If basketball card collectors were to put together a list of top offerings, there are a few that would rise to the top each and every year. Of course, there is Prizm. Lately there has been a lot of love for Donruss Optic. There are even devoted fans of Revolution. National Treasures seems to get a seat at the head of the table as a premium product. For the 2018-19 season, Panini decided to give collectors a new product to consider, Contenders Optic Basketball. Like Donruss Optic, it’s positioned as a chrome version of a release from earlier in the season. The brand seems to be popular amongst football collectors, so it will be interesting to see if that popularity translates to basketball in the long term as well.
After watching 10 cases of this product being broken, I found there to be quite a few cards in the set that have me interested. First, there are the Rookie Season Ticket autographs. They’re all on card and feature in game photography. Plus they’re shiny. We all like shiny. All rookie cards in this set are autographed, so no unsigned base rookie cards to chase. There is a photo variation version of the rookie cards that keep them from being the only game in town. At the time of this writing, a quick check on eBay shows many of these cards selling at what I would consider reasonable prices. A silver Shai Gilgeous-Alexander silver auto goes for around $50, which is the same price as an unsigned Donruss Optic silver. One may feel that an on card autograph should in theory hold at least some additional value over an unsigned version. It took time for SGA to sign the card and for Panini to handle the logistics of sending the card out and getting it back. SGA’s time is valuable and the time put in by employees of Panini is valuable. I know not all brands are equal, but I do find it curious when the market doesn’t respond to the additional value added to cards like that. What’s going between the two brands? Is there a ‘brand gap’ currently between Donruss Optic and Contenders Optic? I suppose we can look at a comparison between signed cards of the same player with the same production run number across both sets. A Gold SGA Contenders Optic serial numbered to 10 recently sold for $360. A Gold autographed SGA from Donruss Optic, more or less a very similar card, sold for $900. These numbers tell me, at least for now, that Donruss Optic is currently more favored by collectors than Contenders Optic. Will that trend last? If so, for how long? Who knows?
Next, there are the insert cards that show up two per pack. Some look better than others. The Vince Carter Historic ROY card has me nostalgic for the 90s. Also, there are a handful of the Front-Row Seat cards that feature some nice photography. The LeBron James card in particular has a pretty nice photo of him in Lakers gear getting ready to throw down on the Knicks. Pair some of the parallels up with the right jersey colors in the Front-Row Seat set and you have some great looking cards. For example, the Blue Ice Luka Doncic is a cool card with Luka driving to the rim in his day glow orange sneakers. I also like the kitschy, and horizontal, Lottery Ticket insert set as well. Finally, the die-cut Superstar cards look nice in all their colorful Prizm tech goodness. Not to say all the inserts are great. I could do without the Playing the Numbers Game insert. Why waste so much space on a card with an oversized number? Give me more action shots on the card. Also, the Class Acts inserts show photos from draft day for a number of players. It’s a whole insert set dedicated to dudes in suits. Whatever, it’s fine for getting the first card on the market for a guy. But, seeing circa 1996 Allen Iverson in a suit with a Sixers jersey over top of it leaves me a little sad. I’m sure Iverson was filled with optimism when that shot was taken. To know that he had a successful playing career, but eventually ended up in brutal financial trouble, takes away from what I think should be a joyful reminder of the past. Such is life though.
Alright, so here we go. I had some requests to do an analysis on the print run for this product, so I figured I would give it a shot. Just how much of the product was produced? How many autographed rookies, silver Prizms, and inserts were made? Well, I have pulled together estimated print runs for each based on my analysis. Note that my analysis assumes that within a subset each card is produced in equal quantities . For example, I assume there are just as many Rookie Contender Kevin Knox autographs as there are Rookie Contender autographs for Trae Young. The raw data is available here. Here’s a breakdown of the print run.
This product feels more limited than I expected it would be. Even the base cards at 400 each seem limited when compared to the piles of Prizm base cards that are produced. Is that a good thing or not?
Most collectors seem to want rare things. But, it seems that what we want MOST are rare versions of common things. Let’s take 2018-19 Prizm as an example. The relatively high print run on Prizm makes the base cards fairly common (estimated at 60,000 print run). Silver Prizms are a more rare version (estimated 5,200 print run) that looks almost identical to the base cards except for the refractor-like shininess. A person not savvy about the difference between a base and Silver may not pick up on it at a glance. Heck, Panini even prints Prizm on the back so collectors can tell for sure. Finally, a high grade version of a Silver Prizm, such as a PSA 10 version, is even more rare and in turn more desirable still. Donruss Optic takes the concept a step further. There are the base Donruss base cards, Donruss Optic base cards, Donruss Optic Holos, then Donruss Optic Holos in high grade. That’s 4 layers deep of increasingly rare versions for collectors.
The pricing in the market seems to indicate this desire for more rare versions of common things is a truth in collecting, at least for the moment. Contenders Optic basketball follows at least some of this structure. There is a base version of Contenders that exists, although it likely is not as common as Donruss or Prizm. Contenders Optic is definitely more rare than it’s base version counterpart. Pretty much everything in this release is limited. Silver versions of Contenders Optic base cards are more rare than the base versions, although the difference in rarity is no so large. So it seems like the set checks the boxes on at least some dimensions, even if it doesn’t 100% hold true to the formula. Maybe you feel the tides will turn and collectors will accept these differences and begin to value the rarity presented by Contenders Optic more and more? If so, then this could be a great set if you’re eager to turn a profit. Even if that doesn’t happen and you just like to collect nice cards at a decent value, then Contenders Optic may be a no lose proposition.
Till next time – Jeff