Or: “Why I hope the NFL never awards an exclusive card license”
Over the past few years as the Hobby has been rocked by company after company losing licenses and/or obtaining exclusive card-producing rights, one of the biggest complaints from consumers has been the stalemate fear. If one company gets an exclusive license for a particular sport, there will no longer be outside competition and thus the products (and ultimately the consumer) would suffer in the long run. Eventually the exclusive producer would just stop caring and would turn the card machine on auto-pilot and just crank out set after set with no creativity and perhaps no real differences.
Why wait for an exclusive contract?
In the wake of the license shake ups, only one of the major sports leagues was not under an exclusive contract at some point: the NFL. If you don’t include the few days between when it denied Upper Deck its license renewal and regranted a license to Topps, the NFL has always maintained multiple active card contracts and has secured competition in the collectibles market. Yet despite this competition and what would normally be a drive to innovate beyond the other guy, both Panini and Topps have taken an exclusive mentality into the football card world.
It is widely argued that Panini products feature backwards design issues across nearly all of its products, cards are rarely if ever hard-signed, and card designs are often either uber-neutral or incredibly cluttered. Perhaps being the new kid on the block, or buying out a quickly struggling Donruss Playoff LP company, set Panini up for such public critique. What you don’t find nearly as much is talk of how Topps is just as guilty of phoning it in. I’ll admit that I often gush over Topps’ products while criticizing Panini’s. In my opinion, Topps has simply had better designed cards with more overall value. But Topps is not completely off the hook.
The past three Topps products to be reviewed here at 1&G were Topps Finest, Topps Platinum, and Topps Prime. All three of these sets got above average reviews. Although I did note that Topps Platinum had an awful lot of similarities to Topps Finest, I didn’t specifically mention one item that I’d like to highlight now.
When did Topps’ card designers find the copy and paste feature?
When you take a look at the card fronts, nothing is terribly obvious. Here are three of the base cards taken from the 1&G Reviews:
Other than perhaps pointing out that all three have curved lines in their graphic design elements, nothing really jumps out as being the same. Even the Topps logo varies from set to set. Things take a little different turn once we take a look at the card backs:
All three sets have the exact same card back elements: full name, position, height, weight, college, drafted, most recent season stats, career stats, copyright info. You could argue that almost all cards have those elements. It’s what we expect to find on the card back. But take a look at the write up. While some cards will have a short bio or humerious anecdote, all three of these sets have a “best moment” type write up with a set-themed title.
I wish I had chosen to scan the Sam Bradford card from Topps Finest (all of my extra base cards were shipped out in the group break, well before I busted Platinum and Prime and realized the similarities). I suppose for a long time veteran like Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson, all three sets could have similar themes but widely different highlights. But when you have a sophomore star like Bradford, how many ways can you point out that he had a spectacular rookie season?
Maybe I am just reading too much into it. Maybe I just expect too much variety in the 20 different sets released by each company each year. Maybe I just haven’t stood on my dusty soapbox enough recently. But all I can really say at this point is that if we are getting such a lack of creativity and originality in a competitive market, I do not want to know what would happen if the NFL ever awards an exclusive card-producing contract.