Hobby Musings: 2017 Football Season Brought Plenty Of Rookie Intrigue – As the Eagles and Patriots prepare to play in the Super Bowl, it’s worth remembering what happened during the season so far. Not just on the field, but also in the hobby world. Facing a tough predecessor with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, this year’s rookie class more than managed to hold its own. For a look back on what he noticed from this year’s football card season, as well as a little of what’s ahead, I had a chance to catch up with Panini senior director of product development Nick Matijevich. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: I know the season isn’t entirely over yet, but up to this point, how would you rate the 2017 NFL year from a trading card standpoint?
NM: Overall, the trading card market has been very strong again this year, coming off of year’s class. We obviously haven’t seen the crazy price spikes on products that we saw with the Dak/Zeke/Wentz frenzy, but that is actually better for collectors overall, as they’re able to buy products closer to actual SRP, where the products are intended to sell. We’ve been very happy with the overall portfolio performance up to this point, and we still have quite a few products left to release, that we expect to be well received by our customers.
KS: How do you feel it compared to a 2016 where the market was driven by big performances from Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott?
NM: Without the dominant rookies over the course of an entire season, the market has been a little cooler than last year, particularly later in the season, but our products have continued to be ripped at a steady pace, due to the overall depth of this class. With guys like Watson, Hunt, Fournette, Trubisky, Cook, McCaffrey, JuJu, Kamara and Mahomes all taking the lead at various points in the season, it has given collectors a multitude of drivers at different points in the calendar.
KS: From a product standpoint, which one performed the best for Panini during the season?
NM: Up to this point, we’ve had numerous products that have performed very well, some of which were clearly expected based on past years, such as Elite, Certified, Donruss, Prizm & Contenders. The two products we released that performed well beyond our expectations were Gold Standard and XR – Gold Standard, because the brand has had a history of mixed reviews in football, and XR, because it was a new product in a time-slot that is typically very challenging for us. The response to both of these programs was overwhelmingly positive, and it’s a testament to the hard work our football team puts into building all of our products.
KS: There were a lot of big rookies from this past season, but who would you say was the top rookie in cards?
NM: Despite his injury, Deshaun Watson has continued to be the main driver, due to his unprecedented numbers after he won the starting job, coming off his National Championship game victory. Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Mitchell Trubisky have all had their moments, but Deshaun has been the most consistent player from a value perspective, from the draft through today.
KS: Nick, some of the biggest rookies who showed promise early on, like Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook, were unable to finish because of injuries. How did you think their early-season exits affected the overall market?
NM: While these players have continued to sell well on the secondary market, their injuries – and Watson’s in particular – definitely held back the market to a degree. If Watson could have kept up his torrid pace in Houston, there is a good chance the market would have reacted as it did in 2016. As I noted earlier, we had enough guys perform well to keep the overall interest in this class very high, but we didn’t have that dominant rookie through most of the season to push the market to another level, but as I also pointed out, that is somewhat of a benefit to collectors, as it kept box prices from getting too far above SRP.
KS: On the flip side of that, what kind of impact will their incomplete finish to this season have on 2018’s football market?
NM: I really don’t think that their injuries are going to have much of an impact on next year’s market. Deshaun has continued to sell at a very high level, and Dalvin’s cards continue to sell as well. The overall performance of this rookie class was very impressive, and with another deep group of rookies coming in, including a lot of QBs that could go early, as well as another generational talent at RB, we expect 2018 to be another great year.
KS: Which veteran player do you think took the biggest step forward in his hobby market this past season?
NM: Carson Wentz and Jared Goff obviously took big leaps in their second season as starters, and the trading card market reacted accordingly. Todd Gurley bounced back in a major way as well, but the biggest surprise this year by far was Adam Thielen, who went from a virtual unknown outside of Minnesota, to a hobby darling. We had his Contenders Rookie Tickets on our Rewards site for months, with very little interest, and now the secondary market is incredibly strong for those cards.
KS: Looking ahead to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady seems to have the biggest card market far and away. That being said, who do you think would see the biggest increase in card demand because of a good Super Bowl?
NM: It’s an interesting Super Bowl, in that with the Wentz injury, Brady and Gronk are the only two hobby “stars” playing in the game at this time. A guy like Fletcher Cox could see increased interest, but as a DT, there is a cap as to what he can do in trading cards. Guys like Brandin Cooks, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi and Zach Ertz could all see their profiles raised, but it will take dominant performances for them to truly do so. Sleepers would be players like Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan, but the Pats spread the ball around so much, it’s tough seeing any of them putting up major numbers, and if they do, the question becomes if they can sustain a long-term lift, or if they’ll eventually fade back into the pack like Deion Branch after his MVP performance in SB XXXIX.
KS: Nick Foles had been kind of forgotten in the card world in previous seasons. Now he’s a starting Super Bowl QB. How have you seen his recent notoriety impact his card demand?
NM: After his performance against the Vikings last week, Foles has definitely seen a hobby resurgence over the last week. If the Eagles can pull off the upset, he should see another spike, but the question will be if he can sustain that level, with Wentz likely due back on the field at some point early next season.
KS: Panini holds the exclusive NFL trading card license. What plans does the company have the Super Bowl both on site and with physical and digital cards?
NM: We actually kicked off our Super Bowl promotions through our Panini Instant platform on 1/26 at 2 PM, when we started the pre-sell on our 24-card AFC & NFC Champions team sets. It will run through SB Sunday and feature game images from the respective conference championship games. We will also be releasing a 36-card Super Bowl set on our Instant platform on 2/5, and throughout the rest of that week, we’ll be releasing game cards featuring “Super Bowl Moments”, on top of offering cards of the various award winners from the NFL Honors Banquet.
On our Panini Blitz platform, starting on 1/26, we added some Super Bowl themed cards from various sets throughout the year, like Gold Standard Dual Signature Super Bowl Diamonds and Majestic Super Bowl Triple Signatures. We’ll also be running a physical product giveaway through our in-app Contest during the big game, where the top 10 finishers will win a box of physical trading cards, while the top overall performer will also win a signed mini-helmet.
This week, collectors will be able to find contest cards in the Blitz app that will give them a better chance to get a higher score in the Contest, which will be made up of digital versions of our AFC & NFC Champions team sets. App users will also get a Super Bowl Heroes card of Tom Brady and Nick Foles this week, and post-Super Bowl, we’ll be adding digital versions of our Super Bowl Moments instant cards to the app.
On site in Minnesota, we’ve had a ton going on beginning with the Panini Super Bowl Kid Reporter working magic once again this year with a helping hand from Super Bowl champion QB Trent Dilfer. Super Bowl Opening Night is the culmination of a nearly yearlong promotion that awards hundreds of prizes. The grand prize, obviously, is a trip to the Super Bowl – just for buying packs of Panini America trading cards. We’ve also had a huge presence once again in the NFL Experience with two booths – one in the main area of the convention center and one in the kid’s zone. Our interactive experiences will award free prizes and special, Super Bowl-exclusive cards to those who stop by. Guests will also have the chance to experience the NFL Blitz digital trading card app and the Create Your Own Digital Card area. Finally, Patrick Mahomes, JuJu Smith-Schuster and more prominent 2018 NFL rookies are making the rounds on Radio Row on behalf of Panini America to talk trading cards (physical, digital and Instant) and to promote Friday’s Pop Warner Super Bowl, another of Panini America’s annual events. More than 200 local Pop Warner athletes will receive coaching and memories to last a lifetime on Friday evening.
KS: Looking ahead to the draft, there are a lot of big prospects coming out, especially at the QB position. As we stand today, which prospect do you think collectors should be the most excited about?
NM: It’s going to be a very interesting draft, with as many as five QB’s potentially in play for the first round, and with seven QB’s possibly going in the first three rounds. At this point, collectors seem to be split over who is going the top QB to collect, but a lot of their potential success will depend upon the NFL market in which they land. With that said, based on the last 2 seasons, the one guy that seems to have the fewest questions and quickest path to stardom, will be Saquon Barkley, as Zeke and Leonard both proved that a stud RB can help turn around a franchise quickly.
KS: As far as Panini football products go, what do you have coming out soon?
NM: We’re in the home stretch at this point, but we still have quite a few products left to release for the 2017 season. We have a new product, Vertex, going live just before the Super Bowl, and then we have Plates & Patches, Select, Encased, Contenders Optic, National Treasures & Flawless due to hit, before we move on to our 2018 product line.
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