Is Panini Deceiving Sports Collectors?

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If you have been keeping up with most of my articles regarding collecting, I have done little to hide the fact that I am not a big fan of Panini’s business practices. Between their redemption process and the enormous gap in quality between their low end products and high end products, it is becoming difficult to laud Panini. Yet their latest release of baseball National Treasure was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Panini offers some of the most expensive sets in the card collecting hobby, including sets such as National Treasures and Flawless. National Treasures retails for about $400 a pack, with 8 cards per pack while Flawless gets even more expensive as they are slightly over $1,300 a pack, where you get 10 cards per pack.   National Treasures breaks down as following: 2 base or parallel cards (these cards are not even autographed nor contain a relic!), 3 autographs, and 3 memorabilia cards. Flawless breaks down to include 7 autographs, 2 jumbo prime memorabilia cards, and 1 diamond or emerald embedded card (card contains a small emerald or diamond in it). Personally, I find it audacious that a $400 pack of cards comes with a card that doesn’t even have an autograph or relic in it, but I digress.

Card companies have a bad habit (Panini is notorious for this) of inviting certain players, usually rookies to a photo shoot or some other function and give them a jersey to wear. The players will wear it, a photo gets taken, and then the players give the jersey back to the companies.   The companies then take these jerseys and other props and put them into the cards labeling them as “event worn material” meaning they wore the player wore that piece of clothing at an event, but did not use it in a game. It is a cheap way to get players to wear things and then market and profit off of them as if the players actually worn those things in an actual game. In probably the most ridiculous event worn shoot to ever happen, Panini convinced NBA rookies to wear Santa hats for a Christmas themed set and then issued event worn Santa hat cards. As you could probably guess, game worn jersey patches are more sought after than event worn.

Following the release of Panini Flawless in 2014 for football some astute collectors started questioning the patches on some of the cards, specifically of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Alshon Jeffery. The back of most relic/autographed cards are where the companies swear to the authenticity of the relic material and autographs found on the front of the card. Costing over $130 per card, one would expect the back to read “game worn material” meaning the relic in the front was actually used in a professional game.   After careful observations and comparing to other cards, collectors were able to figure out that some of the patches were not game worn, due to their lack of stitching and the material. Retail jerseys are made of a thinner material and any logos or lettering is not stitched on as well as ones meant to be used in a game. At first Panini claimed that this affected only a small number of cards (about 15) and was only the emerald set which is numbered to five cards (3 players, 5 cards each). Collectors were furious that these patches from the most expensive set in the hobby were only event worn yet guaranteed as game worn. After the dust settled, this error impacted the 168 patch cards (56 of each player) in the Patches (numbered to 25), Patches Ruby (numbered to 15), Patches Gold (numbered to 10), Patches Emerald (numbered to five) and Patches Platinum (numbered to one) inserts. To Panini’s credit they issued an apology and asked anyone affected to send their cards in where they would get a replacement card with an actual game worn jersey in it. The autographed jersey versions of the three players involved all checked out as game worn patches.

Recently Panini released 2014 National Treasures for baseball. They feature both current players and legends. One hall of famer included in the set was Whitey Ford. Ford spent his 16 year career with the Yankees and retired in 1967. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974. However, 2014 National Treasures featured a Whitey Ford numbered 1/1 featuring part of the laundry tag from a game worn jersey. It clearly shows the Majestic logo on the card as seen here (click picture to enlarge).

Ford jerseyFollowing this debacle, one collector went one step further. As mentioned above, the Flawless cards that contain a diamond or emerald have enormous value to collectors and are numbered to 20. A user by the name of Brian Nelson posted a video to YouTube, where he took his diamond Flawless football cards to a jeweler and asked to test if the diamond inside his card was real or not. A Vincent Jackson diamond card was tested, and failed the tests of the jeweler to tell if it was a legit diamond. The jeweler (at the request of Brian) actually destroyed the card to pop the diamond out where once out still failed. According to the jeweler, it wasn’t a diamond and most likely cubic zirconia. However the jeweler explained when you deal with stones as small as the ones in the card, it is very hard to tell if they are real or not. Nelson hands over another diamond card of Eddie Lacy to the jeweler. It tests positive the first time, but after two-three more tests it again tested negative. On social media, the collecting world seemed to rejoice after another collector tweeted that after taking his Flawless diamond card to Zales, the diamond failed passing as the real thing. In Panini’s defense, the YouTube video already starts in the jewelry store and the card is already in the hands of the jeweler and there was no proof from Zales accompanying the tweet.

But there is a big issue here. Aside from the jersey looking like it is brand new and in amazing shape for being worn between 1950 and 1967, the biggest issue here is that Majestic the company was not founded until 1976, nine years after he retired and two after he made the HOF. Furthermore, it wasn’t until 1982 that Majestic got its first contract with the MLB to produce batting practice jerseys. In 1984, they got their first deal to produce game jerseys and it wasn’t till 2005 did they secure being the only producer of MLB jerseys for all 30 teams. Ford spent his entire career on the Yankees and there is not a hint of red in those jerseys. So Panini, I ask you: where did this Majestic logo come from?

pablo sandovalPanini doesn’t limit the errors to producing fake patches or putting the wrong team in a card, as this card from 2014 National Treasures of Pablo Sandoval shows, it is clearly labeled rookie card, despite the fact that Sandoval was signed in 2004 and wasn’t called up to the majors until 2008.

But mistakes like this aren’t limited to baseball by Panini. Aaron Murray was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. As this image shows, Panini thinks he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Adding insult to injury, Murray can clearly be seen wearing a Chiefs hat and jersey in the photo.

murray jerseyWhat is going on at Panini? One of the biggest card companies in the market has been misrepresenting their products, deceiving collectors with false guarantees, creating fake patches for some of the biggest names in sports, and mislabeling cards. While these errors could be forgivable if this was a small set or of no name players, I do not blame consumers who dropped almost $2,000 for one pack of National Treasures and Flawless being livid that their patches were not game worn or that the gemstones inside are fake. It is clearly a lack of quality control to say the least. It is a shame such a giant in the hobby has come under these allegations.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not to say that companies like Topps or Upper Deck have never made a mistake with cards, but they are far less consistent than Panini.  These errors aren’t comical either like the 2007 Topps card of Derek Jeter with George Bush in the crowd and Mickey Mantle in the dug out or the infamous 89 Fleer card of Billy Ripken.  Panini is making unforgivable mistakes in the best sets of cards money can buy.  It makes me question the authenticity of the  Panini cards in my collection. But the cruel irony is that Panini Flawless is flawed.

Have any problems with Panini cards? Opened your own National Treasure or Flawless pack and want to share the hits with me? Have any suggestions for an article you’d like to see? Tweet it to me @LWOSGabeWeeden or email me @lwosgabeweeden@gmail.com.