Panini Announces MLBPA License…And I’m A Little Worried

I’ve found that I don’t typically share the same opinions about the hobby as a lot of the bloggers and twitterers out there.

While several of you out there like to claim every quality control issue is a product of the Topps monopoly, I see it as a simple quality control issue.   Was every production run perfect before the monopoly?  Are things really worse now?  I admit Topps Chrome last year was bad, but I sincerely doubt it spurred from laziness.

While most of you bitched and moaned about how they can’t get their reprints to match exactly, I took a different stance and said “hey, this is probably on purpose and maybe we just don’t fully understand why.”

When people said that Topps getting the exclusive would be the end of the hobby as we know it, I called timeout.  Exclusive licenses aren’t tenured things, and you would be damn sure Topps would lose theirs if the products stunk and no one was buying.  MLBP ain’t stupid.  Only their condescending press release statements are.  Topps is still motivated by sales and wants to put out the best product possible to steal more market share and prove they’re worthy of more exclusive licenses.

There are the people who are complaining about the 2012 Series 1 sell sheets and wanting to know what’s so “game changing” about it.  I’m in a different camp there, too.  I don’t think Topps meant that buzz-word to apply to series 1 specifically.  I wasn’t at the National when it was said (or at all, sigh), but from what I read, I always interpreted it to mean 2012 as a whole.  I think it’s a lot of exaggerated crying that we’re seeing so far.

What we can take from all of this is that collectors are frustrated, and a lot of them probably are taking it out on Topps because that’s the most obvious outlet for their anger.  I think that’s like blaming your hand for what your elbow is doing.

Now, personally I don’t think Topps has been squandering their monopoly.  If they’re being complacent, how do you explain the Million & Diamond card giveaways?  I think the Koufax, DiMaggio estate, and Mays signings are examples of effort.  I think they’re still trying new lines like Gypsy Queen and Lineage.  Even though we panned one before the fact (then all of a sudden became it’s BFFs) and was curious about the other (then panned it after the fact), they drew our attention and to some extent our dollars.  Updating the autograph checklist for Topps Tier One to actually include more top tier players and more hall of famers and less scrub autos was a great step in the right direction.  The anniversary push and sending celebrity players to talk shows to promote was a new tactic to me.  I think they’re trying, but some people like to complain and use easy excuses.

So, why do I say I’m worried?  It has nothing to do with Panini.  I think everyone already knows what to expect from Panini.

I’m worried, because I’m afraid we’re going to start to see two Paninis on the shelves if Topps continues with what they’re doing in 2012 Series 1.  What am I talking about, you say?  Take a look at some images I cropped from the sell sheets.

insert

relic

auto

auto relic

Yes, they’re taking cues and templates from Panini and producing the multi-purpose cards that we love so much.  There are more examples of this as well.

insert

auto patch

I think on this particular insert, it really looks like a Panini card.  While I appreciate the usage of space on the non-variant more here, it’s still a little sad that it’s been designed with a multi-purpose agenda.

relic

auto

There’s also a non-either version of this, of course.  Does that stripe in the background remind of you of a certain manufacturer?

Some of you may be saying to yourself that Topps has put relics and autos on their inserts before.  What about Topps 60 from this year?  To that, I say “true, but it wasn’t multi-purpose per se.  There was no specific element on the insert that was meant to be cut out to put that jersey as we’re seeing above.  They just plopped it in the middle.  Same with the sticker auto.  Just slapped across the middle.  You don’t see the image pre-faded for the auto like you see on Jeter, Seaver, and Ty Cobb (who ain’t signing, by the way).  And I heard no complaints from anyone about that, except when it came to secondary market value.  But going the way of Panini isn’t going to solve that.  Not diluting the market with an abundance of autos and relics will solve that.

So, I have to wonder.  Did Topps see Panini creeping up behind them and so they decided to appropriate portions of the business model?  Is it really that much more cost effective to produce cards in this manner?

We’ll see how it all shakes out.  I have plenty of thought as to how the industry should work and steps that could be taken to inject a little life into it.  A “new” player like Panini could be an interesting boost.  Assuming Topps doesn’t meld into them first.

3 comments to Panini Announces MLBPA License…And I’m A Little Worried

  • Although I don’t think I mentioned specifics before, I knew there was a reason why the inserts from Topps weren’t as attractive as this year’s. If you ask me, it’s just plain lazy to prep a card for autographs and relics like that. It’s something I’ll be writing about in the next week.

    I was reading your Upper Deck/Exclusivity post, and something you mentioned struck a chord. The lack of saturation in the market will gradually bring prices up. I have to agree with you, to some respect. Most cards /25 or /50 have certainly risen in price, at least in the long run. The real, quality hits have risen in price. And I know there’s much more interest in a product when it’s released. But I think the product is being priced out of the gate much higher, which eats into any benefits gained from increased value. Some of that is on the secondary market. But there’s no reason Topps can’t get its flagship down to prices similar to Score (and maybe now they will) and its mid-range boxes like Lineage, Ginter, and Heritage around $50-60. There just isn’t enough value in the packs to warrant $100 prices. If it really costs Topps that much money to get autographs and game-used merchandise of quality players, they should save that product for the high-end stuff – and by the way, 25 pieces cut from a jersey doesn’t use that much fabric.

    I’m guessing Panini will release only a few sets per year, like they do with the other sports. I’m hoping they can do something good with the MLBPA license and prove they deserve an MLB license. Competition can benefit the hobby, and it will be nice for a bit of variety. I don’t dislike Topps, and there are several products they release every year that I enjoy. I’m just looking forward to something other than throwback designs for most of the season.

    • Jon

      I’m looking forward to seeing what you write up.

      I was looking at that portion of my UD post, too. I think an exclusive license working in that respect would take some time to really change momentum and pricing consistently. It’s not just “Topps is all baseball, we can get more value now.” It would end up being a gradual perception change. I think now (a year+ later), people generally still have the idea in their head that most autos and relics are worth $.99 and the big boys are worth whatever they were before. I also don’t think that’s wrong. Topps needs to cut production on some people, and time needs to pass for the scarcity issues to really be felt. Of course, now with another player in the field, my theory may go out the window. I agree about the box prices. I’m actually shocked that GQ is around $200. How does that product offer up more than 2x the value of Ginter? I thought for sure prices would sink to 2010 206 levels.

      As for Panini, I’m betting they’ll issue as many sets as they are allowed. Every set you see for football and basketball will be applied to baseball. And I’ll only buy any if the players I collect are in the product. If they release a 1984 Donruss redux set like they did with basketball, I’ll probably get in on that. I’m not against either company, but I’m not totally convinced it’ll spark creativity from either party to the degree everyone thinks or hopes.

  • The “Topps screws up because they have a monopoly” argument has always seemed baseless to me. I’ve mentioned the very same thing a few times on the blog. They screwed up plenty when there were 57 other card makers out there. I also agree with you on the “inability” to reproduce their own product. There’s a reason they’re doing that, and I’ve mentioned that a few times too. As for the whole “game-changer” thing, I just can’t get into all that smack-talk, hold-their-feet-to-the-fire stuff. Some people want to be Consumer Reports of the card world, and that’s cool. We need those people. But it’s not me, and I admit sometimes wish they’d give it a rest. Have a little fun with the hobby once in a while.

    As for Panini, I haven’t a clue. None of what they have produced so far has interested me in the least. Now that they’re in baseball, I’ll get to judge them with a clean slate. Looking forward to it.

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