2021 Panini NFL Contenders is back and set to release on March 11th. Contenders has been a staple football release for over 2 decades. Understandably, Panini has not messed with the successful formula too much this year. The 2021 Panini Contenders Football review gives you the lowdown on this popular release.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s NFL Contenders release.
NFL Contenders debuted in 1992. It was a product initially launched by the Playoff corp. Through a series of acquisitions, it fell into the hands of Panini in 2010, where it’s been ever since.
After Panini acquired the product, they doubled down on their focus on rookies. In 2010, the Contenders release’s first year under Panini ownership contained 171 rookies, up from just 100 the year before. They’ve continued to include between 150-180 rookies each year for the past decade.
Contenders is best known for its “Rookie Ticket” cards, one of the most anticipated rookie cards every year. Its extensive depth of rookie offerings is one of the things that makes it a unique product.
If you want rookies, then Panini NFL Contenders has them.
Other than the hobby’s top-of-the-line luxury releases, the Rookie Ticket card from Contenders often ends up being a player’s most valuable RC. Such has been the case for Tom Brady, whose Rookie Ticket went for over 2 million last year.
The design looks like an actual ticket (with a fictional section, row, and seat number). It has an iconic look that hobbyists recognize and holds its value well.
All of the top rookies (around 40 or so) are invited to the “rookie photo shoot.” All of the relevant cards are given the RSP designation. RSP cards contain on-card autos and feature parallels like the ever-popular “Cracked Ice.” Because the player photos are taken at an actual photo shoot, the images are generally a little crisper and cleaner than other rookie releases.
We also love how deep its roster of rookies goes – it makes Contenders an essential buy for anyone looking for a rookie that might not be included in other releases.
Want a rookie from your favorite team who didn’t see much playing time? Looking to invest in a rookie who came on strong at the end of the season? Perhaps someone who was not included in earlier releases? Then Contenders is the way to go.
The design on this year’s Rookie Ticket is a little too self-indulgent; it seems to care more that it’s a Rookie Ticket than about the actual player on the card.
The biggest and boldest font on the card is the words “Rookie Ticket,” which are featured right in the center below the player picture. The player’s actual name is about one-third the size and at the bottom.
This same problem cropped up with the 2014 Contenders release, but after some rumblings from hobbyists, Panini moved to a more player-centric design in the following years. However, for some reason, this year’s release has reverted to the unpopular style.
The design won’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for the card’s long-term value, especially with as exciting of rookie classes as we had in 2021. The 2014 Rookie Ticket, plagued by the same issue, performs just fine on the singles market.
Still, we feel that a card should be focused on the player (name, position, team) rather than the brand of the card itself. Many in the hobby have echoed similar sentiments.
So far, the only Contenders product available for pre-order is the hobby box.
It’s currently being pre-sold for around $590.
Here’s what each hobby box will contain:
And here’s what Panini has released about the card breakdown inside:
Last year Contenders was sold in other formats, including:
Information on the breakdown and pricing hasn’t yet been released for these products.
Contenders always offers several exciting parallels and inserts with this year’s release. Here’s everything we know about them, including new inserts, as well as odds of hitting.
Odds on hitting a parallel on Contenders premier card- Rookie Ticket Stub RPS /99
– Playoff Ticket RPS Max /99
– Championship Ticket RPS /49
– Cracked Ice Ticket RPS Max /21
– Super Bowl Ticket RPS 1/1
– Ticket RPS Reverse
The RPS Reverse will be a new parallel this year. We don’t know much about it yet.
These parallels throw it back to the iconic design of the 2001 Rookie Ticket.
– Max /21
– Gold Max /10
– Platinum 1/1
Inserts that capture the most memorable moments in playoff history
– Silver /99
– Gold /25
– Platinum /10
– Autographs Max /25
– Autographs Platinum 1/1
One of Contenders new inserts is making its debut in the 2021 release, highlighting some of the best QBs in the league.
– Silver /99
– Gold /25
– Platinum /10
Another new insert showcases players Panini calls “the league’s most battle-tested veterans.”
– Silver /99
– Gold /25
– Platinum /10
The official checklist info isn’t out yet, but last year featured a 322 player set that included 160 rookie ticket cards, and 42 rookie ticket RPS, meaning that rookie cards make up over half the set.
Contenders has a 100 card veteran base set they call “season ticket,” and last year featured a 20 card set dedicated to coaches.
When investing in a product with the legacy of Panini Contenders, you aren’t taking a significant risk on it holding its value. In addition, the Rookie Ticket cards are well-known in the hobby. So barring something unforeseen, there will always be a reasonably active market for Contenders products.
That said, there are intelligent ways to invest in this product and other methods with which you’re just asking to lose money.
Let’s take a look at how this product fairs in wax resale, as well as in the singles market.
If you purchased a Contenders hobby box over the past few years and have held it, you’re in luck. Here’s the breakdown of how the past few years have performed:
Year of Release
Median resale price (Feb of ’22)
SRP upon release
Before you go off buying your 2021 Contenders box expecting a 400% return in 3 years, there are a few factors here that are worth considering.
First, prices for pre-2019 wax have gone up considerably across the board for all cards in all sports. That’s because of the explosion in popularity that the hobby has seen in the past few years. Unless you expect the hobby to experience similar levels of growth over the next few years, you shouldn’t expect such a significant percentage increase over SRP for future resale.
Another thing worth noting is the increase in SRP price. It’s no secret that the hobby is getting more expensive. It seems like hobby boxes are selling at a price that would have been unbelievable just a year earlier. As a result, many collectors have commented that the prices drive them away from buying hobby boxes.
It’s all a game of supply and demand. If Panini starts to struggle selling boxes at the rate they are currently selling for, the price will come down. And if we see a dip in SRP prices in the coming years, that’s undoubtedly going to affect the future release value from this year’s box.
Overall, buying and holding a Contenders hobby box is a good investment and will probably make you some money. Still, don’t bank on this $600 hobby box going for 400% more 3 years from now; a 10-30% increase is much more likely.
Ripping a product for the thrill of hitting on a card that can earn you thousands in the singles market is always tempting. However, if you’re looking to invest in this product, ripping and praying for valuable singles is not the way to go.
Three years ago, this hobby box was sold for $200. At that price, the risk involved in trying to open it and hit on a big card was more justifiable. However, at $600, it’s just too costly for the chance that you’ll go home with nothing.
Contenders base cards are simply not that valuable, and with only one parallel in the entire box, you need some serious luck to make it out ahead if you plan on ripping this product.
That said, if you are one of the brave souls planning on opening a Contenders hobby box, here’s a chart on how a few of last year’s top rookies fared in value over the course of a year:
Median Sale Price Feb-21
In Sale Price Feb-22
So, what can be determined from this chart?
Summer seems to be a good time to flip Rookie Ticket cards. Each of these players received a bump of 10-20% from February to July of last year, despite playing no NFL games in that period. That tells me that the sale bump from Feb to July has more to do with the rise in card value, as opposed to anything that has to do with the players themselves.
So yeah, if you break a Mac Jones RSP, hold onto that thing for the long haul. But a rookie that you don’t have the same long-term confidence in? Summertime seems to be the perfect time to flip quickly and sell high.
Contenders NFL is back, and it isn’t messing with the winning formula. Instead, the same base set emphasizes the deep rookie class and good old iconic Rookie Ticket card.
Unless you’re just looking for a fun time hunting for Rookie Ticket cards, buying and holding is the way to go. Wax value has increased significantly on Hobby Boxes from the past few years, and the $600 asking price makes this an incredibly risky rip.