Wednesday, June 6, 2007

NFL 3-packs: A Big Step in the Right Direction

When McFarlane (a.k.a. TMP) recently announced their NFL 3-packs in May, that announcement was met with many complaints from the Spawn board members - no original sculpts, no new players, another Cowboys set, etc. etc. I have to admit, I was surprised at how many people badmouthed these figures. I don't think the 3-packs are perfect, but I do think they are a big improvement over last year's 3-packs.

First, let's review the fiscal realities of the NFL 3-packs. NFL 3-packs are an "add-on" to the regular series of figures. They are sold only through Toys R Us, which means they have a significantly reduced distribution network over regular figures. This means that TMP can't spend as much on each 3-pack figure as they can on each regular series figure.

So what does that mean? It means that 3-packs won't have any original sculpts. They will be comprised of reissued and/or repainted figures from previous series. This limits TMP's flexibility on what they can put into the 3-packs.

The challenge to TMP becomes even more difficult than that. TMP's greatest strength - its devotion to accuracy and detail - makes the 3-packs' rosters even more difficult to fill. There are no generic poses. A figure of one running back can't simply be repainted as another player in many cases. The body build of each player must be considered. How tall the player is, how stocky or slender his frame is, etc. plays a huge part in determining whether that player's figure from an earlier series can be repainted into someone else. Helmet and facemask styles are different; collars, pads and sleeve lengths vary from player to player; gloves, socks and shoes are all different as well. And if TMP failed to consider these factors, the same guys who are upset about the 3-packs now would be screaming like raped apes about how inaccurate the new figures were.

One more limitation on the 3-packs: These are TRU exclusives and the lineups have to appeal to TRU corporate types, which means they have to be teams and/or players with obvious national appeal. There may be some great players on regional teams like Cincinnati or Seattle, but those memorabilia for those teams just doesn't sell as well as swag for the Cowboys, Steelers and Giants. I hate it - I'm a Jacksonville Jaguars fan so it definitely works against me - but it's true.

So those are the limitations. Repaints or reissues, players and teams with national appeal. TMP's hands are tied pretty tightly on what they can do.

Now, look for a moment at what TMP did last year. They issued four 3-packs, team packs for the Cowboys, Giants, Steelers and Patriots. The Cowboys pack included one player who had not been done as a Cowboy before, and two straight reissues. The Giants included one player who had never been done, and two straight reissues. (Actually there were minor, inconsequential differences in these figures but they were basically reissues.) The Steelers were like the Giants - one new player and two reissues. (Putting gloves on Hines Ward just doesn't qualify as a new figure to me.) Finally, the Patriots, the best of the four . . . two repaints that had never been issued and a reissue of one chase figure.

For three of the four 3-packs, you bought three figures to get one new one and two reissues. At least with the Patriots 3-pack you got two figures that were in different uniforms than had been previously released. The reissue in this box was a chase Tom Brady from NFL Series 11, which probably pissed off the guys who had bought that chase but at least it wasn't a straight reissue of a regular figure.

When these 3-packs were announced the spawn board members were outraged, and I was right there with them. These packs sucked, and it was completely unnecessary. All four of the 3-packs could have been done in alternate uniforms or mixed uniforms to give established collectors a reason to buy them. TMP said that the 3-packs were for "casual collectors" rather than the serious fans, but that was still silly. With better uniform choices the 3-packs could have appealed to casual and serious collectors alike.

For example, in the Cowboys 3-pack all the figures had white jerseys even though two of them had been previously released that way. TMP could have done Julius Jones and Roy Williams in blue jerseys and Drew Bledsoe in white - three figures to appeal to serious collectors as well as the newbies. Same with the Giants' 3-pack. The Steelers pack was tougher based on previous releases, I'll give TMP some slack on that, but they could have recreated chases rather than regular figures. They can't say it was wrong to reissue a chase figure - they did it with the Patriots 3-pack, and they can't have it both ways.

Clearly, the first round of 3-packs thoroughly sucked and TMP (deservedly) got an earful from the boardies because of them.

Compare that to this year's 3-packs. All three of the 3-packs have two or more figures with uniform combinations not previously released. I won't buy a 3-pack for one new version of a figure, but I will (grudgingly) buy it for two. I will probably buy the Eagles 3-pack, which two new uniform combinations.

There are other improvements as well. The Cowboys 3-pack (yes, another Cowboys pack) has two new uniform combinations, and it also features two retired players and one active. Up to now, the 3-packs included only active players. The Cowboys 3-pack is also based on position, as it features Dallas quarterbacks through the years - previous 3-packs were based on team only. I like these precedents a lot, even though I'm not entirely thrilled with their implementation - putting Tony Romo with the likes of Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman is about like comparing a new college graduate with Donald Trump and Bill Gates. I do like the concept, though, and I hope it continues.

The third new 3-pack is an even greater departure from last year's releases. This pack is based solely on position (running back) and has players with three different teams. That's exciting - it opens up a lot of possibilities for future 3-packs that will appeal to old and new collectors alike. Even better, this 3-pack features all new uniform combinations. THAT is what we need to see with these.

Some people still complained about these 3-packs. They didn't include any new players. They were just repaints of existing figures in different uniforms. Frankly, I don't necessarily want new players in 3-packs . . . I don't want to have to buy two figures I want just to get one I do want, simply because it's the only way to get that player. I wouldn't mind if they saved the new player releases for the series figures.

As far as not liking repainted figures in new uniforms - what is the difference between your typical regular and chase figures? That's right - the difference is that the chase is usually a repaint of the regular figure, in a new uniform. People love these chases, so why gripe about getting the same thing in a 3-pack? They can't do new sculpts in there . . . what else do you expect them to do?

As for having another Cowboys set, at least this set has two great players in it. Staubach is a god here in Dallas / Fort Worth and Aikman isn't far behind. An Aikman in a new uniform would be a wonderful atonement for that christ-awful Hall of Fame exclusive TMP had last year. Guys, TMP has to do box sets that TRU believes are nationally popular. That means lots of Cowboys.

To sum it up . . . Last year's 3-packs were atrocious - I would have given them a D grade which would have been even lower except for the Patriots 3-pack. This year's 3-packs get a B from me. Definitely a big improvement in one year's time thanks to the new uniform combinations, a mix of HOF and active players and multi-team packs.

What would get them up to an A?

  • Unless you have new players, there should be three new uniform combinations in each 3-pack. Don't make me buy figures I already have.
  • Interactivity - how about a 3-pack with a quarterback handing off (Brees pose) to a running back (Tomlinson 3 without the football) and a blocker in front of them (Ogden pose)? Or a receiver going up for the ball (Tory Holt pose) with two defenders around him (Maybe the Chad Johnson pose without the ball or the Joey Porter pose)? They don't have to be on the same base but they could be set up with bases that can be put together so the figures interact. These are 3-packs, guys - not 3 singles packs. Let them work together.
  • As TMP issues more Legends players, I love the idea of mixing them in with the current players. We really need a Packers 3-pack with a Ray Nitschke in white jersey, a Brett Favre in a throw-back uniform and another player - maybe a Bart Starr, who should be in a future series?

Click here for more information about the NFL 3-packs.

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