Because I am an Autograph collector rather than a card collector, I rarely buy cards that are not signed by the player. I rarely see the appeal of hundreds of boxes littering a closet, filled with base cards that arent worth the cardboard they are printed on. That’s just me. Over the last few years, the way autographed cards are produced has shifted drastically. Since 2003 and onwards, more autographed cards have been done on stickers than have been signed on card. It has a lot to do with how far in advance the signings have to be completed, as well as the availability of the athlete themselves.
Football has seen the brunt of this disaster more than any other sport. In baseball, on card autographs are coming back around thanks to Topps’ dedication to making it happen with each product. In Basketball too, the on card autograph has become an expectation again, even with a sticker hound like Panini at the helm. All of these sports have a huge leg up on Football, which aside from Five Star, has no licensed sets that feature hard signed veteran and HOF autographs. Its all stickers. Even baseball has low end products that still feature active player content on card.
Here are the only hard signed cards Panini has done of non-rookie players, signed at the HOF induction ceremony:
What’s even more comical is that collectors dont seem to notice, and that is the worst part. Its one thing to have stickers in a 60 dollar low end product, but when box prices climb above 150 bucks, and the only hard signed cards are from the rookies, that is a major issue. However, with the NFL being a rookie driven sport, the other players are practically forgotten. In fact, Panini has not produced an on card autograph of a non-rookie, active player, since I have been following. That’s at least 2005. Their competitors have all had multiple products with these kinds of programs, including Upper Deck, who no longer has an NFL license to produce cards.
Topps has released Five Star each of the last two years since UD’s 2009 calendar that featured 9 products with hard signed veteran and HOF autos, and it remains one of my favorite products of the year. Rightfully so, if Topps is going to charge someone an arm and a leg to open the product, they want every autograph to be signed on card. Not so much for the sticker riddled National Treasures, which retails at the same price. As a result, cards like the ones here, are some of the most chased in the hobby:
Then, to see how they view the situation, its like they dont understand why on card autographs are so important in football. Here is a link to their tweet about the subject, and it shows me that they are trying to redirect attention away from their lack of commitment to the discussion. This is all aside from my feelings on their lack of design chops, getting destroyed in terms of the way their cards look by Topps and Upper Deck pretty regularly.
To them, increasing the supply of on card autographs will devalue the times that they actually get off their ass and get them done. “Hold on George, cant have on card autographs in this set, it will make the other on card products we have less valuable!” Bull. Its a tactic to avoid the fact that they are behind the rest of the industry in producing these types of cards. “Oh, disregard these stickers that we have in our 500 dollar a box products, its just so that it wont devalue the rest of the autographs these players have.” Its ridiculous to believe that this is their approach.
The company line has always been that its difficult to produce on card autographs the way collectors want, if not only because of logistics. That I understand, and have come to accept. However, to say that its a matter of preserving value is a cop out. That attitude is why collectors have come to admonish their boring and uninspired offerings 20 times a year in the NFL. There is no commitment to giving collectors what they actually want. Its not a matter of supply and demand at the forefront of the discussion – its not about how much less the on card autos will be worth. Its about making a quality product for everyone to enjoy. No one likes stickers over on card, and if there were no other choice, the supply / demand discussion would be moot. Then, value would be derived from things that collectors have skin in the game. Rarity, team affiliation, design. I mean, this card can never compare to a card like this one in terms of visual appeal. Never. Same price point on the MSRP though.
Eventually there will be some reason that Panini stops using stickers as a crutch. Somehow, some way, they will pull their heads out of their asses, and realize that the old way isnt worth a continued investment.