Hobby Musings: Panini Has Big Plans for NFL – One of the biggest hobby story lines of the year has been Panini taking hold of its exclusive NFLPA deal. With a few releases already under its belt for the 2016 collecting year, there’s plenty more in store from the football front. I had the chance to catch up with Panini’s Director of Product Development for NFL brands, Nick Matijevich to talk more about the company’s plans and some other gridiron collecting insights. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: One of the big stories in the hobby this year is that Panini’s exclusive deal with the NFLPA took effect starting with this season. How does having that exclusive license affect the company’s strategy when it comes to making officially licensed NFL football cards?
NM: With our exclusive with the NFL and NFLPA taking effect, we’ve tried to deliver a wide variety of products and price points for collectors, to make sure that everyone can find a product that suits their collecting habits.
We’re actually doing fewer programs this year, than were produced between Topps and us with the dual license the last few years. We realize that not everyone wants to purchase a $0.99 pack product like Complete, but we’re also aware that not everyone can afford to buy a $1,250 per pack product like Flawless either. Similarly, some people like a more traditional product like Classics, while some want crazy substrates and foils that can be found in a program like Spectra. It’s definitely not a one size fits all hobby, and we want to ensure that we have the entire product spectrum covered, so people can find what they want.
KS: We’ve seen some notifications for new products, but all in all, what new football cardboard can we expect from Panini for the 2016 season?
NM: This year we’ll be releasing nine new programs, some of which have been seen in our other sport portfolios, and some which are completely new to the company. The following brands will be new to our NFL line in 2016 though: Panini, Gala, Unparalleled, Origins, Infinity, Impeccable, Phoenix, Donruss Optic, Complete.
KS: All told, how many football products are you planning to release for the 2016 football season?
NM: We have 22 brands that are going to be released only into hobby shops, six that will be released jointly in hobby & retail channels, and seven products that will only be released through our retail partners, for a total of 35 programs, which as I mentioned earlier, is actually fewer programs that we released jointly with Topps in 2015.
KS: For this year, are there any products that you’re particularly looking forward to with their release?
NM: As a purist, I always look forward to Contenders each year. I interned with Donruss Playoff in 1999 and I was able to create a couple of players checklists for that release, and the following year as a full-time employee, the first insert that I ever had included in a program was in 2000 Contenders. As far as our new brands though, while I’m happy with the way they have all turned out so far, I’m particularly looking forward to Impeccable.
KS: As collectors, we often only see a final product in terms of sealed boxes and then singles. As someone who puts these releases together, what all goes into building a football product from conception to pack-out?
NM: The entire program is actually much more labor intensive than most people are aware. We have a kick-off meeting, that features our Scheduling, Sales, Production, Finance, Marketing and Product Development teams, to go over the program, price point and core concepts for the brand. After getting sign off from everyone, we move to a whiteboard with all members of our NFL product development team, as well as a few employees from our other PDT teams as well. The next step is for the individual brand manager and assistant brand manager to create the fact sheet and form break, that will let our other groups – Design, Photo, Editorial, Prepress & Production – begin working on the program, and which provide a blueprint that will be used from card creation through the actual packout. At this point, the same brand team fills out product checklists, and begins to make autograph and memorabilia reservations, which allows our Acquisitions team to have visibility on any missing assets or autograph deals that they’ll need to obtain from players. After all the components have been pulled together and the cards are built, they go through routings internally, before being sent out to the NFL and NFLPA for approval. Once approved, we transfer the files to our printer, and the actual cards are produced. The brand team then does a collation plan for our packout vendor, who will write a program to deliver the expectations for which we have asked. Finally, the cards are put into packs, boxes, and cases, before being shipped out to distributors and hobby shops for release to the customer.
KS: What would you say is the biggest challenge in putting a product together?
NM: Trying to insure there is as much value box to box, while also trying to control costs, is the biggest challenge we face on the PDT side. A close second and somewhat related challenge is getting the autographs back from athletes in time for a product’s packout date. Our Acquisitions team does a great job in this regard, but it’s a thankless task with the next program always coming up shortly after the previous one.
KS: What is the feeling like when you do put a product to bed and see it out there in the world getting busted by collectors?
NM: There is obviously a great deal of satisfaction when you build a release that is received well by our customer base. We spend a lot of time trying to dial in these checklists, making changes all the way to the upload date to ensure that they are as relevant as possible, so it’s very gratifying to see that hard work pay off. Conversely, when you have a product that isn’t received well, and you think the value is there, it can be a very frustrating experience, but ultimately, you have to take a deep breath and realize that not every product you create appeals to all of our collectors.
KS: Looking to this season, rookies are always such a big part of each football trading card year. Who are some of the rookies you think collectors should be looking to potentially add to their collections this season?
NM: While there wasn’t the same amount of buzz around this class that there has been in some recent classes, the early returns look very promising based on camp reports and the preseason. Dak Prescott obviously has a great opportunity right now in Dallas, along with his backfield partner Zeke Elliott, while the Bradford trade opens up an early shot for Carson Wentz. Derrick Henry looked fantastic in his early action, and Will Fuller, Sterling Shepard, and Corey Coleman have all shown promising signs as well. You have to think that Jared Goff, and possibly Paxton Lynch get some playing time this year as well. These are all obviously pretty prominent names though, so the one “sleeper” collectors need to be watching out for is Tajae Sharpe; I think there is a chance he puts up Anquan Boldin– type rookie numbers this year in Tennessee, since he doesn’t have much competition for catches, and he has been performing very well going all the way back to his early OTA’s.
KS: One thing I’ve always been curious about is the event/ player-worn memorabilia cards. Especially for the rookies, that’s typically the relic swatch of choice as their game-used material does not become available until later in the season. That being said, where do the relic swatches for the rookies come from?
NM: We obtain the relic swatches from rookies at the Combine, NFL Draft, or Rookie Premiere early in the season, but we also try to obtain some game-worn items as soon as they become available, either through our individual team agreements, player reps, or the NFL.
KS: Finally here, we cannot forget about the veteran star power in the NFL. Who is one player you think could have a breakout season with his trading cards?
NM: I think Jameis Winston, David Johnson and Amari Cooper are all going to break out in a big way, but I’m not sure how much of a reach that statement is at this point, since they all had their moments in 2015. From a secondary market perspective, I think Doug Baldwin is going to start seeing his values climb, and I think that Derek Carr may follow suit as well. There are plenty of other guys like Lamar Miller that could have a huge year, but I’m not sure if that will lead to an increase in his card prices. As an aside, our VP of Sales and Product Development, D.J. Kazmierczak is convinced that Trevor Siemian is going to be the guy, but in the interest of full disclosure, he is a huge Broncos fan…haha!
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Hobby Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
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