Redskins TE & NFLPA Extern Ray Hamilton Chronicles First Week at Panini America

February 19, 2016


Editor’s Note: As part of the NFLPA Externship program, Washington Redskins tight end Ray Hamilton is spending three weeks at Panini America working in the Product Development, Acquisitions and Marketing departments. Each Friday during his externship, Hamilton will document his time inside Panini America HQ. This is his first dispatch.

I really had no clue what to expect coming into this NFLPA Externship with Panini America. Growing up, I always enjoyed collecting football, baseball and basketball cards. I remembered collecting Panini trading cards but I never gave much thought to the operations or the process for generating ideas, concepts and marketing plans for cards. The business side of this externship is what excites me the most; I’m looking forward to learning about what makes this company go — and the challenges as well.

Day 1
Tuesday, February 16
I got the chance to check out the building with Jason Howarth, Panini America’s Vice President of Marketing, and, at the same time, was introduced to many staff members on the different teams such as Acquisitions, Product Development, Customer Service and Marketing. I also got the chance to meet Panini America CEO Mark Warsop, Vice President of Sales and Product Development D.J. Kazmierczak and CFO Shelby Lee.

After the introductions, I got the chance to sit down and have lunch with Howarth and NFL Product Development Director Nick Matijevich. It gave me the opportunity to get to know each of them better as well as ask some questions and try to pick their brains about the company in general and their own roles in particular. It was interesting to hear them go back and forth about how they got into the business and experiences at Panini.

Once I got back from lunch, I got the chance to head with Matijevich into the NFL team’s “Whiteboard Meeting.” It was a great experience for me to see the creative minds on the team come together to hear what has worked in the past as well as what has not worked and listening to them try to figure out why it didn’t work. I also got the chance to listen to them throw out some new ideas for cards. As new ideas were being thrown out, it took me about a good 20 minutes to build up the courage to speak up with something I thought may be a unique idea. Once I got that out I was able to get the ball rolling and be more involved during that part of the meeting.

Although I may not get all of the names down with the faces for a few days, it was great to meet everybody. The best way to describe meeting so many people in big groups in one day would be like moving to new a school as a kid and it’s the middle of the school year. You just can’t help but being a little bright red in the face and throwing an awkward wave and smile once your name gets introduced to a big group of people. The big difference that wasn’t comparable with moving to a new school was that everybody here welcomed me right away and made me feel comfortable. Howarth told me prior to coming here that the environment in the office would be very similar to that of a team’s locker room in terms of good chemistry, fun, and working toward a common goal. After just one day, I see exactly what he was talking about.

Hamilton Desk

As for my general thoughts after the first day: I’m extremely impressed with the entire Panini team and the different areas of the operation. It was cool to see all of the different teams and different responsibilities of members within the company. The chance to sit in on the NFL team’s “Whiteboard Meeting” where they brainstormed and bounced different ideas around — with every member of the team contributing what they thought worked/didn’t work in the past and how they can get better in the future — was a great learning experience.

Day 2
Wednesday, February 17
For this first week, I’m working with the Product Development Team. Today I had the chance to go over to the Panini America production facility. It was mind blowing. I never could have imagined everything that goes into making one trading card, let alone the millions that are made in that factory throughout the year.

Tracy Hackler works with the marketing team but had to run over to the production facility to shoot some video for the making of a card. The guys here thought it would be a great opportunity for me to go check out where the cards were actually made. I thought it would be cool, but it was way more than I could have imagined. I got to see all of the machinery and crazy technology that goes into making a card. I got a detailed crash course in how cards are made from start to finish.

It truly is one, big well-oiled machine in terms of the different roles and the process of making all of the cards. There are so many different kinds of cards and so many moving parts but this organization has perfected the process.

After the factory tour, I had the chance to get some lunch with Hackler. I had the chance to ask some questions about how often he goes to the facility to shoot video of the production of the cards and some other various tasks he does weekly. I will get the opportunity to work with Hackler more in my third week here when I will be with the marketing team.

Hamilton Production

Day 3
Thursday, February 18
This place is busy right now with folks trying to get deals done to secure the next great rookie class for Panini. I had some time today to sit and brainstorm some different ideas for what I thought the consumers would enjoy as a potential insert set. I put together a checklist of the 20 all-time greatest tight ends and the 20 best tight ends in today’s game. There are names that are on both lists in my mind and those include Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen and Heath Miller. Maybe I’m a bit biased after having the opportunity this year to play with both Witten (when I was with the Cowboys for a bit) and Miller (during my time with the Steelers). Spending time with both of them in the meeting rooms, weight rooms, and practice fields was an eye-opening experience for me. Their work ethics and how they work when no one is watching is a big reason both of them are on both of those lists for me.

I also had the chance to work on a 40-player insert set called “Dominators.” I got to pick different players from around the league that I thought were dominant forces for their respective teams. One of the challenges of the list is you want to use a variety of players that are a bit different than last year’s list of Dominators. It was a good experience performing a normal task in the Panini America Product Development department.

It seems like every day here just gets better and better with the opportunity to see new things. I had the chance to check out the prepress studio in the office. It was incredible. One thing every athlete loves to see is photos of himself in action (whether they’re willing to admit it or not). Bob Greinke and the Prepress team here worked on an edit of a picture of me and it came out pretty sweet. Panini America even hooked me up with a poster of the picture. I was blown away by seeing all of the different technologies and different features that can make a picture that much better. The Panini America prepress and design teams do an amazing job with every photo for each individual card.

I also got the chance today to do a video session called “Panini Unwrapped” with Hackler that you can check out on the blog in the coming days. We opened one box of 2015 Immaculate Football and one box of 2015 Contenders Football. I hadn’t opened a pack of cards in years and it brought back all sorts of good memories from when I was younger. I struggled opening the packs and had to shake off some rust there. But once I got a pack open, I remembered the feeling of excitement you get finding out what’s in your pack and hoping for an autograph. Throughout the video, Hackler and I got the chance to chat so the viewers can get to know me more. I got the opportunity to talk about how the NFLPA helped me get in touch with Panini America for this externship opportunity.

Ray Hamilton Unwrapped

To wrap up Day 3, I had the chance to sit in on the 2016 NFL Sticker Collection meeting. Most teams from the company were represented in the meeting to discuss the upcoming edition and talk through some ideas. It was helpful and valuable for me to sit in on this meeting. I was able to learn from some of the best minds in this building.  One thing that stood out in my mind as the meeting was going on is how great communication with all teams in the company is a big strength.

I’m going to get back to my Friday now but I hope you enjoyed my first-week recap. I join the acquisitions team next week and have a trip to the NFL Scouting Combine in my near future. Stay tuned next week for a full week-two recap.