In the middle of a potential Rookie of the Year campaign for the Houston Texans, quarterback C.J. Stroud’s rookie cards are commanding a hefty price. However, since signing an exclusive with Fanatics, NFLPA-licensed autograph cards of the rising quarterback have been tough to come by.
The only licensed NFL release by Panini with Stroud’s autograph is Panini Instant Rookie Premiere, released on June 21. The cards were sticker autos numbered to 391. Cards of Stroud, Bryce Young, and Will Levis – other Fanatics exclusive signees – are still included in Panini releases, but autographed cards of those players are not.
In early October, an arbitrator ruled that Panini could still produce NFLPA-licensed trading cards after the NFLPA suddenly terminated its deal with Panini in August. Panini holds the license with the NFLPA until 2026.
In the meantime, unlicensed card manufacturers are capitalizing on the legal battles between Panini and Fanatics. Wild Card released its 7 Card Studs Quarterback Edition last week. Like Panini, Wild Card got sticker autos of Stroud before he signed with Fanatics.
A box of 7 Card Studs has seven packs with one card in each, with packs containing serial numbered cards in sequential descending order until the final pack includes a 1/1. Boxes are currently available for $250-$300 on eBay.
On Monday, a Stroud 1/1 was pulled and sold for $2,999. However, while the market for singles of the rookie quarterbacks remains steady, business owners have noted a lull in football sales this season.
Chris McVay, the owner of Buck City Breaks, has noticed lower demand for breaks with fewer autographed licensed products of the top rookie quarterbacks.
“It’s been much more difficult with the exclusives,” McVay told SC Daily. “I’m predominantly a football breaker, and we do a lot of Pick Your Team breaks. In the past, especially with loaded QB classes, the top rookie quarterback teams might make up 40% of a break, and it’s justified because the potential is there.
“The price variance is spread out across the rest of the breaks, virtually increasing every other break spot. It makes it difficult for collectors to justify paying up for their teams because players from completely different teams aren’t signing.”
Local Card Shops
Steve Mandy, owner of Attack of the Baseball Cards in Union, N.J., says he hasn’t noticed special demand for Stroud or other rookie quarterbacks. He thinks it could be because of where his business is located and that Stroud plays in Houston. But Mandy says there has been a slowdown in football sales, attributing it to factors unrelated to the Fanatics exclusives.
“The football products coming out this year have all been expensive. They’re out of most of my customers’ price range,” Mandy told SC Daily. “I think inflation has hurt. I think it’s more the economy. Customers are coming in less often, and some are spending just a little less.”
NFL Player of the Day Program
Mandy also attributed the lack of sales to a late start in the annual Player of the Day Program. While he usually runs the program from the middle of September through November, Mandy says he received an email from Panini in early November that the program will start again. Now, he anticipates beginning in early December and going through February.
It’s the latest Mandy has started the promotion since he first enrolled in it in 2000. According to Panini, more than 600 shops took part in the program last year.
Ongoing litigation between Panini and the NFLPA may have caused a delay in the program, which allows local card shops to promote certain players every day. If a customer opens packs in the store of those players, they can get rewards, including free packs that Panini sends to shops as part of the promotion.
“Those are some pretty good packs,” Mandy said. “They’ll have foil, serial-numbered cards, autographs, and memorabilia cards. Periodically, we have random drawings of action figures and t-shirts.
“That contest gets me a lot of football sales and hasn’t started yet. It really does help local sales, and it gets kids involved.”
Local winners are eligible for a national Player of the Day contest. In 2012, one of Mandy’s customers won the national grand prize. The winner got a visit to his house from former New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara where he spent half the day playing football, hanging out, and signing autographs for friends. The customer and Amukamara then returned to Attack of the Baseball Cards, where they hung out with other customers and where the winner also received a $250 gift card for Panini products.
Some collectors aren’t letting the lack of autographs deter them from collecting higher-end cards of the rookie quarterbacks. Unlike the slowdown experienced by some breakers and card shop owners, collectors remain keen on who they want to buy.
Steve Knodt, of Woodbury, MN, says he’s still collecting Stroud’s Panini short-prints.
“Ultimately, everything Panini has released includes all rookie QBs,” Knodt said. “People are still collecting at the same rate, and selling on eBay is still the same pricing since the 2020 pandemic card boom. Panini is still the king of all cards for the NFL.”
Jason Farmer, a regular participant in Buck City Breaks, also says the lack of autographs hasn’t kept him from buying into breaks.
“When I decide I want to collect a player, I collect that player no matter what type of card,” Farmer told SC Daily. “I don’t necessarily feel like the lack of autographs deters me in any way.”
Farmer says that while he doesn’t regularly have an equal return of value on breaks, he’s a fan of and enjoys supporting Buck City Breaks and its community.
“I’ve been involved with breaks for about six months,” Farmer said. “I don’t like to lose money, but I feel like it’s no different than buying lottery tickets. You can’t win all the time.”
Sean Bennett of Steel City Collectibles, hasn’t noticed a slowdown in football sales in his online store, brick-and-mortar store, or breaks. He notes, however, that collectors lose out when the manufacturers fight.
“Football is king in the Pittsburgh area. From that standpoint we haven’t had any problem selling through the product,” Bennett told SC Daily. “Any time the licensee or manufacturer doesn’t get a chance to include the autographs of the rookies, it ultimately hurts the collectors. Panini has an all-star roster of product development, and the products would be even better than they are now. It’s unfortunate that the league has allowed that to happen.”
Of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds of the 2023 Draft, only Anthony Richardson, the fourth overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts, did not sign an exclusive with Fanatics. However, Richardson was knocked out for the year in October with a shoulder injury. According to McVay, Richardson is still the biggest draw in his breaks.
“Right now, the Colts are the highest-priced team in our 2023 NFL breaks, typically making up 9-13% of any given break,” he said. “It’s a little tough to swallow considering the upside is the number three quarterback taken in the draft who will miss most of his rookie season.”