Thursday, September 6, 2007

Good Times, Tough Times for McFarlane Sports Picks

Good times and bad times for the producers of sports figures. It's been a crazy month or so.

McFarlane struggled with their latest lines of baseball figures. The paint jobs on MLB Series 18 and 19 have been widely criticized by baseball collectors - sloppy paint jobs and paint smearing inside the packaging have been the largest complaints. On the flip side, McFarlane came up with one of their best Super Chase figures yet with the Albert Pujols figure in Series 18. Collectors also seemed to like the Rivera chase with the outfield wall behind him.

Collectors waited with great excitement for NFL Legends 3 - probably the most highly anticipated line of the year. It featured NFL figures (the most popular of any sport) that included Dan Marino, Roger Staubach and Bo Jackson. (I'm not jazzed about the Jackson figure but it was a big deal to many fans.) Sadly, the line has suffered several problems.

First, the choice of chase figures is questionable. Everyone expected a Dan Marino chase - none to be found. The regular figure is in the all white uniform and the line was screaming for a teal version, but it was not to be. Roger Staubach's chase amounts to a red stripe on a helmet rather than a blue stripe. This is more suited to a super chase than a chase - Roger should have been in a blue jersey. Earl Campbell is one of the least desired figures in the lineup, and his white jersey chase is suitably boring. And John Elway in a white uniform is ok, but this is a second figure for Elway. A chase of Marino or Jackson would have been much better received.

Like MLB 19, Legends 3 has suffered quality control problems. I've seen numerous posts showing sloppy paint jobs, missing jersey numbers, missing footballs, helmet stickers reversed - the pride of a McFarlane lineup is their quality, and there have been a lot of problems. Worse, Dan Marino's helmet is not historically accurate. It has stripes on it that were not used until after Marino retired. Dolphin fans are saying that the stripes aren't even the right color. Staubach's uniform is accurate except that the numbers on the front are either too low or too small. The helmet is the source of most Staubach problems. The facemask is too big and the helmet just doesn't look right. (Thanks to Mexicanfan for finding and clearly identifying these errors.) Staubach's hands are also poorly sculpted and his fingers have been described as "looking like sausages." These two figures are awesome poses and it's a shame that they've been poorly reproduced.

I'm going by what others have said regarding the quality issues on NFL Legends 3 because I haven't seen my figures yet. Why? Because NFL Legends 3 suffered a terrible blow when a large portion of the shipment was damaged during delivery. Several dealers reported most or all of their orders were crushed and they had very few MOMC figures, let alone cases. This was a disaster for good dealers like - those poor folks had to scramble to get enough sellable figures and they probably never will be able to fill all their case presells. This has meant collectors have been forced to wait for delivery on their singles, sets and cases. Not the dealers' fault, they've suffered a lot as a result of this.

I'm guessing McFarlane will be having to dump a lot of figures with damaged packages on places like Dollar General, Big Lots and Tuesday Mornings. Be patient and you may be able to get Legends 3 at a great price if you don't care about the packaging.

Mark with McFarlane has made some comments about working with different companies to produce the figures, and I'd be willing to bet that most of the troubles with Legends 3 - poor paint jobs, bad packaging - are the result of them going with a different manufacturing company that cut corners and weren't up to McFarlane's previous standards. Unfortunately these figures have a long lead time. Even if McFarlane wanted to change to a new company it would take several series for them to find and hire a new company and get their products produced and delivered from them. I'm afraid we may be seeing these quality issues for several months to come. I feel bad for McFarlane because I think they probably got hosed by the company that didn't deliver as promised. That's all speculation on my part but I refuse to believe McFarlane would go with a company, knowing that they would have to accept lesser quality.

It does appear McFarlane has been doing some cost-cutting measures, however. The newest figures' clamshells are markedly flimsier than previous packages. Lots of guys have been complaining about the high number of damaged clamshells.

In an even bigger move, McFarlane has decided to stop including nets with most goalie figures. This decision set off a firestorm of complaints with hockey fans, who are typically the most detail-oriented of the sports collectors anyway. McFarlane claims that this decision was made to allow them to use smaller packaging and thereby fit more products in the same shelf space in stores. This doesn't seem as plausible as them just wanting to bring the cost of goalie figures down. Goalies are the most expensive figures to produce anyway, so excluding the nets would help them along these lines. McFarlane is considering selling upgraded display stands with nets through their website for hockey guys who want the nets. It does make the figures more expensive to have to buy those bases, but it may be worthwhile if the bases are improved over the old ones and are closer to actual scale.

I told you there was a lot of crazy stuff going on!

The good news is that NFL Legends 3 is starting to get out to collectors now. NFL Series 15 is just about to hit and hopefully it will include better quality workmanship - I'm hopeful, at least. LOL The Vince Young and Tony Romo chase figures look really good. A lot of guys are complaining about Romo getting a chase, but Cowboys sell and I think it was a pretty easy decision on McFarlane's part to do one of him. October should be a good month as well with the Walter Payton 12-inch figures.

McFarlane isn't the only company to experience a rather turbulent time over the past six weeks. I'll have more on that in my next blog post.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hey Upper Deck - Enough Kobes!!!!

Time for a little rant.

I was excited to see some sneak peek photos of upcoming products from Upper Deck's Comic Con booth, but was dismayed to see yet another Kobe Bryant - this time in a MPLS throwback uniform of the Minneapolis Lakers.

We now have the following Kobe figures:

Purple uniform
Gold uniform
White uniform
Black edition
MPLS edition

The advertising flyer for the Platinum Club showed a platinum Kobe planned for the future as well.

That's SIX Kobe Bryant figures. God help us if he gets traded to another team and we have another round of home, away and retro uniforms to go along with these!

Good grief - ENOUGH!!!!

Now that more All-Star Vinyl figures are coming out I'm seeing the product release strategy Upper Deck is using and I'm not altogether thrilled. Rather than come out with a good assortment of players, we're getting a smaller assortment of players being reissued ad nauseum. Doe we really need six different paintjobs of the same guy? Especially when there have only been three players done in NBA licensed vinyls so far? (Other than Kobe, we have four different licensed LeBron James and three different Dwayne Wade figures.) Do we really want a collection that looks like "Attack of the Clones" more than a good collection of different players?

I'm also concerned with the intense focus on limited edition sizes and high retail prices, which suggests a priority in secondary market value. The edition sizes to these figures are very small - 250 to 500 for the non-regular pieces. Then to charge $50 for regulars and $75 - $100 for exclusives . . . ouch!

I'm also troubled by the requirement that you have to buy the basic figure to get the more limited versions. On sale day, you can't just buy the black edition figure - you must buy the black figure AND the two pack of regular and alternate version figures . . . for $200. That's a lot to have to pay to get three figures at retail price.

I'm starting to wonder who the target market is for All-Star Vinyls. Are these made for collectors . . . or speculative investors? I know Upper Deck has a long history of demanding top dollar for their products - if you doubt this, look at what autographed items go for on Upper Outrageous.

There are some positive things coming out of Upper Deck - the upcoming NFL figures look very good, for example. Unfortunately, I have a feeling we're going to get lots and lots of looks at them because we'll probably have a half dozen of each put on the market. I like many aspects of the new Platinum Club as well - the whole collector club concept is the subject of an entire blog entry, which will be posted very soon. But even with the good aspects I'm seeing, there are some very real concerns about how this product line is being produced and released, serious concerns that make me question the long-term potential for All-Star Vinyls.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Super Job on the Super Chase

Wow, it's been some time since I've blogged! You'll have to excuse me - we recently had grandchild #3 and things have been a bit chaotic here . . .

Well, I'm going to tackle a pretty straight-forward subject in this blog. McFarlane's MLB Series 19 recently hit the stores and with that came the announcement of a new Super Chase figure of Albert Pujols.

First, if you don't know what a super chase is you need to step away from this blog momentarily and read my writeup on regular, variant, chase, super chase, etc. figures and what qualifies as each figure type. You can view that here.

I'm not a fan of the super chase concept, personally. I'm a collector, not an investor. Anything that creates a perceived monetary value for one figure simply detracts from the rest. Worse, a super chase is a source of frustration; a guy who is a big Tom Brady fan has to pay big bucks to get all the variations of a Tom Brady figure as it is - but when you throw a Tom Brady super chase into the mix, it gets absurdly expensive for the collector.

That said, I understand that a lot of guys DO like the super chase figures and McFarlane has decided that they need to cater to this segment of their collector base. So the problem becomes, how do they create a figure that is enough different so that the super chase version won't just be ignored - but not so different that the collectors end up getting hosed or having major holes in their collection. Todd McFarlane has an approach to this that I think offers the best possible balance; he wants a super chase to be slightly different, but not so different that it has unique collector appeal just based on the difference.

Example: Ozzie Smith super chase had Smith exactly the same as the regular figure, but the glove was gold rather than brown. This was a minor difference, not a significant change like a different jersey or uniform.

TMP walks a real tight rope with this approach but I think it's the best way to appeal to the investors without alienating the collectors.

The Pujols super chase follows this same approach. It is the same as the regular figure except that 1) the shoes are white, not red, 2) the wristband is yellow, not red, 3) the patches on the uniform are for the 2006 All Star Game. The super chase commemorates Pujols' appearance in the 2006 AS game with these changes - but if you put the super chase next to the regular figure, you might not even notice the differences.

Excellent job on this figure. If I collected active MLB players, I could pass on the super chase Pujols. The differences are so subtle that they mean nothing to me. However, the changes are significant enough that the guys with dollar signs in their eyes can still go on their quest to get the super chase so they're happy as well.

Grade on this super chase? A all the way.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recommended Poses for Upcoming Lines

Given the recent focus on "unique" poses for sports picks figures, I thought I'd offer some suggestions for new poses that would definitely provide some freshness and creativity to the sports action figure lines. My complaint about the LT figure, for example, was that the pose wasn’t appropriate for the player; in today’s blog I’ll present some creative poses that do match up well with the player being depicted.

The first would obviously be Barry Bonds. Given that the majority of sports enthusiasts believe Bonds is a juicer, it would make great sense to capitalize on that and commemorate his commitment to pharmacological athleticism. I would recommend two different poses that would be huge sellers, for sure. The good news is that both figures would require little in the way of re-tooling; existing poses could be tweaked to make them even more popular with fans.

The first is a reissue of the Bonds 12” figure. Instead of leaving his hands empty, pointing to the sky in an apparent affirmation of religious faith (an absurd pose for someone who seems to have such little regard for the Golden Rule), I would instead use the same pose with a book placed in his hands. The book, The Steroid Handbook, would fit the pose, as well as the average fan’s perception of Bonds, very well.

The second would show the cork-headed ball cracker in the midst of his chemically enhanced swing. This figure would represent some true creativity and unique marketing opportunities for McFarlane. Using the sculpt for the “700th Home Run” Commemorative figure, McFarlane could simply remove the bat and drill a narrow hole into Bonds’ hands. Then, proud owners could insert the syringe they keep on hand for juicing or shooting up heroin into Bonds’ hands. This “Sultan of Syringe” Commemorative Edition would be a fun collectible and needle caddy at the same time and could be marketed effectively to barbell boys and junkies across the country.

The NFL offers some delightful opportunities as well.

Michael “And they call it Puppy Love” Vick could be the first in a new series of figures to cross product lines and incorporate components from Sports Picks AND McFarlane Military figures. Taking the dog from Military Series 4 Dog Trainer figure and matching it up with Vick’s two-pack pose results in a magical figure that is sure to delight sports fans and dog fight aficiandos as well. I can foresee a 3” version of this as a stadium exclusive for some Tijuana dog fighting arena as well.

Daunte Culpepper’s legacy at Minnesota will be long remembered – exciting football, hookers, sex rides on rented boats . . . just makes you proud to support the Vikings, doesn’t it? Well, McFarlane could come out with another cross-line release by merging Culpepper’s NFL Series 9 figure with the Little Red Riding Hood from the Twisted Fairy Tale line. Ahhhhh, Football and tawdry sex . . . a winning combination.

Many have recommended the Ray Lewis figure with butcher knife in hand so I won’t recreate that here. The new NFL 2” team sets could be expanded to include the Cincinnati Bengals in prison stripes. Not a new pose, but certainly a fun – and appropriate – new paint style. This same paint scheme could be rolled out to about half the players in the NBA as well.

OK, I’m just having a little fun with all this. The really sad thing is – each of these suggestions would be a more appropriate pose than showing LaDainian Tomlinson sitting on his ass on the bench!

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 30, 2007

McFarlane NFL 16: Major Disappointment

I was very excited to hear that we would get to see the first photos of the NFL 16 figures yesterday. The prospect of getting a new LaDainian Tomlinson figure – hopefully in a better pose than the previous mediocre versions – was the biggest part of that excitement.

What a terrible disappointment the pictures turned out to be. I really expected NFL 16 to be superior to an average NFL Series 15, but it’s even worse.

The series includes two repaints, which is fine. TMP has to use repaints to keep the products economically viable. Unfortunately, the choices TMP made on these repaints resulted in figures that are, at best, forgettable.

Steve McNair – one of the worst quarterback poses ever, all black uniform looks bad, player choice ok but not great. Grade: F.

Terrell Owens – horrible player choice, good team choice, awful novelty pose that showcases the arrogance of this dirtbag. Grade: F.

Now we get to the original sculpts.

Frank Gore – Good uniform choice. Awful pose. Another novelty pose, showing Gore spiking the ball. It’s awkward and gratuitous – a wasted figure. Grade: D.

LaDainian Tomlinson 4 – Let’s see. LT just sets the single season touchdown record, he’s an incredible offensive force, one of the most exciting players in the game . . . let’s pose him benched on his ass, drinking Gatorade. How absurd is that? LT1 was a good pose, LT2 was ok, LT3 was lame – I was really hoping for a super pose for LT4 and this is just not it. I mean, for crying out loud, this is the first time they’ve gotten LT’s visor right and he’s not even wearing the helmet! Worse, the sculpt doesn't really look like him.
I really LIKE the bench pose for a figure. I think it’s cool, great novelty concept. I just think it’s a horrible choice for LT, like posing Reggie Bush as a punt returner. To sum it up, LT is great player choice, horrible pose selection, ok uniform – Grade: A very disappointing C.

Brady Quinn – Five players into the lineup and we FINALLY get to a new pose showing a player in a play. Quinn is a questionable choice for inclusion in the line but I think TMP had good reasons for picking him, especially since they had to make the decision so far in advance. Good choice on the uniform. The pose is pretty close to Drew Bledsoe’s pose, but overall it’s ok. His biceps look like Quinn has been raiding Barry Bonds' medicine cabinet though. Grade: B.

Champ Bailey – Great player selection. I love the uniform, especially with the curved orange lines on the legs. The pose is similar to Series 5 Jerry Rice but it’s pretty good. I’m really glad it’s not on posts. I think it could have been a more energetic pose and not quite so static, but overall it’s pretty good. Grade: B+.

All in all, it’s an underperforming line – Three of the six poses are either celebrating or sitting, and not playing the game. That’s an awful percentage. We only get two new legitimate in-action poses in this series, and neither of them are great. Overall grade should be a D+ but I'll bump it up to a C- for now because McFarlane tried to be creative at least.

Unfortunately it gets worse. When you take Series 16 and throw in the regular figures from Series 15, you have four out of 12 figures wasted on non-action poses. Take out the repaints and we end up with only six of 12 figures with new, in-action poses, and only one of them is a defensive player. The collectors edition figures don't exactly enhance the NFL offerings either - Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher figures that are pretty much reissues from the past. 2007 looks to be a dismal year for NFL Sports Picks. Thank god for the 3-packs and the Legends.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Babe Ruth Marks a Super Debut Baseball Vinyl Figure for Upper Deck

Upper Deck recently released photos of their upcoming Babe Ruth All Star Vinyl figure and I'm giving it a big thumbs up.
For player choice in a baseball product line, you can't find someone better than Ruth - especially for larger-than-life figures like the All-Star Vinyls. Even better, Ruth starts a new line of figures called "Best of the Bronx" that will include legendary Yankees. I'm not a dedicated Yankees fan but you can't dispute that no other team has a legacy for legends like New York does. Think about a series of figures that includes Yankee greats - I'm hoping to see Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra . . . THAT is a powerful series that would be fun to collect. Larger than life player, larger than life team - a perfect match for the vinyl figures.
The concept artwork that was previously released looked promising and the photos did not disappoint. Ruth is shown with bat in hand, tipping his hat to the crowd. The pose offers a nice contrast to the "just standing there" look we've seen in the NHL figures. An alternative to this might have been the "called shot" pose; that's been done quite a bit but it would have been a worthy choice as well. The facial sculpt itself is probably the weakest aspect of the figure; Ruth ended up with a somewhat piggish nose that doesn't look very good. The rest of the sculpt looks just fine, however.
The regular figure shows Ruth in home pinstripes, always a popular choice. Rather than going with the away gray flannel uniform for the alternate version figure, Upper Deck gave the limited edition figure a sepia finish. Another winning choice. Hopefully all the alternate version figures in the Bronx line will have the sepia finish.
Great selection, great pose, great uniform selection . . . all in all, a great figure. I collect very little baseball stuff but I am seriously considering getting this one, with the intent of buying all the figures in the Best of the Bronx line. I'll give this figure an A- . . . fix the pig snout and it bumps up to an A!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gracelyn Re-plays - You Don't Call, You Don't Write . . .

Dealing with Gracelyn regarding background information about their company and their Re-plays product line has been a source of frustration. I've sent them a half-dozen emails and faxes to get information from them, and the silence of their responses has been deafening. Frankly, based on this lack of communication I'm starting to wonder if the company is run by my ex-wife.

This website is a superb source of FREE advertising for the companies. I don't get anything from McFarlane, Upper Deck or anyone else to keep this site running - so all the 2,500+ pages of this site do is GIVE them the kind of promotion they normally would have to pay a fortune for.

Which makes me scratch my head a bit about Gracelyn. I mean, if they want McFarlane to continue to kick their ass in the marketplace, that's up to them. I'm assuming they would like to actually grow their business and for that reason it would behoove them to respond to legitimate media inquiries from folks like me.

If you manage to find a way to communicate with someone at Gracelyn - where they actually communicate back - would you be so kind as to refer them to this site and ask them to contact me?


Labels: , ,