Product Review: 2011 SAGE Autographed

05.04.2011

In exercising my editorial powers as sole owner and administrator for this blog, I am making an executive decision to change the lineup of my product reviews. I’m skipping 2011 Upper Deck for now because I can’t decide what else I should add to my online order and am jumping ahead to 2011 SAGE Autographed.

2011 SAGE Autographed box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 14 3-card packs for a total of 42 cards. I got this box directly from SAGE Collectibles, but current online prices are around $126, which translates into a tidy $3.00/card ratio. Anything beyond $1/card branches into my discomfort zone, but SAGE promises one autograph in every pack, so let’s see what’s in there:

2011 SAGE Autographed pack
1 auto in each of these bad boys

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 26 (0 duplicates)
Inserts
   Through the Lens: 2
Autographs
   Red Autos: 2
   Silver Autos: 2
   Gold Autos (#/200): 8
   Platinum Autos (#/50): 2

2011 SAGE Autographed2011 SAGE Autographed
Click image for full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a product that is dominated by autograph inserts, its tough to have a base card worth caring about. Most times, the base card either comes off as an autograph card that just didn’t get the autograph or a unique but half-hearted design that could just be left out of packs and collectors would be just as happy. 2011 SAGE Autograph doesn’t completely break that mold, but it definitely puts some substantial cracks in it. The base card is very similar to the autographed card, but subtle differences like the length of the diagnoal background lines and in which layer the player photo is give it a distinct feel. Once again, SAGE has trumped most other companies by having three different player photos on the same card (two on front, one on back). And speaking of the card back, the stats and bio are arranged nicely to tie in strongly with the theme on the front. So in summary, the base card isn’t the greatest design I’ve ever seen, but it is very solid. And as I said, that is (sadly) pretty rare for an autograph-focused product.

2nd Down, Inserts: I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled the first “Through the Lens” insert, particularly since I did not realize there would be any inserts besides the autographs. This mini set is actually a really nice concept and captures the photographer’s perspective on things. As someone who has a fairly strong interest in photography, that definitely piqued my interest. It was a nice way to break up what could have been a monotonous stack of base cards after the excitement of the autographs died away. Speaking of the autographs, we’ll finally get to the point of this product. I like that SAGE distinguishes its autographs cards from the non-signed base cards. Too often we see great designs diminished when the execs decide to just slap on an autographed label. The movement of the player photo from in front to behind the diagonal panel allows the autograph to be the main focus of the card without making it feel like the photograph then becomes an after thought. Also, and I say this while admiting that I don’t have the cards in front of me, I believe the player photographs were even different from the base to autograph versions, which is another great feature. Lastly, this is how parallels are done right. The only differences are a change in graphic element color scheme and hand-written serial numbers. Nothing over the top but nothing so minute that it goes unnoticed.

3rd Down, Collation: It’s tough to argue with a product that has a very simple configuration and delivers exactly what is promised. I was supposed to pull 1 autograph and two base cards from each of the 14 packs in this box, and that’s just what I got. It is interesting to note, however, that I pulled way more Gold autographs than anything else combined. It leads me to believe that just because Red and Silver autos aren’t serial numbered, doesn’t mean they are super printed. Obviously I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t pull any Master Edition 1/1s, but with only 60 cards in the checklist, the odds of pulling one are pretty slim. The only issue I noted with collation was that I pulled both of the Through the Lens inserts within the first three packs of the box. I’m not really sure what that might say about the collation of the entire packout; it’s just an observation.

EDIT: SAGE President Tom Geideman just informed me that the rare autographs (Triple Autographs #/5, Aspire Autographs #/5, Draft Cam Autographs #/2, and Master Edition Autographs 1/1) were all case hits with nearly every case of 2011 SAGE Autographed containing just one of those.

4th Down, Overall Value: In any product that’s over the $1/card mark, it gets awfully tough to have a very solid overall value projection. Given this set’s obvious autograph focus, looking strictly at the autograph card values may prove more helpful. If the going rate for a box is about $126, that gives each boxed autograph a $9 pricetag. Are you going to get $9 for every auto in the box? Obviously not. But hopefully, as in my case, you pull at least one great card to offset that problem. Blaine Gabbert’s autos seem to sell in the $30 ballpark, meaning he alone is covering almost 1/4 of the box price. Unfortunately, the value of your box of 2011 SAGE Autographed will come down to which cards you pull. But then again, isn’t that true of any product? I wouldn’t call buying a box a lottery ticket like I do with really high end stuff, but I also can’t say buying a box is a sure way to get a return on your investment. There is literally value in every pack of this product though, so that gets a huge nod in my book.

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, FAILED PAT I’m going to run the risk of sounding like a broken record this year, but I feel like 2011 SAGE Autograph also finds paydirt yet muffs the PAT. The design is solid, the collation appears to be spot-on, and the value is definitely present. Unfortunately, this whole licensing issue is a drag. One aspect that is really helping SAGE however is the fact that they are going out and getting exclusive photo sessions with the players and really making an effort to present something unique, rather than simply airbrushing logos off helmets. In its first full year of being without a license, SAGE, in my opinion, is truly going the extra mile to give the fans products that are worth collecting, and 2011 SAGE Autographed is no exception.

NEXT UP: 2011 Upper Deck (unless I make another last minute executive decision)

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Product Preview: 2011 SAGE Autographed

04.26.2011

Here are some details about the new 2011 SAGE Autographed product, which is due to hit hobby shelves today. Keep in mind, this information was released directly by SAGE Collectibles and as such, First and Goal Sportscards does not guarantee any card seedings or box break results.

SAGE Autographed Football 2011 is breaking new ground. In the history of trading cards there has never been an autographed-card-per-pack product issued BEFORE the draft of the players featured inside. SAGE Autographed Football 2011, arriving at distributors on Tuesday, April 26 will be the first, launching days before the April 28-30 draft. The product will feature one authentic autographed card inserted into every pack – without any redemptions. Collectors will be able to pull the limited Platinum Level (#’d 50), Gold Level (#’d to 200) and Silver and Red levels (both not #’d). In addition they’ll find randomly inserted much rarer autographed cards including Master Edition 1/1 Autographed Cards, Triple Autographed Cards (#’d to 5) featuring three authentic autographs per card (such as the National Champions card featuring Cam Newton, Nick Fairley and Mario Fannin), and Aspire Autographed Cards (#’d to 5) of the top 8 skill position players in the draft (Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder, AJ Green, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram).



Click each thumbnail for a full-sized scans

But that’s not all, if all goes as expected it won’t be long on April 28th before the name Cam Newton is called. It’s with that in mind that SA-GE Collectibles, Inc. has included the innovative “Draft Cam” insert (#’d to only 11 each) and autographed cards (#’d to only 2 each!).




Click each thumbnail for a full-sized scan


Cam Newton Variation Explained

04.20.2011

Last week when I was reviewing 2011 SAGE Hit High Series, I noticed what appeared to be a Cam Newton short print variation of the #100 base card. I speculated it was added to provide another chase element to the product, although nothing had been reported.


Cam Newton Base Variations

Tom Geideman, president of SAGE Collectibles, read that review and had this to say:

So that you’re aware this is what happened with the Cam Newton dual base card situation:

We were missing a photo of one of the Pre-Rookie cards (Ryan Mallett PR6) so we either had to delay the sheets being turned over to the printer or risk missing our date. We opted to fill that missing spot with a ‘new’ card to add value to the product without having to spend a lot of time getting a new design, etc. The solution we came up with was inserting a second version of the Cam Newton base card to replace the Mallett Pre-Rookie, and then print the Mallett PR6 card on a digital sheet (much quicker to do than the conventional printing). To make sure collectors were able to determine what we had done, we made the photo of one on the left and the photo of the other Newton base card on the right. The Newton base card variation is done at the same printing quantity as the other 4 Pre-Rookie cards in High Series. The Mallett Pre-Rookie card – because it was digitally printed – is much more short-printed.

We weren’t trying to pull a fast one at all, just trying to hit our packaging dates while still trying to add some value to the product.

So there you have it. Not truly a short printed variation per se, but definitely a distinct card in and of itself. And as it turns out, there is a short print card, but it is actually the Ryan Mallet Pre-Rookie insert.

Thanks, Tom, for the clarification and the collector information!


Product Review: 2011 SAGE Hit High

04.14.2011

Riding this sudden wave of reviews for all its worth, and just because I like to bring things full circle, here is a review of 2011 SAGE Hit High Series. How does that bring things full circle? you may ask. I’ll tell you. This week started off with a review of 2011 SAGE Hit Low Series. While released about three weeks apart, Hit Low and High series are essentially two halves of the same set. Even the insert sets were cut in half. Not following along? Ask one of your baseball card buddies. Topps has been doing this for years in that sport. Now, without further ado, here is the review of 2011 SAGE Hit High:

2011 SAGE Hit High box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 30 5-card packs for a total of 150 cards. I got this box directly from SAGE Collectibles, but current online prices are around $98, which translates into a moderate $0.65/card ratio. Yes, for all of you keeping track at home, that is higher than a box of Low Series. Why? You get an average of 10 autographs per hobby box with High versus just 6 with Low. I’m going to go ahead and guess the extra 4 autos are worth the additional $6.

2011 SAGE Hit High pack
1 insert in each of these bad boys

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 116 (66 duplicates)
   Pre-Rookies: 4
Parallels
   Silver: 5
   Gold: 3
Inserts
   Write Stuff: 3
   Big Time: 7
   Make Ready (#/50): 2
Hits
   Red Autos: 5
   Silver Autos: 2
   Gold Autos (#/250): 3

2011 SAGE Hit High2011 SAGE Hit High
Click image for full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: Seeing as how this is just part 2 of the Hit brand, there is not much left to say after my review of the Low Series. You will note that due to this dual review for essentially the same product, I took a slightly different approach to scanning the cards by showing almost all backs. I’ve got the base front in case you forgot what it looks like (I also got a sample back scanned with the Low review), but now you can see the Artistry and Pre-Rookie card backs. The Artistry (and Big Time inserts) are the only cards to have the same photograph on the front and back. That’s almost unheard of these days, which is a shame. Even the Pre-Rookies have a different back photo from each player’s high school days. It’s the little details like these that matter to me, which is why I really do like this product. I know that’s not the popular response to SAGE’s offerings, but if I were just going to spout out the popular responses to everything, you’d have no reason to read this blog as someone somewhere would surely post faster than I do for every product. These reviews, other than giving raw information on pricing and box break results/collation, are purely opinion pieces. But you already knew that…

2nd Down, Inserts: Similar to the base cards, HIT High Series has the same inserts has Low Series. In fact, the numbering just picks right up from where Low Series left off. I did think to scan a base silver parallel and an Artistry gold parallel so you can see what they look like. Certainly a lot more foilization than the Pre-Rookie parallels I featured in the Low scans. I thought foil-ization-izing the position letters was a nice attention-to-details touch. I’ve also got a scan of the back of one of those Write Stuff cards so you can see what I meant about the signature characteristics analysis. You also get a back of an autograph card (which, I’ll add, has a different photo than the front), which is a rare sight on these products reviews. But don’t be too alarmed, there’s also a whopping 9 autograph fronts for your viewing pleasure. Oh, and for the record, I still like the Big Time inserts. Call me old school. Call me pathetic. Call me what you will. I like them. Deal with it.

3rd Down, Collation: Interestingly enough, this is one area that actually got worse from Low to High series. By adding 4 more autograph cards (on average, of course), I figured there would just be 4 fewer base duplicates. That was not the case. In fact, I actually got 3 ADDITIONAL duplicates in this box. Which area was impacted the most? Silver parallels apparently. I doubt that is indicative of the entire print run, but I got significantly fewer silver parallels in this box (5 vs. 10 – a 50% drop off) while almost all other base/subset/insert card seedings remained the same. I do suppose however, that I have misclassified one of those base duplicates. It wasn’t until I was sorting the cards after the bust that I discovered this little nugget:


An unannounced Cam Newton SP variation?

Apparently ol’ Tom Geideman is up to some trickery because I haven’t seen any short print variations announced anywhere, but those sure look like different card fronts of the Cam Newton base card, while both are #100 on the back.

4th Down, Overall Value: This area would probably be the most repetitive if I were to write out my evaluation. If you want to know my thoughts, just read the review of the Low Series. I will say that the High Series does pack a bit more punch for the buck by adding 4 additional autographs while the hobby box price is only about $6 higher. That takes the cost per autograph (discounting all other cards to $0.00) from $15.33 to $9.80. Not a bad progression. Yes, the secondary market value will diminish once the “big companies” start releasing sets, particularly once the first sets that feature the rookies in their new NFL unis are released. But what doesn’t change after time is the look and feel of the cards. If you like what you see from these products, don’t let market trends and popular opinion force your hand. It’s your collection. You collect what you like. If you pick up cards that you’ll treasure for years to come at a decent dollar, then you’ve found some excellent “overall value.” On the other hand, if you’re looking at these early pre-draft sets with purely prospecting motives, you’ll probably get burned. That’s just the nature of the card hobby. Enjoy it in whatever fashion you like.

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, FAILED PAT It seems ridiculous to give this box a different result than the Low Series box. The only way I could see that happening is if I had pulled absolute garbage from one box and nothing but class-A prospect autographs in the other. Or if the inserts and/or seedings were wildly different. But they’re not. So again, SAGE Hit finds paydirt but fails to capitalize on the PAT attempt. What can I say, I try to be consistent. What I’m curious to know is now that SAGE already has 12 points on the board after just two boxes, whether or not Panini will manage to score that many points all season.

NEXT UP: 2011 Upper Deck (or 2010 Topps Supreme if I decide to wrap up my old product reviews before moving further along the new release calendar)


Product Review: 2011 SAGE Hit Low

04.11.2011

Here it is: the 2011 season debut of 1&G Product Reviews. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Wait, is it just me or did the last few episodes from last season never air?” No, it’s not just you. There are 3-4 2010 product reviews that I never got around to writing up. I do have the scans and the product breakdowns, so I just believe they are on hold for right now. Perhaps we’ll go on a review frenzy and knock them all out in a weak wacky wax week. But for now, I’d prefer not to delay the 2011 reviews any longer than they’ve already been delayed. I’ve got 4 boxes of 2011 product busted already, the first was 2011 SAGE Hit Low Series, as reviewed below:

2011 SAGE Hit Low box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 30 5-card packs for a total of 150 cards. I got this box directly from SAGE Collectibles, but current online prices are around $92, which translates into a moderate $0.61/card ratio. That may seem a smidge high for a pre-draft set with no college licenses, but you do get 6 inserted autographs per box. At $15 per auto, that is actually a decent bargain, compared to other slightly cheaper boxes that only have 1-2 autographs.

2011 SAGE Hit Low pack
1 insert in each of these bad boys

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 113 (63 duplicates)
   Pre-Rookies: 6 (1 duplicate)
Parallels
   Silver: 10
   Gold: 3
Inserts
   Write Stuff: 3
   Big Time: 6
   Make Ready (#/50): 2
Hits
   Red Autos: 2
   Silver Autos: 2
   Gold Autos (#/250): 2

2011 SAGE Hit Low2011 SAGE Hit Low
Click image for full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: When you are a small and fairly young company, and you’ve lost your main license agreement, you had better come up with a solid card design to make your product worthwhile. In my opinion, SAGE Collectibles did just that with 2011 Hit. Instead of just grabbing a hodge-podge mix of poor quality photos and airbrushing out logos, SAGE went the extra mile and actually scheduled exclusive photo shoots with most of the athletes (along with Senior Bowl and workout shoots). Granted, the photography isn’t the intense and raw in-game imagery you may find in other sets, but it works. This is a pre-draft rookie set, so why not show the athletes in their pre-draft mode? The overall design of the cards is clean and simple. The player name font ties nicely into the SAGE/Hit theme. I particularly like the blue glow player image. What really takes it up a notch is realizing that these aren’t stock football player images. Rather, they are processed in-game photos of the athletes themselves. When you factor in the unique photo on the back of the card, that’s THREE different images of each player per card! Not bad for some unlicensed pre-draft set. Speaking of the card back, this is about as solid of a back as you could have. Unique player image, graphic design background, comprehensive player stats AND a very short bio. That’s nice. I also like the artistry subset. Yes, I realize these aren’t original paintings, but it still shows effort to make the set stand out. It is also a very effective way to help mask the lack of college helmet logos. Lastly, I was skeptical at first about the horizontal lines running through the background of each card, especially the upper one, but seeing the set altogether, it actually works. Each card naturally bleeds to the next, and there is a strong sense of continuity within the set, especially when placed in a 9-pocket album page.

2nd Down, Inserts: This was a big area for SAGE to either make or break the product. To me, they made it. I forgot to scan a base card parallel, but the silver and gold foils are actually pretty cool. Similar to 2010 Hit, the parallels appear to have small bits of foil or glitter pressed onto the card surface. But unlike those awful birthday cards you get from your grandparents, this shiny doesn’t rub off on your hands and everything else in the house. The Pre-Rookie cards are nothing extraordinary, but it is an interesting concept. It is similar to when NFL sets throw in a few cards with stars in their college unis. In a set with mostly college players, it makes sense to show the stars in their high school unis. The Write Stuff insert is a nice concept. I like the classic feel to it and once again we’ve got TWO player images on the same card. The card back takes a look at various features of the player’s signature and describes player aspects based on those features, which is actually pretty interesting. There is also an actual autograph version of this card where the patented SAGE auto label replaces the faux printed sig. The autograph cards are decent. Again, there is a simple design, but hints of solid design and graphical work like the subtle shadowing around the autograph label and the glare from the background stadium lights. The Make Ready cards, similar to last year’s effort, are still awaiting the jury’s decision. It is an interesting concept, but in an age when actual 1/1 printing plates are often pack inserted, having printing plate-like cards #/50 just seems a bit off. The cyan, magenta, and black cards aren’t bad, but I did pull a yellow card that is very hard to see, especially in the dim lighting of my living room. Lastly, the Big Time insert. Based on comments from fans when I premiered the exclusive first look at this insert, it is obvious that not everyone has the same opinion. I, for one, LOVE this insert set. There, I said it. This set reminds me of old athlete posters and card sets from my childhood. The colors grab you and the graphic artist really nailed the photograph munipulation. The Big Time attributes could have been a bit stronger and the suped up portion of the player could have been a bit more “suped-up”, but hopefully that is just room for improvement next year.

3rd Down, Collation: If you are like me, and God help you if you are, your first thought after reading the breakdown above should be, “113 base cards with 63 duplicates! Holy cow!” And yes, there are a lot of duplicates in a hobby box. There are a few saving graces: 1) you should definitely be able to pull the entire 50-card base set; 2) you can probably get 2 complete base sets. I think I only had 2 cards that had a single copy in my box. So if you really like the base set, you can go halves with a buddy and each take away a complete base set, a handful of inserts, and 3 autographs. Speaking of autos, I find it interesting that I pulled exactly 2 reds, 2 silvers, and 2 golds. I am going to assume that is not a coincidence. If SAGE is really the only company that has an all-hands on deck approach to product pack outs, then this sort of very consistent collation should come as no surprise.

4th Down, Overall Value: This is always a tough category to grade, especially for early pre-draft sets. This was the first 2011 product on the calendar, bringing you the first cards, and perhaps more importantly, the first autographs of this year’s draftees. There is definitely value in that. On the other hand, a lot of these pre-draft sets diminish in value quickly once the first post-draft and NFL-licensed sets are released and definitely once there are cards with rookies in full NFL unis. On the optimist side of things, you’re getting 6 autographs for the same price you’d usually get 2-3. On the pessimist side, highly touted rookies could turn out to be flops and singles you’re trying to unload in $1 lots could turn out to be future studs; there is a lot of risk in prospecting. So it depends what the focus of your collection is. If you like complete sets, this is a great early season set to collect and it’s easy to complete. If you like prospecting and the risk/reward it entails, this set could pay dividends. If you are a player collector, this set gives you a great way to kick-start a favorite rookie collection. If you view cards as an investment that will pay for college, you definitely want to look the other way. But then again, if you think pieces of card stock with 22-year-olds pictured on them are a safe investment for the future, you may want to seek professional financial consultation before making any decisions. And I mean any.

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, FAILED PAT I like this set. I really do. The solid base design, the unique inserts, and the autograph content are all there. In the first full year in dealing with the licensing issue, SAGE stepped up its game and created some really nice cards. It could have played it safe by kicking a field goal and basically recycling a prior design with airbrushed logos. But it didn’t. It took a risk and went for gold with its graphic artist(s) and unique artwork. The Big Time insert did it for me. That set alone found paydirt for this entire set. That insert isn’t like anything else on the market right now and isn’t just a stale reproduction of an old design like all of the throwbacks sets. It really stands out, in a good way. My only complaint is that there are only 15 Big Time cards (30 if you include the Low and High series together). Unfortunately, the licensing issue blocked the PAT attempt. I hate to even mention it because it’s not their own doing, but all SAGE products took a hit when Upper Deck decided it was more important to throw money into an exclusive NCAA license rather than actually revise its business model and figure out why it just lost nearly all of its professional licenses. In the football card market, we expect to see action shots in full pads and helmets. We want to see that “game face” of our favorite players. We need to feel that twinge of team pride when we see a certain animal and combination of colors. But for now, SAGE can only offer artistic renderings and studio/work out photos. It’s a shame, too. Can you imagine how exponentially greater this set would be with full licensing? Upper Deck had better hope it never loses that exclusive deal because SAGE is one David that is poised and ready to dominate that Goliath.

NEXT UP: 2011 Leaf Metal Draft


2011 SAGE Hit Pre-Sale

03.09.2011

Well, I’m doing it. It’s time to get the ol’ feet wet. I just created a new 1&G Pre-Sales page and the first product up is 2011 SAGE Hit Low Series, due to hit hobby shelves on or around March 17, 2011. To reserve your box(es), just click the link below. Right now, hobby boxes are listed for $105 shipped anywhere within the United States, $110 shipped to Canada (sorry my Canadian brethren, apparently it does cost the USPS more than $5 extra to drive north of the border).

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PRE-SALES SITE

If you’d prefer the added customer protection that eBay affords, there is also a listing in our eBay Store. Please note however that due to eBay fees, the price per box is $5 higher (although I show an actual box vs. shipping charge).


EXCLUSIVE: First Look at 2011 SAGE Hit

03.05.2011

Here is an EXCLUSIVE first look gallery of the “Big Time” inserts from the upcoming 2011 SAGE Hit set. These images are courtesy of SAGE Collectibles and are not available anywhere else. Take a look and let us know your thoughts. By the way, SAGE president Tom Geideman will be reading your comments, so this is the place to let your voice be heard!


Click each thumbnail for a full-sized image

NOTE: An easier-to-navigate image gallery can be found on our Facebook Page.

2011 SAGE Hit Low Series goes live the week of March 14 and is packed out in 16-box cases that contain 30 5-card packs. Low Series boxes have 6 autograph cards on average and NO REDEMPTIONS. This will be your first chance to collect cards of the 2011 rookie class. SAGE’s website has the complete checklist for Low Series and High Series posted.