Creativity in Football Cards: Have We Hit Rock Bottom?

This week, we have the release of Panini Phoenix, which comes on the heels of a few months of lack luster content from Panini. Obviously sets like Impeccable (as I posted earlier) are a bit of an exception to the rule, but overall, these last few months and next few months are a terrible time of year for Football. We have seen the likes of garbage products like Certified Cuts, XR and Spectra, none of which showcase any real innovation in the market.

Adding in the dilution of further products from the NCAA license in Immaculate and National Treasures Collegiate, and all of a sudden we are in the middle of October with nothing to show for the top rookies other than a repetitive approach that feels both stale and played out. Although it hasnt been all dark clouds this year, I feel like we are entering year two of a life sentence for shitty middle of the year sets who have no purpose to exist other than just filling out a license that was negotiated extremely poorly.

I have often said that more products offer more shots at good content, but with no competition in the game, its not the case at all. There are so many products that have to be built with a team already hurting for creative success, that it creates a vicious circle of boredom that makes us all nauseous. I mean seriously. Look 25 years into the future. Do you really think someone is going to be combing boxes at the national trying to complete their set from any of these worthless sets? Probably not. If one of the rookies goes onto be the next big name in the NFL, will these products measure up to the legacy releases that everyone counts on year after year? Fuck no. There is a reason the Fleer Mystique rookie of Tom Brady is worth so much less than the sets that matter.

Im just fucking done with this same product different name cookie cutter that Panini has trotted out week after week. How many cards do we have to be tortured with that dont offer a unique take on anything? Is Phoenix really going to be any different than the 150 other relic cards with sticker autos we are forced to endure? How do we justify our continued purchase in the name of player or team collecting, if nothing new is ever brought to the table?

Panini’s answer to creativity has been to jack up the price tag or embed a precious like item into a card. This is not the answer, clearly, as so many of their new products have bombed on the secondary market. Every time they preview a new set that hasnt been released before, I literally laugh to myself wondering what the price will be in six months. Product shelf life under the new exclusive is excruciatingly short, because there is rarely any real driver for anyone to purchase this particular box over one of the legacy products released later in the year.

When the calendar in place requires 40+ football themed products a year from one company with one take, we start to see big bland paintbrush that washes over any real advancement in the calendar. Adding insult to injury, their football app depends on this content, as so far they have yet to release an original digital exclusive set in Blitz the way Topps used to do and still does every day.

The scariest part is that we are often told to speak with our wallets. That’s the way the companies hear that shit isnt going the way they expect. Unfortunately, most collectors have spoken with their wallets, showcasing on eBay how little they are willing to spend on same shit different day, but at that point its too late. In fact, its too late by almost three steps. Because Panini has no real direct business that means anything, they never feel the pain unless the distributors who really sell the product complain. In the past, Panini hadnt printed to order, so that means production rarely changed if pre-orders were soft. They are notorious for closing out major parts of print runs to places like Blowout and the like, offering major discounts to rid the warehouse of unsold product. However, because it was part of the plan, there wasnt really a huge loss.

Group Breakers also play a huge part, because the pressure of a shitty product is spread over a wider audience who has less invested in their purchase. Instead of paying for a box or case of cards from a worthless set, they buy slots which are significantly cheaper. Because the weight of return is so much less, it artificially inflates the success.

Overall, you can see that this isnt really the recipe for success and sustainability. At some point, we need to ask ourselves whether or not this is what we want to support. Panini is clearly not making the most of their opportunity to create loyalty and build great products, instead opting to shove garbage like Preferred down our throats.

Collectors deserve and need better products in their hands or the success of 2016 will be well in the rear view mirror. This is a sport that is continually under fire for injury concern and participation is down at every level of play in this country. If Panini cant find the fortitude to give us a reason to believe they know what they are doing with their sets, they will see a drop off very similar to what the sport is feeling on a nationwide level.

Similarly, it does fall on our shoulders to ensure that we do offer feedback as much as possible – especially when things are good. Good is subjective, and doesnt have to be all or nothing. You can like parts of a product and not like others – but make sure your voice is heard. Its also important to look past the patches in the card or the name on the front. Really study what looks good and what doesnt. Build your own standard for a quality approach with creative elements versus that of a shiny piece of vomit that someone cooked up in a drug induced haze. Lastly, it is essential to NOT participate in a product you dont support. I am a serial breaker of this rule, as I am addicted and cant break away. I have curbed my addiction lately because I know that buying the dumpster fire of the week wont help me or anyone in the long term.

I long for the days when we could count on three companies to deliver three different takes from three different perspectives. It forced better quality and competition, and some of the hobby’s most iconic cards were the result. That’s all gone now. We are left with neon paint pens signed on stickers and cut signatures of living and active signers as the standard bearer. That fucking blows. It just does.

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