Now that the NCAA’s NIL era is here, the trading card hobby has a huge opportunity in college sports. Here’s how Panini can take advantage.
“The Hobby is going crazy babyyyyyyyy!”
–Dick Vitale, probably.
We’re less than a week away from the 2021-22 college basketball season and we can’t wait to have our first real season in what feels like decades. The students will be back and rowdy as ever. The teams will actually play full schedules. And just as importantly, student-athletes can now profit off their name, image, and likeness rights — a development that animates Panini’s pacts with OneTeam Partners and CLC (Collegiate Licensing Company).
Panini has made college-focused cards in the past through their Chronicles Draft Picks, Prizm Draft Picks, College Immaculate, and National Treasures products. Those products featured athletes hopeful to make the professional ranks in their respective collegiate uniforms. Cards in those sets also included veterans and Hall of Famers representing their universities. Why is this year different, you ask?
This marks the first year where Panini can feature current collegiate athletes that still retain amateur status. Their partnerships with OneTeam and CLC cover more than 200 schools. This means athletes will be able to be depicted wearing their respective schools’ official colors and branding, perhaps an underrated development in the NIL group licensing era.
At the moment, there aren’t any products on any public release calendar, but we have a few thoughts on how Panini’s college basketball cards can be a slam dunk in the hobby.
1. Segment Products by Conference
The NCAA is a huge landscape and no one wants to hunt a 500-plus-card checklist containing players from conferences they’ve never heard of. Panini should press this issue by segmenting their products based on conferences. Example: “NCAA Prizm SEC” or “ACC National Treasures.”
That way, it’ll be easier for collectors to obtain players they’re interested in, rather than hunting a humongous checklist the size of Brutus the Buckeye’s head. It would also be easier for Panini to distribute to LCS that are in the products’ respective conferences, thus, building higher demand and not forcing an ACC collector to contact, say, a retailer in California.
2. Limit the Veteran Presence
Collegiate products have never gotten the respect they deserve in the hobby and the biggest reason why is that veterans who have long left college athletics keep reappearing. That dilutes the values and interests of those cards.
There’s a wealth of athletes to make cards for and fans of college hoops would love to have their favorite school’s starting lineup in PSA 10 slabs. If Panini were to bring back veterans, it should only limit them to joint autographs with current collegiate athletes. How sick would it be to own a dual Duke-patch auto of Zion Williamson and Paulo Banchero?
3. Distinguish Freshmen from Upperclassmen
Instead of “Rookie Shields,” Panini should introduce an insignia to distinguish freshmen from upperclassmen. This will help collectors hunt for highly sought-after athletes that just stepped foot on campus, especially in men’s college basketball, where one-and-dones are prevalent. This will also help build the collectivity of a player who transferred to another university.
Those who’ve transferred can have their own symbol or Panini can create a special insert or set dedicated to the transfer portal. Imagine Seth Curry wearing a jersey depicting Liberty on one side and Duke on the other.
4. Re-introduce Notable Coaches and Relics
In the past, there have been many sets that featured coaches and relics from NBA courts. Now would be a good time to reintroduce those cards. Having a piece of Cameron Indoor with a Coach K autograph would be one of the sickest cards to have. With schools constantly renovating and building new facilities, the hobby would love a chance to collect that piece of history.
Panini losing rights to the NBA and NFL was a major moment — but it was also the perfect justification to innovate and diversitfy. We can fully expect them to execute in other arenas, and while the worlds of soccer, pro wrestling, and mixed martial arts are promising, there may be no bigger growth area than college sports. And with NCAA basketball now just around the corner, exciting times are upon us in the hobby.