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Volume 26 No. 210
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Social Studies: Panini America Balances Digital, Physical Products

The start of each sport season means the launch of new products in the trading card space. Panini America, whose parent company built a loyal following with World Cup stickers, is now hoping two new offerings will resonate with collectors. NFL Blitz, an app which allows digital collections as well as fantasy-style games, and Panini Instant, which provides next-day offerings following milestones and major moments. Panini America VP/Marketing Jason Howarth (@PaniniAmerica) said, "You have your collection and your album for your Panini Blitz app. Then what are you going to do with them? It's no different than what we did as kids. We look at the back of the cards to see what the statistics are and if my statistics were better, I might end up getting your card. It's all really natural." Panini America last week unveiled its NBA Contenders Draft Pick collection, which is the first set to include Pelicans rookie F Zion Williamson. Within the next month, they also will release an EPL product and are putting together a USWNT set.

Must-follow: Tom Brady has done a good job on social and JuJu Smith-Schuster is a young guy and he is just fun to follow. He loves playing the game and loves being who he is.
Favorite app: Instagram is the leader in the clubhouse, then Twitter. Wodify is an app I use for CrossFit and I use that every day.

Average time per day on social media: You have to be there, but I would say too much. You have to keep the pulse of the marketplace.

How industry has changed with times:
The thing that is really interesting is there used to be days when you could go into any store and find trading cards. That's good and bad. There's a saturation point. Trading cards are built on the idea of scarcity, but in the ‘80s and ‘90s the marketplace was oversaturated. There has been a transformation in the marketplace where we are building out our product to cater to all audiences: the ones who are collectors, the ones who are getting integrated into collecting as kids, to those who are looking to collect really beautiful cards whether they want to keep them or want to sell them on secondary markets.

Balancing digital/physical product demand:
On the NFL side, from the physical perspective we'll produce 36 different NFL brands this year. We'll have products that sell at Target, Walmart and hobby stores that a fan can get for $1.99 a pack. We have high-end products that sell for $200 a box or $400 a box or $1,500 a box. We have a product called "Flawless" that comes in a steel briefcase, it has 10 cards in it and every card is numbered to 25 or less, and they have jewels embedded in them -- everything from rubies to diamonds to emeralds. There's only so much product you can produce in the physical realm because of scarcity driving value. The digital gives us a larger play to be wherever our consumer is and that is what is really compelling.

Getting players involved:
It's one of those things we look at from the beginning in that we spend so much time with these athletes whether they are signing our cards as rookies or vets, the second you see your beautiful card you get excited. To capture the moments and be able to highlight those moments with athletes and reinforce that across social media, it is so compelling for us. Whenever we talk to a potential partner, we like to say from a marketing perspective, we are digital first. That means we have to be engaged and active with fans. We have over 2,000 active player contracts across all sports. We want to show you behind the curtain, so you get a better sense of who these athletes are. You are collecting them not just because of their performance, but also because you like them. Social does a great job of that.

Launching Weibo account:
There's a growing marketplace in China for trading cards. It started with the NBA, and with that along with NFL and English Premier League, we felt it was time to step into the China marketplace and build that trading card culture mindset. To be able to highlight and showcase the best athletes on trading cards on a platform in China, Weibo is the first one we had to be on. We launched our Weibo platform on August 16, which is Kobe Bryant's birthday. Kobe has been an exclusive Panini athlete. He was the first Panini athlete when Panini came into the U.S. market.

World Cup stickers in the U.S.:
Panini has produced the World Cup sticker collection every four years since '70. There is a huge global heritage around the Panini World Cup sticker collection. When people think about Panini, especially from a global perspective, they think about our sticker collection first and foremost. That carried over to the U.S. market -- we had our sticker collection in '10, '14 and '18 and that has performed very well.

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