Hobby Musings: Panini tackling a different challenge with NASCAR – Panini is well-known for its exclusive licensed offerings in the NFL and NBA card markets. Another sport they hold the license for that you may not be aware of is NASCAR. Picking up a category that was left empty by Press Pass’ closure a few years ago, the company quickly sought to put its own stamp on the brand. To find out more about Panini’s NASCAR business, I had the chance to catch up with brand manager Timothy Trout. The following interview was conducted via email.
Entering Pit Lane
KS: Panini acquired the NASCAR trading card license a few years ago now. Why did the company decided to start making NASCAR cards?
TT: When Press Pass stepped away from the market, there was a void for NASCAR fans and collectors and we stepped in to grab the license and fill that void. It was a no-brainer here with few former Press Pass guys here in the building. Along with myself (I was the pricing guide editor for Beckett Racing Magazine for 12 years before joining Panini in 2011), we figured we had the right staff in place to get into the market.
KS: What challenges have you found in building Panini’s NASCAR’s brands?
TT: Probably the biggest challenge with NASCAR is that it is very different from the other sports that we work on here. You really need to look at building programs in a different way than you would with the other sports. Also, NASCAR has a much smaller player universe than say baseball or football. Those sports have 25-50 active players on each team, and the rookie class each year is much smaller than that of other sports.
KS: How would you say NASCAR products differ from Panini’s other sports cards?
TT: They are built on a much smaller scale than we do the other sports. We tend to do things much differently when we put a plan together. Another big difference is that (other that Donruss), every program is entirely on card when it comes to the autographs.
KS: Out of all the NASCAR products that Panini makes, which ones have you found to be most popular with collectors?
TT: Prizm is probably one of the most popular brands across all sports, NASCAR included. My favorite one is Donruss because it has the biggest variety of content when you open a pack. It’s one where we try to make sure when you break a box you have so much different stuff that you need to go back for another look to be sure there isn’t something out there that you missed.
Growth, Challenges and What’s Next
KS: NASCAR has a rabid and loyal fan base full of people who love merchandise featuring their favorite drivers. What is Panini doing to try and convert those fans into collectors?
TT: We definitely try to get them as close to the action as possible with pieces of race-used materials which we acquire directly from the teams. These include the retired drivers’ materials, which we acquire directly from them. We do have a Daytona VIP Experience planned for 2020 Daytona. You’ll find the entry cards in across all packs of 2019 Panini Racing.
KS: NASCAR has had some legendary drivers in its storied history. Retired and current, who are the most popular drivers with collectors right now?
TT: Dale Jr, will always be one of those drivers that collectors flock to, along with Tony Stewart and Danica. But current drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and young guys like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are right up there in popularity.
KS: How does Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 win affect his card market?
TT: Winning Daytona always boosts collectability, winning it for the second time solidifies that collectability.
Rookies Still Drive Results
KS: Rookies are one of the big components of any sports release. With a lot of NASCAR’s biggest stars retiring or coming close to it in recent years, who are some younger drivers that collectors should be keeping an eye on?
TT: Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are some of the top young drivers out there, but there are some up and comers like Hailie Deegan who is part of NASCAR’s NEXT program that features some new talent working their way to the top. Both Chase and Ryan’s fathers raced in the NASCAR Cup series and that has helped add to their popularity. Deegan’s father was a champion from the X-Games, which adds a spotlight to the 17-year-old.
KS: Who’s an under-the-radar driver that you would advise collectors to consider picking up cards for?
TT: Hailie Deegan and William Byron. Deegan is an emerging star having some success already when she became the first woman to ever win a race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series during the 2018 season. Her father already has quite a following as he is one of the top X-Games competitors in Freestyle Motocross.
In addition, Byron has also enjoyed some early success, winning seven races in the truck series in 2016 at age 18. He continued that success by winning four races in the Xfinity Series in 2017 at age 19 and becoming the champion that year. He is also positioned with Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 24 car ,which has also enjoyed some success over the past 25 years or so. He has the backing of a solid team to go along with a track record of success.
KS: What’s something you don’t currently do with your NASCAR cards that you would like to implement in the future?
TT: More unique pieces from the car, like seatbelts, maybe something under the hood, etc.
KS: What releases do you have coming in the pipeline?
TT: After Donruss, we have Victory Lane, Prizm and then Prime which was a new brand in 2018.
For more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer, follow him on Twitter @KelSchroy75.