Thirty-five members of the 2009 Draft Class gathered in Los Angeles last week, donning their professional uniforms for the first time at the Reebok NFL Players Rookie Premiere Presented by EA Sports. The event gives the players their first shot at photos and interviews in their new uniforms, but it’s the marquee event for the three major card manufacturers – Panini America, Topps and Upper Deck – to capture photos, event-used gear and interview the players.
“The goal of this event is to enable our trading card licensees to photograph the recently drafted players for the first time in their new professional team uniforms, and collect a series of autographed memorabilia for inclusion into their product,” said Keith Gordon, vice president of licensing for NFL Players. “Rookie cards continue to drive a large portion of the football trading card business, and collectors eagerly anticipate the release of top draft picks with unique elements incorporated (i.e. certified autographs, memorabilia, etc.). Over the years, the event has evolved into more than just a photo shoot – it has become a platform for allowing players to connect with one another as colleagues, meet with NFLPA and NFL Players staff and learn more about their impact on the business in a positive and productive manner.”
This year’s event was the first for Panini, although Donruss has been present for years. “Being the first official rookie class for Panini put a special emphasis on this year’s event for us, and it was another huge success,” said Scott Prusha, Panini’s director of marketing. “The class seems to be getting better and better each year and this one stands out in my mind as one of the best. I see some serious talent out here and the guys showed a lot of personality throughout the day. We were live on Facebook throughout the day, posting pictures and releasing exclusive product information by using some of the players to help us.”
Topps got plenty of photos for its 2009 Football products and also had Topps TV on location doing interviews with players.
“Once again, we conducted our Rookie Premiere Autograph Card Program,” said Clay Luraschi, Topps’ director of product development. “We photographed the players Thursday when they arrived, created their first-ever cards in an NFL uniform on Friday and Saturday and then had them signed on Sunday. These always popular cards will be inserted in 2009 Topps Football in July.”
Upper Deck incorporated two new stations this year at the Rookie Premiere in addition to its usual photo stations. The first was a video station for the Upper Deck Touchdown Dance Challenge. “We wanted to see how these rookies would celebrate the first time they reach the endzone. That footage is being compiled for a piece due out this week designed to reach mainstream sports fans,” said Chris Carlin, Upper Deck’s hobby marketing manager. “We also had an online interactive station for Upper Deck U where we created avatars for the players and had them answer questions in the virtual world live to kids. This was a tremendous success for us with a huge turnout and lot of happy kids. We are planning another online experience like this with Derek Jeter on June 16.”
In addition, Upper Deck had rookies add inscriptions to many of their cards that will appear in 2009 UD Heroes, 2009 Philadelphia and 2009 Upper Deck Football.
On May 21, prior to the photo shoots, rookies Chris “Beanie” Wells of the Arizona Cardinals and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants made their first hobby shop appearances as NFL players. Wells visited Beverly Hills Baseball Card Shop, while Nicks made his appearance at Extra Innings in Culver City, Calif. Both rookies signed autographs and posed for photographs for large crowds.
On May 22, more than 30 of the rookies visited Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. The players divided into small groups and did personal stops on three of the hospital’s floors. The patients were surprised with autographed hats and trading cards in their rooms, and the players participated in rehabilitation games with the children in the gyms.