In July of 2014, a prophetic poster on the BlowoutCards forums submitted a thread titled “Panini Flawless Soccer.” Members flocked to the thread looking for whatever information they could find, but instead of a release date and preview images they just found a passionate collector asking for a favor: "Can someone with exceptional graphic design skills please make me a custom Flawless card of Cristiano Ronaldo with a Portugal or Real Madrid Patch and Auto?”
In July of 2014, a prophetic poster on the BlowoutCards forums submitted a thread titled “Panini Flawless Soccer.” Members flocked to the thread looking for whatever information they could find, but instead of a release date and preview images they just found a passionate collector asking for a favor: “Can someone with exceptional graphic design skills please make me a custom Flawless card of Cristiano Ronaldo with a Portugal or Real Madrid Patch and Auto?”
Over the next week, thousands of members clicked on the thread and dozens commented with their thoughts on what the fictional product would look like. The general consensus was simple, though: If Panini America could manufacture a “Flawless” product with on-card autographs and match-used memorabilia from the world’s biggest soccer stars, it would be a huge hit. Little did they know what Panini America had in the works.
The thread died down after the initial fantasy-induced excitement wore off, but it was resurrected eight months later when Panini America officially announced 2016 Flawless Soccer. Collectors began speculating as to what some of the top cards might sell for. Could a Cristiano Ronaldo autograph sell for $2,000? What would a Lionel Messi cleat card sell for? Will the product actually sell if the price is more than $1,500 a box? More than 35,000 views and 800 comments later, this random thread had become the unofficial catch-all for any new information regarding the historic Flawless Soccer release.
2016 Flawless Soccer has been out for less than two weeks, but many of the most-pressing questions have already been answered. Will the top cards sell for more than $1,000? Will the checklist include enough superstars to ensure value in each box? Will global collectors buy into such an expensive soccer product? Will non-superstars sell for any meaningful amount? Will American collectors care about high-end soccer? These questions have all been met with a resounding “YES!” as singles are selling for thousands of dollars and case prices have gone up by more than 20 percent. A quick peak over at sortsof.com shows us just how well these cards are selling:
The hype leading up to the release was palpable, but nobody could have predicted just how hot this product would be. The fact is, soccer is the world’s most popular sport with an estimated 3.5 billion fans across Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Timing is everything, and Panini America made a brilliant move by releasing this epic product during the heat of the Copa America Centenario and the UEFA Euro 2016 tournaments, a time when the names “Ronaldo” and “Messi” are trending not just among soccer aficionados, but among even the most casual sports fans. A time when ESPN has three hours of soccer coverage a day and SportsCenter highlights include dozens of mind-boggling, air-bending goals.
With group breakers making the mortgage-sized box price more affordable and the world’s biggest superstars making it deep into their respective tournaments, 2016 Flawless Soccer has found itself in the middle of a perfect storm within the hobby. Years of hobby neglect for the world’s biggest sport have seemingly left collectors with an insatiable appetite for high-end soccer products — and the secondary markets have proven there is way more demand for singles than there is supply.
I’m not sure what the ceiling is for this set, but we will find out in the days and weeks to come as more of these scorching hot singles sell on eBay. The $4,000 mark has already been surpassed. The next question is: Can any of these reach the $5,000 mark?
Sergio Dubois is a longtime collector and the founder of Sports Card Album. He has an affinity for collecting soccer and the biggest stars from the Baylor Bears and Florida Gators. You can find him on Twitter at @sportscardalbum.