By Mike Silvia

2009 Hawaii Trade Show

Last week the Hawaii Trade Conference was held at the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa Florida. Once a year the conference brings together the leading sports card and memorabilia retailers, distributors and manufacturers for a few days of fun in the sun and serious industry discussions and round-tables. While this year had a low turn out compared to past years, there were a few bright spots that made my visit worth while. First, I got to present my view of how sports card and memorabilia collectors interact online and got to share my best practices on generating traffic to websites. I had a blast and I think I helped many attendees understand the fundamentals of driving traffic to their websites at little to no cost. Second, there was a thick fog of that surrounded Panini before the Hawaii Trade Show, but they cleared the air with two outstanding presentations.

Panini Trading CardsJust in case you missed the news on Panini this year I will recap. On 27 Jan, 2009 the NBA awarded Italian-based Panini the exclisive rights to produce NBA trading cards and stickers starting in the 2009-10 season. It is a multi-year deal and word on the street is the deal gives Panini these rights for four years with the first two years NBA Logobeing exclusive. The news shook up the sports card world. Within weeks of the NBA deal, Panini began negotiations with Donruss/Playoff and in mid-March Panini purchased the U.S. based company. The news was met with mixed feelings by sports card collectors and raised several serious questions. Since Upper Deck and Topps have most of the biggest NBA stars on exclusive contracts, how good will the Panini basketball products be? Now that Panini owns Playoff/Donruss, what will happen to the brands that Donruss/Playoff spent years building? I feel these and dozens of other questions were more than adequately addressed at the 2009 Hawaii Trade Conference.

The Hawaii Trade Conference was held from Monday through Wednesday (20-22 April) with Major League Baseball providing free Tampa Bay Devil Rays tickets to early attendees the Sunday before the conference. I arrived on Monday and one of my main goals was to get as much information that I could about Panini and answer some of the hot questions that were heating up on SportsCardForum.com.

Panini conducted two presentations. The first presentation was on Tuesday at the Retailer Round Table and the second was on Wednesday at the Meet the Industry showcase.

2009 Prestige Football Matthew Stafford CardDuring Tuesday’s Retailer Round Table presentation Panini provided a glimpse at the future of a combined Panini and Donruss/Playoff. Panini America Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisenstein gave the floor the the new Panini America team. The Panini America team (wearing their shiny new Panini shirts) got right to the point providing details on the future of the company. One of the biggest and most refreshing pieces of news was that the entire Donruss/Playoff staff will remain with the company under the new Panini America name. It was a wise decision by Panini to keep a seasoned team together that has produced such iconic brands as Contenders, Prestige and Elite. Previous Donruss/Playoff owner Ann Powell left on great terms and will move on to pursue other adventures.

Michael Crabtree Prestige Patch NFL LogoWednesday brought us to the much anticipated “Meet the Industry” where the manufactures giae away high-end goodies. Upper Deck gave away their triple and quad autographs, Press Pass gave every attendee a free hobby box ,and Panini continued the Donruss “Black Box” giveaway and some great samples of the upcoming 2009 Prestige football. While I loved the free items, I was looking forward to the Panini presentation to see what the upcoming product releases would look like.

The burning questions were; what would Panini do with the Donruss/Playoff name and what would the NBA products look like? There was a lot of discussion between Panini representatives and retailers. I got the impression that Panini was leaning towards removing the “Donruss/Playoff” name from the products/packaging and simply leaving the product brand name. For example, Playoff Contenders would be just called “Contenders” and Donruss Elite would just be called “Elite” with the Panini name somewhere on the card and/or package. I started a few polls that I will forward to Panini representatives to help them decide here. Take a minute to respond!

2009 NBA Contenders Basketball Card MayoI left the Hawaii Trade Show confident that Panini would leverage the experience of the former Donruss/Playoff team to produce some of the best NBA trading cards collectors have ever seen. There was an energy around the Panini America team that made you forget that the sports card industry has been in the slump for the past decade. I think it is safe o say that everyone that attended the Hawaii Trade Show was impressed with Panini’s positive attitude, professionalism and willingness to take in feedback to help steer the direction of the new Panini America.

Seeing previews on the basketball product got me excited for the first time in years to buy some basketball hobby boxes. Panini has the muscle (nearly $1 billion in revenue last year) and now the expertise (by purchasing Donruss/Playoff) to enter the U.S. trading card market with a bang.

There are two expectations that I have for Panini going forward. First, expect Panini America to work hard on signing some of the big names in the NBA (i.e. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan) that are currently exclusive to Upper Deck and Topps. They understand that they need to have the best players in the world signing their product to maximize their brands. Second, look for Panini America to work on breaking back into the NHL trading card market now that they own the Pinnacle and Pacific brands. Either way, Panini made a big splash and left a lasting impression with all the Hawaii Trade Conference attendees. Much like 1990 was a great year for Upper Deck, the year 2009 may go down in collector history as “The Year of Panini.”