Greatest Business Cards Ever?

07.31.2012

In helping to build hype for the 2012 National Sports Collectors Convention, Panini has been previewing items that will be available as part of their wrapper redemption program. Today’s sneak peek is an interesting one. Available exclusively via instant redemption cards are these “gems”:

That’s right, those are authentic Panini America emlpoyee autographed “work-worn” relic cards.

Not impressed? Well, consider these facts: 1) they are being offered as part of the wrapper redemption program exclusively at the National – they will not be inserted into packs of normal product, 2) they are free – Panini doesn’t OWE you anything for opening their product, this is just a freebie perk, so get over it, and 3) Panini itself is poking fun at the idea of having these cards produced. You can read the entire “reveal” blog post here.

At the very least, it gives collectors a chance to meet some of the top “insiders” at Panini America and serves as a conversation starter…a conversation which will no doubt lead to topics such as “What do you like about our cards?” or “How can we better serve your collecting interests?”

Most interesting, to me at least, is the video Panini posted of the making of. Obviously it focuses on these employee cards, but I assume this is pretty indicative of how all relic cards are producedand is pretty cool to watch.

Now, maybe I need to revisit my business card design…


Bravo, Panini

07.13.2012

Yes, it’s been a while. I know. Busy, busy.

Work.
Baby.
House.

Plus, the business side of 1&G has been doing great recently. That’s good, but it also means a lot more time and effort. Time and effort I used to spend on the blog side. I have been meaning to post for a while and have had several topics come and go without any writing. So instead of waiting for that magical moment when the stars align and I suddenly have tons of time and material, I’m going to try to ease back into this as time allows.

One of my thoughts on cards over the past several months has been the surprising improvement of Panini. After buying Donruss/Playoff, LP to enter the sports card market, Panini seemed to just pump out set after set of crap. Lots of uber-neutral and ho-hum designs. Nearly all sticker autos. Obvious backwards design flaws. One of the leading examples of these trends was always Prestige, the very early football release.

Let’s do a quick recap:

In 2010, Prestige featured all grey base cards, super close up photos of rookies with no uniform colors or logos showing (due to the set’s early release and Panini’s inability to show NCAA branding), and an overal blah feel to the product.

In 2011, Prestige added a bit of color to the card fronts and tried to make team logos more prevalent, but the rookie photos were still awful and despite the improved effort, the cards still felt very neutral and not particularly appealing.

Now, take a look at this:

Wow. What is this? Bold team colors. Prominent logos. Fantastic photo. Clean design. Instead of just taking a tired and old design and slightly tweaking it, Panini essentially threw away the Prestige of yesterday and completely redesigned the set. I’m not doing a full product review (and sadly, 1&G reviews may be dead for the time being), but I will point out that inserts were also pretty attractive and even…gasp…featured on-card autographs! Not every autograph, but some is better than none.

Is this a perfect card? No. Is it the end-all, be-all for early set releases? No. Would I be happy if every Prestige set in the future looks like this? Obviously not.

But it’s progress.

And that is very refreshing…


Product Review: 2011 Panini Threads

10.18.2011

Here is a funny realization. When I was getting ready to write this product review, I thought I’d go back and remind myself of how I viewed 2010 Panini Threads to see how much the product has changed. Right in the intro, I mentioned how I wasn’t doing so well with doing product reviews on a timely basis or even in order of release. I mentioned “If I do this again next year, hopefully I’ll be more relevant than I’ve turned out to be this year.” Yeah. About that.

On that note, here is a product review of a product that released about two months ago:

2011 Panini Threads box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 24 8-card packs for a total of 192 cards. I purchased this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $87.50, which translates into a $0.46/card ratio. That is an increase over last year, although I have a feeling I got a discount last year for buying the box so late, but it still lands Threads squarely as a lower mid-shelf product.

2011 Panini Threads Pack
Panini picked a good year to opt for rookies over Peyton for its packaging

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 177 (7 duplicates)
   Rookie Cards: 24 (included in base card total above)
Parallels
   Silver Parallel (#/250): 2
   Gold Parallel (#/100): 1
   Platinum Parallel (#/25): 1
Inserts
   Star Factor: 3
   Gridiron Kings: 2
   All-Rookie Team 2010: 1
   Heritage Collection: 1
   Generations: 1
   Triple Threat: 1
Hits
   Rookie Auto (#/299): 2
   Heritage Collection Jersey: 1
   Heritage Collection Jersey Prime (#/50): 1

2011 Panini Threads2011 Panini Threads
Click images for full-sized scans

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: decent. Last year’s design was spotty at best. Ultra-neutral. No logos. Blech. This year is better. We have material-esque design elements which tie in nicely to the “threads” theme of the product. We also have team color schemes right on the front of the card and team logos to boot. The card back is fairly attractive and shows a strong correlation to the card front. But while the product design is improved from last year, it could improve even more. The team logo is often lost in the photograph’s background. I’m personally not a fan of an all-horizontal set (issues with 9-pocket pages), but that is strictly a matter of opinion. Lastly, while I love the fact that the rookie cards look nearly identical to the veteran cards, I thought the photography used was terrible. Granted, when nearly all summer activities are cancelled and you can’t show anything college related, there aren’t a lot of options for rookie photographs.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: meh. The inserts, in my mind, were terrible. The parallels aren’t all THAT different, other than their serial numbers. The base inserts have obvious backward design flaws and just don’t do anything for me at all. I was especially a fan of the base heritage collection card. Could we make it any more obvious where the jersey swatch window has been replaced than with a beige fabric looking square? Yikes. The autographs were better than last year in that there was a faded area added to the card to help the autograph label “pop,” but there is still no evidence of actual effort to make the autograph cards special. Last year’s saving grace was the Gridiron Kings insert. This year, that is no longer the case. I’ve loved Gridiron King inserts of the past and this one fell terribly short. The artistic PhotoShop filter and slightly canvasy card stock don’t replicate original artwork on premium stock. For shame.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: improved. Last year, I pulled 177 base cards with a staggering 21 duplicates. This year I pulled 177 base cards and just 7 duplicates. I am almost never comfortable with duplicates from a single box, but at least the duplicate rate was slashed by 2/3 from last year. The obvious pickup was rookie cards. Last year’s box yielded just 6 (1 in 4 packs) while this year’s gave 24 (1 per pack). That’s another marked improvement. I wouldn’t say the collation was spectacular, but improvement in any area is appreciated.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: lacking. I just don’t see this being a hugely valuable product. I’m sure there are some great chase cards that could more than pay for several boxes, but the average card just won’t pull its own value in card stock. The base set, while better than last year, still isn’t something to write home about. Overall, I would say this was a rather forgetable box break. I’m not saying you won’t have better luck or won’t like the set, but after buying and reviewing as many different products as I have (which pales in comparision to others) I would put 2011 Panini Threads amongst the lower tiers of esteem.

RED ZONE RESULTS: LOST FUMBLE Specific elements of the product are definitely better than last year, but the overall product is still a lost cause in my opinion. I just didn’t feel like I had opened something special after all of the packs were empty. Some products have an overall appeal and you think “wow, that was fun” after busting a box. Some products deliver a few outstanding cards even if the majority were worthless. With 2011 Panini Threads, I didn’t get either of those feelings. As it turns out, 2011 Panini Threads is just another forgettable product from Panini America that fails to light up the scoreboard.

NEXT UP: 2011 Topps Finest


Product Review: 2011 Score

10.17.2011

Well, after much anticipation (or, perhaps, just a whole lot of delay and skipping around), we’re finally going to review 2011 Score. If procrastination was an art form, I’d be the next Picasso. Or at least Monet. Perhaps Howson? Anyway, here it is. Enjoy:

2011 Score box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with a whopping 36 7-card packs for a total of 252 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $26, which translates into a $0.10/card ratio. Score has consistently been the bargain bar setter in Football for many years, and 2011 is no exception. Keep that in mind when setting your expectations for the product.

2011 Score pack
Americana much?

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 174 (0 duplicates)
   Rookies: 36
Parallels
   Glossy: 36
   Gold Zone: 4
   Scorecard: 3
   Red Zone: 1
   End Zone: 1
Inserts
   Hot Rookies: 8
   Millennium Men: 5
   Complete Players: 6
   In the Zone: 8
Hits
   Signatures (base parallel): 1

2011 Score2011 Score
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: improved. Last year, I gave 2010 Score a fairly positive review, but I did note that the “kindergarten art table design elements” weren’t really doing it for me for the second year in a row. This year, Panini remade Score. The result reminds me of early 90s sets like Pro Set. It’s a very clean and simple design and I really like the use of team colors and those almost old school helmet images. The card backs are also really colorful and fun and tie in nicely to the design of the card front and I do like the little extra treatment the photo got (rather than simply copying and pasting from the front image). Overall it’s a great design for a low end set. There is one issue though. While white card borders are nothing new or even anything I typically complain about, the solid white border at the top of each base card seems a bit overkill. This area is effectively used for the parallel card notations (we’ll get to those), but is just far too wide on the base card. I noticed it with the very first pack and it stuck out like a sore thumb straight through Pack 36. It’s really a shame because it does take away from an otherwise solid card design.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: Overkill. The parallels are what really hurts this area. There are just far too many. In a product like Score, collectors aren’t going bonkers trying to collect all of the various parallels like they might with Topps Chrome or Finest. Parallels can be fun, and this is supposed to be a fun product, so keep 1, dump the rest. Especially the Glossy cards, which are barely distinguishable from the base cards. The other inserts aren’t all that bad. They might be a bit busy, but again, this is geared for the kiddies. And while I would normally be happy to pull a rookie autograph, I question if there should be any in this product. Score is low end. It has a big base set. Why does it need “hits”? These aren’t exactly highly prized autographed cards, so I’d rather Panini just not have any hits and reduce the price of the box even further. But that’s my opinion.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: outstanding. In 252 cards I pulled exactly zero duplicates. There are much higher end products that have well less than half of the cards per box that can’t boast a zero duplicate rate. That is a huge kudo for Score. You may not like the Jake Long base card you pulled, but at least you only pulled one.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: expected. I feel like I could just copy and paste my analysis from last year. Score is Score. You know exactly what you’re getting. You’re simply not getting a lot of raw value, but you also didn’t pay much. This is a great entry-level product and something that you could give to friends and family under 12. If you manage to turn just one of them into a lifelong collector or get to spend a few quiet moments sorting through cards with the TV off, 2011 Score just may be the most valuable product available.

RED ZONE RESULTS: FIELD GOAL 2011 Score isn’t a great product, but it’s also not terrible. There is definitely a lot of potential in those packs. Not necessarily monetary potential, but certainly priceless potential. I wouldn’t think twice about giving a stack of these cards to my son if he were a bit older (it’s hard to appreciate football cards when you’re three weeks old). They can teach colors, shapes, numbers, and organizational skills. They also don’t require batteries. In an age when everything makes noise or pleads for attention, a box of 2011 Score might be the best understated gift you could give a child this holiday season. I think that’s worth at least three points…

NEXT UP: 2011 Panini Threads


Product Review: 2011 Panini Rookies & Stars

08.18.2011

Here at 1st and Goal Sportscards, I reserve the right to make any last minute changes that I feel are necessary. One such change is being exhibited here. The past two product reviews have advertised that 2011 Score would be the next product to be reviewed. I have, in fact, purchased and busted a box of 2011 Score. But due, in part, to my laziness, I have not yet completely organized and scanned the cards, so that product review is on hold. To take its place is 2011 Panini Rookies and Stars. Enjoy.

2011 Panini Rookies & Stars box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 24 8-card packs for a total of 192 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $82, which translates into a $0.43/card ratio. Panini Rookies & Stars is pretty solidly a mid-shelf product and this average card cost backs that up. So you know what you should get: a lot of decent base cards a small sampling of nice jersey or autograph cards. Last year, Panini failed to deliver on the promise of the once great Rookies & Stars line. Were they able to improve on their efforts? Let’s find out…

2011 Panini Rookies & Stars pack
A very teal Blaine Gabbert joins AD for the packaging

The Breakdown:
Base Cards
   Veterans: 158 (10 duplicates)
   Rookies: 24 (0 duplicates)
Parallels
   Longevity (#/249): 2
   Longevity Holofoil (#/99): 1
   Longevity Gold (#/49): 1
Inserts
   Rookie Revolution: 1
   Rookie Revolution Gold (#/500): 1
   Studio Rookies: 1
   Studio Rookies Gold (#/500): 1
Hits
   SP Rookies Signatures (#/299): 1
   Rookie Autographs (#/300): 1
   Statistical Standout Jersey (#/299): 1
   Dress for Success Jersey (#/50): 1

2011 Panini Rookies & Stars2011 Panini Rookies & Stars
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: improved. In two words: VASTLY improved. Last year’s design was terrible. Panini had once again churned out an ultra-neutral and paint splattered set that was forgettable. This year, they redesigned almost the entire product and produced a set that has a certain simple elegance we don’t often see in the hobby anymore. The background of the player photo isn’t completely cut out but isn’t distracting. The surrounding design elements are subtle and have a minimalist quality to them. The card fronts still aren’t overly team oriented, but the quiet look makes the team logo “pop” much more than last’s year busy design. It’s not quite a perfect comparision, but this set really reminds me of older SP Authentic sets. And that’s a good thing. The card back is fairly standard Panini fare, but is also much better than last year. It’s just an overall much cleaner and more attractive product. One interesting note was the rookie card photographs. There was a fairly even distribution between three concepts: 1) ultra close-up to avoid showing college logos, 2) combine/training photos, 3) “look at my new jersey!” poses. I realize the lockout meant no NFL training camps prior to this product’s release, so I guess Panini did the best they could. I would have liked to see more Draft or Rookie Premiere shots though. Oh, and good call [sic] with including Terrell Pryor. Though maybe that’s just my Penn State bias shining through…

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: tired. Panini products really show cohesion in this department because every line of inserts feels the same. I’ll never understand having multiple parallels of inserts. Never. And can we ever have jersey or autograph cards that are specifically designed to be auto/jersey cards and basic inserts that are designed to be basic inserts? I hate when the auto sticker or jersey window are either hanging out in no man’s land or blatantly missing. I do like that Panini stuck with the Studio Rookies concept. They are pretty cool. I didn’t think to scan the back of one, but I really like that has a different photo, and the back of the player at that. Nice idea. I’m still not sure how to feel about the big name rookies only having a short print manu-patch auto for a base card, but the cards themselves are nice.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: conflicting. This has more to do with the comparision to last year. Last year I pulled 186 base cards with 27 duplicates. Abysmal. This year I pulled 182 base cards with 10 duplicates. Much better, but still pretty bad. As I said last year, I don’t know why half of the base set has to be short printed. The product is ROOKIES and STARS, not STARS & A FEW ROOKIES, which is what you actually pull. You want to short print the big names to drive market value. Fine. I won’t agree with it, but it’s not the worst marketing tool. But why are all rookies short printed? Give me fewer veterans and more base rookies and I’ll be happier.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: decent. I definitely could have done worse with my hit pulls, but I also could have done much worse. I do feel like I got a Patriots hot box, though. I opened this box with a buddy who is a huge Ravens fan, so he was definitely disappointed with that fact. The base cards may not have huge value from a resale standpoint. However, from a purely collecting view, they are fantastic because they are well designed and overall attractive. If you’re sorting through a stack of sleeved cards in your player collection or paging through a binder of your team collection, these cards are going to stand out for good reasons. And really, let’s keep in mind that this is a HOBBY. You may not make a fiscal gain buying a box of 2011 Panini Rookies & Stars, but your enjoyment and pleasure with your beloved hobby should profit.

RED ZONE RESULTS: FIELD GOAL This product doesn’t quite have what it takes to find paydirt, but I really think it was the collation issues on third down that was the shortfall. I cannot say enough how pleasantly surprised I was with the base cards. The inserts could still use some work, but are by no means the worst I have seen. With a bit of a tweak to the veteran to rookie base card ratio, this could be a very solid product. So we’ll say 2011 Panini Rookies & Stars only managed a field goal, but did so in a very tight defensive battle where every point counts. It certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory, but could still be the difference maker at the end of the game.

NEXT UP: 2011 Score (if I feel like it…)


Product Review: 2011 Donruss Elite

08.02.2011

Here is a pop quiz for you: What has two thumbs, buys football cards, and then waits well over a month to post a review? THIS GUY. I don’t know what my deal is recently. Other than all of the time constraint complaints I’ve listed before, there really is no excuse for this. The lockout is over. The release calendar is heating up. This is when I should just be gearing up, not slowing down. I’ll work on that. While I do, here is a review of 2011 Donruss Elite:

2011 Donruss Elite box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 20 5-card packs for a total of 100 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $93, which translates into a reasonable $0.93/card ratio. Donruss Elite has been one of the more stable products in terms of price and expectations. It seems like it has always been the quintessential mid-shelf, pre-season release. In an NFL off-season full of so many uncertainties, it was nice to have a familiar product to open. The only problem is now half of the players have the wrong team logo on their cards…

2011 Donruss Elite pack
AD…as in “Advertising Demon”…he moves products

The Breakdown:
Base Cards
   Veterans: 86 (0 duplicates)
   Rookies (#/999): 4
Inserts
   NFL/Team Logos (#/999): 3
   Hit List (#/999): 1
   Craftsmen (#/999): 1
   Power Formulas (#/999): 1
   Legends of the Fall (#/999): 1
   Rookie Aspirations Die-Cut (#/85): 1
Hits
   Craftsmen Jerseys (#/299): 1
   Power Formulas Jerseys (#/299): 1
   Turn of the Century Rookie Autographs (#/499): 1
   Rookie Aspirations Die-Cut Autographs (#/49): 1
   Printing Plate (1/1): 1

2011 Donruss Elite2011 Donruss Elite
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: retro. I’m not talking about the faux retro that has been all the rage the past few years, I’m talking about mid- to late-90s awesomeness. Maybe that’s not retro to very many collectors, but it definitely takes me back to a simpler time. But not simpler cards. When I peeled back the wrapper of the first pack and saw this year’s base design, I may have actually said out loud, “That’s actually pretty cool.” It definitely reminds me of a lot of sets in the 90s that had bold player images on top of a shiny silver backgrounds (that still don’t scan well appreantly). I still think the Panini brethren could have built in some logos or team colors on the card front as they are still terribly sterile, but at least the base design is solid. The card backs are…well, they’re Panini card backs. I swear one day they’re just going to say “Eff it, let’s just copy and paste the card backs for all our products this year” because they’re definitely moving in that direction. One side note, I still don’t understand the idea behind making base rookie cards completely different than the base veterans. I’m cool with some sort of “rookie” designation, but the entirely different design just seems odd to me. It takes most of the box until I figure out if I’m pulling base rookies or some special serial numbered insert, especially when I’m only pulling 4 RCs in an entire box.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: meh. The whole “let’s cut the player out of a great action shot and put him on a designed background with a whole bunch of lines and shapes” is starting to get trite. It’s actually getting to the point where I don’t like pulling basic inserts. And that makes me sad. Really sad. Because there was a time when I LOVED inserts. But that was before pack-inserted autographs, jersey swatches, and ultra low numbered parallels took the Hobby Throne. I’m also not sure what the point of serial numbering everything out of 999 is. Granted, this comes from a guy who used to be stoked to pull a card #1596/3100. The times they are a-changing. But not always for the best. Panini did an alright job here, and their insert concepts seem to be getting better, but it’s still pretty glaring when your insert doesn’t have the jersey swatch or auto sticker…even though there is a convenient slot waiting for them. I also don’t really get the NFL/Team logo cards. Let’s just make it glaringly obvious there is a better version of this card out there that I’ll never pull. I will say the Legends of the Fall backdrop is cool. I’m a sucker for awesome sunsets. The rookie Aspirations are a nice set. Pretty basic design and die-cut. I like that.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: adequate. I didn’t pull a single duplicate, which was good. Granted, I would be livid if I had some with just 100 cards in a box. I also got all of the “hits” I was told I’d get, so that is a plus. My only concern here would be the lack of true rookie cards. Like it or not, the RC still rules the day. And in a product where I’m only pulling 4 RCs, there’s just not a lot of ruling going on. I’d rather them not serial number the crap out of the product and just print more rookie cards. Maybe they wouldn’t be worth as much that way, but when most of them are selling for less than $2, I don’t think it really matters. So called quality is not always preferred to quantity. Ask the folks who buy Score.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: solid. I didn’t pull that one showcase card, but I feel like most people don’t. If every box supplied a showcase worthy gem, we’d need an awfully large showcase. But I would say I’m fairly happy with the results. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to recover my entire $93 on the secondary market, but it was certainly fun opening a product that reminded me of younger days. I also have some very nice cards to put into team lots now, so folks don’t wind up getting 25 lame base cards for $5. I try to add value to each lot, and these will certainly help.

RED ZONE RESULTS: FIELD GOAL I don’t know what else to give this box. I already admitted earlier this year that I’ll probably be more generous with my red zone results this year than in the past, so this is par for the course I suppose. It’s also becoming tough to give incredibly unique final results in this template. Maybe if I had a 0-100 scale I could be more specific, but for now, this product gets lumped in with the rest of the boxes that could survive in the Big Ten. A lot of potential, a little flash, definitely some hype, but at the end of the day, it just settles for a field goal so it can get back on defense.

NEXT UP: 2011 Score


Product Review: 2011 Panini Prestige

07.01.2011

Well, I’m FINALLY getting around to doing another product review. For whatever reason, things have slowed down on eBay but picked up at home, which means reduced cash flow and less time for busting wax. But nevertheless, we’re back at it with a few boxes in hand. First up is Panini’s 2011 debut, Prestige.

2011 Panini Prestige box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 24 8-card packs for a total of 192 cards. I dropped $82 for this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World, which translates into a moderate $0.43/card ratio. That is about right for a pre-season release, and is actually cheaper than the same product (and same card-per box count) last year. Perhaps the industry realizes the still looming lock-out will affect collector interest? Or maybe there’s just less value in a box. Let’s see if we can figure it out:

2011 Panini Prestige pack
Panini’s infatuation with Peyton Manning did not carry into 2011

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 145 (23 duplicates – 1 triplet)
   Rookies: 25 (5 free agent rookies)
Parallels
   Draft Picks (#/999): 2
   Xtra Points Gold (#/250): 2
   Xtra Points Red (#/100): 2
Inserts
   Inside the Numbers: 1
   NFL Draft Shield: 3
   Stars of the NFL: 4
   League Leaders: 1
   Rookie Review: 1
   Rookie Passport: 1
   Connections: 1
   Prestigious Pros: 7 (5 Red; 1 Gold #/100; 1 Black #/25)
Hits
   Base Jersey Parallel: 1
   Stars of the NFL Jerseys (#/250): 1
   Prestigious Pros Jerseys (#/90): 1
   Draft Picks Rights Auto: 2 (1 #/599; 1 #/299)

2011 Panini Prestige2011 Panini Prestige
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: typical. When I opened the first pack of the box and pawed through the first few base cards, I wasn’t exactly shocked. Granted, in the instant gratification, super up-to-date information age we currently find ourselves, nothing is all that shocking anymore. But my point is that the design of 2011 Panini Prestige is what I would expect it to be: fairly decent photography, ultra neutral color-scheme, fairly simple design, single-line statistics and short narrative on the back. Check, check, check, and check. And actually, there’s nothing wrong with that. The set isn’t a mere copy of last year, but it also isn’t a complete reinvention. If you really liked last year’s set, you’ll probably like this year’s set. If you hated 2010 Prestige, there’s a good chance you’ll hate 2011 Prestige. I do like that Panini didn’t make the rookie cards completely different this time, but I still don’t know that they did it right. By using ultra-tight cropping and nearly all air-brushed college helmet photos, there is absolutely no sense of action on the cards. If you want close head-shots, cool, but then get actual head shots and not 93% helmet shots. The faded team logo area (a.k.a. where the sticker is applied for the autographed versions) also gives the rookies just an “off” look. This is especially prevalent with the free agent rookies. (Side note: 20% of my base rookies were unsigned free agents — does that seem a bit high to anyone else?) To see a side-by-side comparision of the drafted vs. unsigned free agent rookie cards, click here.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: overkill. Similar to last year, I feel there are just too many meaningless inserts in this product. I remember when inserts used to be something special, now they are practically (or completely) less valuable than the base cards. Give me one or two insert sets, but then give me several in a box — not this 1 card per set per box crap. Panini also still has design issues when it comes to basic vs. “hit” inserts. It seems they either design a nice “chase” hit that then has an awful base design (backwards design) or they have a decent base card with an awkward floating swatch window. Hopefully they figure it out soon. One key: make hits their own insert set with a unique design. Design each type of card as its own card. It’s really not that hard…

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: blech. Last year, my hobby box came with 24 8-card packs and contained exactly 0 duplicates. This year, my hobby box came with 24 8-card packs and contained a staggering 23 duplicates, 1 of which was a triplet. That is terrible. And what caused such a turn around in just one year? Obviously machine-collated products can never be perfect, and this box may be an anomally rather than the norm, but yikes. The only saving grace was that I got 1 extra hit in my box than the four advertised. Granted, when that fifth hit is a base jersey of Mike Sims-Walker, it’s not exactly a huge payoff.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: decent. You can pretty much anticipate what you’re going to pull from pre-season releases like this. You’ll get the better-than-average base cards, the worthless inserts, and the slew of rookies that could turn out to be future HOFers or the next duds. As the first card release of the year to have NFL logos, Panini Prestige does have an advantage over the other early releases, but the lockout HAS to be affecting collector interest and perceived value. Even guys like Cam Newton and Mark Ingram may not get a chance to prove their value for over a year, the same as any other slum rookie. No season also means no chance for a draft sleeper to shock the world. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks, not only from a sport enjoyment stance, but also in the hobby ramification perspective.

RED ZONE RESULTS: MISSED FIELD GOAL The base cards really aren’t bad and the final version of the autographed cards are actually pretty nice. However, the rookie cards, more or less the focus of a pre-season release like Prestige, still miss the mark. Couple that with the excessive insert seedings and absurd duplicate rate, and I just can’t give 2011 Panini Prestige any points. I want to like this product because the Prestige line was always one of my favorites when Playoff was still an independent manufacturer, but Panini just can’t seem to get it quite right. Prestige is supposed to be something special and prestine. The past few years however, have just been mediocre.

NEXT UP: 2011 Topps Rookies Rising