Steelers C Valerian Ume-Ezeoke Documents Productive Final Week at Panini America

March 13, 2017


Editor’s Note: As part of the NFLPA Externship program, Pittsburgh Steelers center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke is spending three weeks at Panini America working in the Production, Prepress, Product Development, Acquisitions and Marketing departments. Each week during his externship, Ume-Ezeoke will document his time inside Panini America HQ. This is his final dispatch.

My final week here at Panini America is over. Much like the first two weeks of my NFLPA Externship, this last week has been great. I’ve learned a lot and I used this last week to learn even more. I spent most of this week in the Panini America Marketing department and was really looking forward to what Jason Howarth, Tracy Hackler and Scott Prusha had in store for me.

Val Final Week 1

Day 11
Monday, March 6
Today I started off doing an interview with Kelsey Schroyer for GTS Distribution. You can check that out right here. Schroyer asked me a variety of question, like how the NFLPA Externship has been going and what’s been my favorite experience so far. I took the time to answer every question honestly and thoroughly. I also scheduled a Skype interview with GTS’ Rob Bertrand for later in the week. After finishing up my interview I got the chance to sit in on a conference call with Howarth, Panini America’s Vice President of Marketing, Hackler and their partners at Opendorse. Rookie deals, future marketing activations and new products were discussed. One thing I took from the conference call was the planning strategy that the Marketing team uses. They prominently plan all future occasions months and even years ahead so that future errors are minimal. These guys are huge on being prepared for anything that may come their way.

Day 12
Tuesday, March 7
Today is day two of my final week. Marketing manager Scott Prusha and I have been working on the 2017 Father’s Day promotional set. He gave me the full responsibility to choose who I wanted to be in one of the 15-card insert sets. I decided to choose all offensive linemen because we are the group of guys that never gets any attention. I chose some of the top players in today’s game and I hope you all like them when that set comes out. Also there will be a little surprise among those cards. I thought it would be cool to finally put some of the spotlight on the unsung heroes — Offensive linemen. I think you guys will enjoy the players I chose. I hope this is a start of something new in the collectible world. Linemen deserve to get some love, too! We work hard.

Val Final Week 2

Day 13
Wednesday, March 8
Today is day three of my final week. I got the chance to go with Prusha over to the Panini America Acquisitions facility. It was yet another in a long line of impressive sights during my time here. This facility is where all of the company’s autographs and game-worn memorabilia come first and it included everything from signed basketballs to antique NASCAR tires. Almost anything you could imagine was in storage here. Some of the sights: Autographs from Eric Dickerson and memorabilia from Odell Beckham Jr.’s rookie year. Everything was effectively put in order. Each product had a barcode which is for proof of authenticity. I got to see the ins and outs of how each autograph is processed for trading cards and how the game-worn memorabilia is prepared for production. On the way out, I also got a sneak peek at the 2016 Flawless Football NFL Shield 1/1 of my Steelers teammate Antonio Brown. When we got back to Panini America HQ, I sat down in the Panini Unwrapped studio to break some boxes of 2016 Select Football and 2016 Encased Football. After that, I jumped onto to Skype to talk to Bertrand from GTS Distribution for a fun interview.

Val Final Week 3

Day 14
Thursday, March 9
The fourth day of my final week. As the days creep closer to the end of the week, the more I realize my time is almost up here at Panini America. Today I walked into the office that Hackler and Prusha share to see what my day will consist of. We started chatting about the three weeks that I’ve been here and the growth I’ve shown since my first day. The amount of knowledge I’ve gained has been remarkable. Hackler came up with a marketing idea that consisted of me doing a Twitter giveaway. I enjoyed interacting with the collectors; they were very passionate about winning the cards I was giving away. The prizes were cards from a box of 2016 Immaculate Collegiate Football. The Twitter giveaway lasted almost all day and we had five total winners.The collectors seemed to enjoy the giveaway; even the collectors that didn’t win. Almost all the participant thanked me for even giving them a chance to win. I will for sure doing another giveaway in the future. I had a fun time and was happy with the outcome.

Val Final Week 4

Day 15
Friday, March 10
My last day has finally come. Today kind of feels like when you graduate from high school and the time to head to college is near so you have to get ready to say your goodbyes. Three weeks ago, I would never have thought that my experience would have went the way it did. The people I met the first day here at Panini America have become great friends. I came in with zero knowledge about trading cards. Now I have built a strong foundation that I know I can use in the future. I didn’t just learn about trading cards; I learned about manufacturing, production, marketing, acquisitions and negotiating. What I have gained these last few weeks can help me flourish in the business world. I am glad I chose Panini America as my NFLPA Externship site. I couldn’t have made a better decision. I want to thank Hackler, Prusha, Howarth (even though he is a huge Patriots fan) and the whole Panini America family for taking me in and showing me the ropes. I will continue to build off what I’ve learned. The sky is the limit for me. Also, thank you to the people who have been following my weekly blogs. In the future, I hope I can tell you all how my experience here at Panini America helped with my transition into the real world after I retire. The work has been done. Now it’s time to see how everything manifests. Stay tuned . . .