4. You Should Love the Design

Flawless has looked good in Basketball for a few years, and football is no different. I mean, its not hard to copy and paste, and that’s exactly what happened. If this had been left to the current design team to come up with all on their own, I know it would have been as bad as the other crap from early this year. I think there are a few dogs in the set in terms of the design, but many of the cards look quite impressive.

The fact that Panini has not used A) Any foil board stock, B) goofy studio pictures, and C) horrrendously busy designs show that they are invested in this product. I cant say the same for their other “attempts” at designing good looking cards.

5. You Should Hate What This Does to the Market

Exquisite started in Basketball in 03-04 and was the perfect set for the perfect rookie class at the time. To this day it remains one of the most sought after products in Basketball history. Upper Deck ported it over to football in 2005 with minor initial success, mainly due to the class of rookies at the time and Football collectors willingness to accept a high end product that cost that much. However, it did have Upper Deck’s brand, which to this day remains the best in all of sports cards. Panini has none of that, but they do have a mediocre class that could end up being great in the long run. Flawless is swimming in a sea of products that will be diluted as the year moves on, and we should not be excited for what precedent may be set by this release. There just isnt room for a product who’s content doesnt offer something that isnt available in Five Star or National Treasures. If Panini thinks they can ramrod this through, they might have to learn the hard way. Not a good thing considering their exclusive will kick in come 2016.

Flawless is shaping up to be a great singles product in a buyers market. Never a good thing for sales prospects of the boxes which cost about 400 dollars more than they should.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Playbook Football

I have already posted a few articles about Panini's most recent attempt to make Playbook a viable brand, but I wanted to go a bit further into it now that it is live. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of these cards are cool and deserve some positive attention, but for some of these other cards, they go without available adjectives to describe my hatred.

The Good

It should be an odd situation that the best sets in this entire product have no autographs on them. A top subset without autographs rarely happens in this hobby, and Panini has hit it out of the park twice with some really cool cards. There are a few other nice cards that can fall under this as well:

2014 Playbook Richard Sherman Nickname Jumbo Patch Booklet

2014 Playbook Peyton Manning Armory Six Piece Booklet

The first of these two is the Game of Inches set, which features a dynamic action shot of the subject spread out over two slhouette style booklet cards. I know this was a difficult card for Panini to pull off, and man do most of these look like some of the better display pieces that I have seen. My one complaint is that for some of the players, they are STILL using photo shoot event used jerseys some 2 to 3 years later.

Here is what they look like:

2014 Playbook Russell Wilson Game of Inches Booklet Jumbo Patch

As for the Down and Dirty subset, which is now on its second year, the cards again look amazing. This was one of the first sets that I can remember focusing on unwashed game used materials and they continue to impress me with these awesome cards. I absolutely love them, and to this day, I am curious if they smell as much as I think they will.

Here are the new ones for this year:

2014 Playbook Giovani Bernard Down and Dirty Nike Logo

2014 Playbook Marshawn Lynch Down and Dirty Patch /10

I think that once we get a better look at some of the other cards from each of these subsets, its going to be much more apparent how cool some of them can be.

The Bad

Now we are getting into the meat of playbook, as it is very clear that Panini has made some terrible decisions with this set. First off, they moved away from the white bordered booklets, which was a mistake all in itself. However, to add in single card acetate autographs is about as bad as you can get, as they were unsuccessful in presenting it in a way that looks good.

Here is the acetate in booklet form, which works with the silhouette style player on one side, and auto/relic on the other:

2014 Playbook Paul Richardson Auto Patch Emerald /25

2014 Playbook Richard Sherman Auto Patch Emerald /25

Here is what Panini tried to do with these as single cards – barf:

2014 Playbook Johnny Manziel Auto Acetate RC

2014 Playbook Blake Bortles Auto Acetate RC

Similarly horrendous is the player selection on some of these cards, as it should come as no surprise that practice squad lifers Connor Shaw and Asa Watson are back for another go around. Imagine opening a box, and your autograph booklet is a guy that has no real reason to be in any product. I would be fine with another Michael Sam card over this crap, as Sam at least has a claim to fame.

The Ugly

Ohhhh boy, there is some ugly here. I mentioned in a previous post that Panini inexplicably used reprinted cards from one of the worst products of the year in their new Orange Hot Rookies autographs. Not only did they use a set that never should have made a first printing, but they didnt even use players that collectors might actually want. Nope, more guys destined for an NFL career spent with a butt attached firmly to a bench.

I honestly cannot elaborate on any reason why this choice was made the way it was, as every excuse I can come up with is met with piles of laughter larger than the new Cowboys’ mecca in Dallas. You just have to wonder who decided this was an idea that was worth putting on the calendar the first time around. Good god.

In fact, the whole player checklist can be considered ugly, as there are more turds on this checklist than one could ever imagine. If they want to have autographs of crappy rookies, save it for Contenders. That’s why Contenders exists. Dont waste my fucking time with third string scrubs in a product like this.

Playbook may have its moments, but I still dont have a good explanation for why it was brought back for another go around after three abysmal years prior. Panini sure has a great understanding of how to run a sport license, right?

The Worst Investments in the NFL Today

I mentioned yesterday about how there are only 4 real sure bets left in the league, which may have been a bit short on guys like Drew Brees. That being said, there is another side to this coin, which includes some of the worst ways to spend your money if you are looking to make a few bucks. Here are my worst investments you can make.

Eddie Lacy

The Packers are really good, and they always will be. They draft well, they play the Vikings twice a year, and they seem to have the best QB in the game. When the QB is great, the RB takes a huge hit. Rodgers is that type of guy. All that being said, Lacy is not the guy I would be spending money on. Sure, Packer running backs have had success, but they always fall victim to the system that Green Bay runs. Lacy was a top fantasy pick this year, but hasnt really found a way to put it together. Will he be terrible? No, of course not. But he plays a position that many collectors are moving away from, and his production has suffered with Rodgers playing every game so far.

You can see where he is already a guy people are paying for:

2013 Contenders Eddie Lacy Rookie Ticket Auto

2013 Museum Collection Eddie Lacy Framed Auto

2013 National Treasures Eddie Lacy Jumbo Patch Auto RC

Johnny Manziel

People are POURING money into Manziel, and though his prices have dropped because of lack of playing time, its still insane how much people will spend. Let me be perfectly clear that the jury hasnt even been brought to the courtroom on his skills thanks to Brian Hoyer playing well, but that is part of the reason he is such a bad way to spend your money if Cleveland is not your team. He could be great, but there is a greater chance he could also be terrible. Busts that are also famous tend to be twice the bust in the collecting world – as we have seen with guys like Tim Tebow. Collectors buy because they love the fame, and then they run for the hills when they dont perform. These types of players can just as easily be hobby pariahs.

Manziel is commanding nice prices still:

2013 Exquisite Johnny Manziel Rookie Auto /10

2014 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Jumbo Patch Auto XFractor

2014 Topps Inception Johnny Manziel Auto Gold /10 BGS 9.5

Cam Newton

After a record breaking rookie season, and a great year last year, Newton has struggled now in 2014. He hasnt exactly been bad, but he isnt living up to the standards he set in his first few years. Is this saying that Newton isnt going to be good? No, he can still be good, but if you are looking for a safe investment, this is not the rock you should look under. His prices are already high, and if you think that you should buy in, think again. If he succeeds, his prices wont get that much higher,  but if he falls on his face, they will plummet. Its too big a fluctuation year over year.

Here is where Newton sits with collectors right now:

2013 National Treasures Cam Newton Logo Patch Auto Booklet 1/1

2011 Exquisite Cam Newton Bowl Logo Patch Auto RC

2011 Five Star Cam Newton RC Auto Patch

Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski

There is no doubt that both Graham and Gronk are some of the best TEs in the league. However, they are oft injured, beat up, and play a position that no one collects. I think that there is as good a chance that both could end up injured as much as the chance they both play well, and that does not spell good things for their cards. They both came in during one of the worst design years in recent memory, so their cards are not going to have that same cool allure that other rookies have had in recent years.

2013 National Treasures Jimmy Graham Auto Patch

2010 Topps Chrome Rob Gronkowski RC Auto

Robert Griffin III

Yeah, yeah, I know, obvious choice. Even so, this goes without saying that RGIII has demons surrounding his injury prone behavior and a team who has more ups and downs than a celebrity on drugs. There is just way too many variables that could play into whether or not RGIII is worthy of spending money on.

2012 National Treasures Robert Griffin III Rookie Auto Patch BGS 9.5

2012 Topps Chrome Robert Griffin III Auto Black Refractor BGS 9.5

Austin Davis

Lets give credit where credit is due. Austin Davis has made the most of his season so far. So much that he will end up as a solid backup somewhere for the next few years. However, he WILL NOT be a starting QB, so collectors should not go and dump money into the one card he has on the market. That wont stop Panini and Topps from adding him to every late product this year, but it will all be for naught.

2012 Bowman Draft Austin Davis RC Gold

If you have your own, feel free to share, but these are my picks. A lot of moving pieces have to fall into place for these guys to stay or become successful.

Panini America Signs Exclusive Deal With 3 Major Schools

I mentioned on twitter a few weeks ago that rumors had been swirling since the National, mainly regarding Panini looking to get into the CLC game. If you saw the announcement today of a university exclusive trading card deal with Kentucky, Georgia, and Miami, it is a prime indicator those rumors are true. However, it may not be that simple, and everyone might be surprised to hear what might actually be in play. Also, the ripples this deal may have on the industry in the next few years could impact more than we expect.

For those of you who might be unaware, CLC represents the marketing and branding arm of the NCAA and its biggest intellectual properties. Since 2010, Upper Deck has had the exclusive license to produce trading cards with NCAA logos on them, which has let to the absolute clusterfuck we all see in NFL licensed pre-draft cards for both Football and Basketball.

With the announcement today, it looks as if Panini has found a way to circumvent CLC by throwing enough money at three schools for them to sign exclusive trading card deals. In all reality, this deal will only currently have impact on Basketball rookies from Kentucky (which Upper Deck has distanced their product focus from anyways), and Todd Gurley from Georgia football (a very big deal). My initial reaction has been to say that this is a very good reason why the rumors of a split CLC license were true, but in fact, it might be that Panini overplayed their hand and wasnt able to secure a CLC license after all.

In fact, that seems to make more and more sense to me as the news sinks in. There really is no need to have schools opt out of CLC for an exclusive deal if the license was already in place, and if I am Upper Deck, I am on the phone with UNC trying to ensure that Panini isnt already trying to bully their way into an exclusive there as well. As it stands, no CLC based product can have airbrushed jerseys in it, so UD would be forced to leave Jordan out of all of it’s basketball based products also using other CLC school logos. That would be the nail in the coffin for a company that is already having major issues with the way the industry is going.

There are a lot of people curious if schools like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas would be next on the football kill order, and Panini definitely has the money to make that happen. Without the major SEC and BIG 12 schools, Panini has Upper Deck by the short and curlies. That is a big deal all on its own.

Now, lets take this a step further, as I have always said that Panini’s plan overall is to eliminate competition for the purposes of buying out and establishing an industry where their cards are the only option. Let’s say for a moment that Panini decides they dont want to stop with Schools opting out of the CLC license, and instead focus on entire teams from pro sports. For discussion’s sake, lets say they can convince Jerry Jones that the recent exclusive deal for game used Dallas Cowboys equipment is a good place to build. Instead of Dallas Cowboys being available for anyone who manages to secure an NFL license, the only place to find America’s team is Panini products. Now, this is moot because Panini already has the exclusive for the NFL, but that’s not to say they cant pull it off in other sports too.

Overall, the ripples continue to be heading in the wrong direction. Panini is making a case to showcase exactly what most in the industry fear will happen. Come 2020, they will have made a play for every applicable trading card sport license, and there will be no other pro uniform products that have a logo besides Panini. In an industry CRIPPLED by money issues derived from a plethora of issues, they have more money than god. That is a huge reason why everyone should be scared that Panini is carrying the biggest stick in the room. Historically, the team at Panini has become notorious for some of the worst decisions in recent memories, and these are the same individuals who will eventually control every league licensed trading card set that exists. Both Topps and UD are up to their ears in debt, and its not getting any better for either one.

Who would have guessed that a company known for making fucking stickers is the one that will ruin the trading card industry for everyone involved? Collectors have already started bolting for the exits in this blowout, as its clear that a 10 run lead in the bottom of the 8th is not going to end well for the home team. Products have a shelf life closer tot hat of an open can of beer, and like Beer, many are fun at first, but go flat with a short amount of time.

Upper Deck may have won a battle it seems, if in fact Panini has found themselves on the outside looking in on a CLC license. That does not mean, however, that they are even close to winning the war. Money talks in every stage of the game, and when you have a company that operates like a pop star in a strip club, you know its only a matter of time before things get weird.

Let me close in saying I dont hate Panini because of who they are or what they do, but because the products they make are shitty. That’s the long and short of it. Now that I see that they are trying to drive a steamroller over the brands I feel produce FAAAAAR superior cards, its a very personal situation. Panini is NOT good for this hobby, but they do have the most stable stream of resources to use at their disposal. Lets just hope Italy doesnt realize how these poor decisions can potentially affect the overall bottom line.

Having said this at least a million times, Panini has not shown that they are worthy of any exclusive based on product performance. If you see the top 10 performing products of any given sport, Panini struggles to make even a fingerprint on the glass of that window. When you look at the number of products they are forced to put on closeout each year, it should be abundantly obvious that they do not know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to making quality products. Yet, because Italy doesnt have line of sight into what they are doing to the industry, they keep on progressing down this path.

The vitriol that I spew on a regular basis towards them is almost entirely based on their product lines, but ever since the announcement of the NFLPA exclusive, they have touched the wrong nerve with me. This news should do the same thing for you, as they are not treading lightly regardless of how you feel about other company’s products. Competition is a good thing, and Panini has made it their mission to use money to create a vacuum on shelves for what could be sold. They didnt use the quality of their products to show they are the superior brand, instead using money they had no part in making to buy their way into the place among the kings.

I relate this to the trust fund baby who is able to buy their way into Harvard because of their parents. Their grades may be mediocre, but because mommy and daddy have a ton of money, they can still walk the halls in Cambridge.  This fucking sucks.

Hot Rookies Makes Its “Triumphant” Return in Playbook?

As if 2014 Score wasnt enough of a disaster on its own, Panini thought it was a good idea to rehash the 2014 Score product by releasing Hot Rookies. In case you missed it (consider yourself among the lucky if you did), Hot Rookies was score cards, reprinted and stamped with a foil logo, and sold at hobby instead of retail.

Behold the wonder that is 2014 Hot Rookies, in all its vomit inducing glory.

2014 Hot Rookies Johnny Manziel Blue Auto

2014 Hot Rookies Sammy Watkins Black Auto

2014 Hot Rookies Kelvin Benjamin Auto RC

2014 Hot Rookies Montee Ball Franchise Fabric Auto Relic – Forgot the foil stamp to cover up the score logo on this one.

Similar to the great idea to release Hot Rookies, Panini seems to think they should do a second go around with the product in 2014 Playbook, which is already a set hurting for positive attention after years of poor production. Yes, great idea Panini, wonder who was asleep at the production meeting and let this idea get the green light.

So, let me break this down for you based on what we see in the QC break that Panini posted on their blog this morning. You pay 90 dollars for a box of playbook, which is only slated to have one booklet in it per box (not necessarily autographed, either). You open the box, and your booklet is a relic booklet, which may or may not be Charles Sims of Tampa Bay Bucs fame. As you slide to the next card, you see your autograph for the box is a new Hot Rookies orange parallel. Yes, this could happen, and no, I am not kidding.

panini-america-2014-playbook-football-teaser-24

Nothing like opening a box of one product that is already on life support and seeing that your box hit is an autograph from the worst product of the year so far. In bright fucking orange none-the-less. We all have heard how hard it is to get the rookies to sign this year, but that shouldnt give Panini a pass to completely give up on things. Way to go Panini, cant wait for 2016 to get here.

Hey Johnny, where is that box I should open again?

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Ahh, gotcha, thanks!