Panini hopes new Hobby International releases unlock 'global collecting community'

Release of 2023-24 Optic Basketball is first in Panini's line aimed at international markets

Cover Image for Panini hopes new Hobby International releases unlock 'global collecting community'
Optic Basketball will be followed by other flagship releases such as National Treasures NBA, Prizm NBA and Impeccable Soccer. (Credit: Panini)

Interest in collecting sports cards has likely never been higher, and the growth of the hobby internationally has been a major driver of that.

For years Panini has attempted to foster that international growth with region-specific releases, and the trading card manufacturer is doubling down on that strategy with its new Hobby International configuration.

Replacing the old Tmall offerings and eventually Panini Asia products, Hobby International’s first major product arrived Wednesday with the release of 2023-24 Optic Basketball.

For many international collectors, purchasing flagship products from Panini is simply too cost prohibitive once fees and import taxes are added in. And while Tmall and Panini Asia products were successful in serving a specific region, Hobby International is poised to be more flexible across the globe.

“It was a barrier of entry for a lot of younger, aspiring collectors in emerging markets to go out and buy a full box of Select Football or something of that nature,” Panini vice president of sales Kevin Haake told cllct. “So, we looked at our current calendar and our SKU diversity portfolio and asked how we can create a SKU that is for hobby shops, for breakers, but not geographic specific like Panini Asia was.”

First announced by Panini in May, Hobby International configurations will be available for 20 total products to start. Along with Optic Basketball, flagship brands like National Treasures NBA, Prizm NBA and Impeccable Soccer will arrive with the expected international-exclusive parallels, inserts and autographs, but will more closely resemble typical hobby formats.

According to Haake, some international-exclusive chases were so popular many Panini Asia products made their way to North America for collectors in the United States. Despite the popular chases, he says Panini needed to make major changes.

Largely meant to be an affordable option in a market dominated by high-end products, Panini Asia releases were often purchased by breakers instead of individual collectors. That process isn’t uncommon, but international collectors struggled to find value breaking low-end products with configurations resembling ultra high-end sets that might only have a single pack.

“It wasn't ever really designed to be that,” Haake said.

Previously a mix of configurations featuring varying card and pack counts, Hobby International releases will feature a more standardized format. Like its traditional hobby configuration, Optic Basketball Hobby International features 80 total cards with four cards in each of the 20 packs.

Unlike Tmall or Panini Asia products, Hobby International is meant to be available in Asia, Australia and Europe as well. Though not specifically meant for U.S.-based customers, it’s also possible some allocation is set aside for North America too.

“We sharpened the pencil in a lot of different areas just because we wanted to be more consumer-friendly,” Haake said. “But most importantly, because now we’re going to try to sell it in all four corners of the globe, there needs to be consistency across the board. That new hobby shop or new breaker in Dublin has the same understanding of what’s going on as the breaker in Melbourne.”

Though Panini Asia releases are being retired for the Hobby International lineup, Haake says the previous iterations of international products made what they have today possible. For Panini, international releases proved to be a valuable testing ground for new concepts the company didn’t want to immediately add to typical hobby products.

With Hobby International releases, Panini can also test new ideas that might even be hyper specific to different communities. So far, cards with cultural significance to Asian communities have been hits among collectors — parallels such as Goldfish, Dragon Scale and the new Cherry Blossom might not appeal to everyone, but they are beloved by others.

International products could be the right place to expand that idea to other communities .

“Now you’re not building products for one single type of collector, you’re building products for a global collecting community,” Haake said. “And when you start thinking about everything that you can tap into on a global scale, it’s an endless list of possibilities.”

If past international releases are any indicator, Panini likely won’t have trouble selling new configurations for its flagship sets. Regions such as Europe have already asked for easier access to hobby products, and Hobby International configurations hope to deliver some of that without Panini expanding print runs for its typical hobby products.

“This is a way in which we can provide them that entryway,” Haake said. “If the SKUs are successful and the customers are successful, it gives us a long-term roadmap on how we can continue to grow the global hobby community.”

Ben Burrows is a reporter and editor for cllct.