Strong turnout makes Rookie Premiere a success

The football card market saw a nice uptick in sales last year thanks to a celebrity-filled rookie class led by Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Matt Leinart. This year’s rookie class will have a tough time topping last year’s accomplishments, but if first impressions are any indication, this freshman class could also be something special.

The NFL Class of 2007 made its debut this weekend with 34 of the top rookies participating in the Reebok NFL Players Rookie Premiere. Held at the L.A. Coliseum, the two-day event allowed Upper Deck, Donruss Playoff and Topps to photograph the prospects in their NFL uniforms for the first time, while leaving with autographs, event-used memorabilia and newfound relationships.

“This event is a building block, a foundation for everything we do during the football season, so it’s very important that we’re here,” said Upper Deck spokesman Don Williams. “This was a tremendous group of guys this year. To a man, they were very much into what we were doing here.”

Led by high-profile picks JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson and Brady Quinn, the photo shoot featured 30 skill-position players and 13 first-round picks. Many of the players were familiar with the photo shoot, making it much easier for the card companies.

“This has been by far one of the best classes we’ve ever had to work with,” said Donruss Playoff’s Scott Prusha. “Every guy has been great, their personalities have been awesome and they’ve been very helpful. Last year was a special year, but these guys seem special, too. The sky is the limit for what these guys can do for the football card market this year.”

Here’s what the card market can expect to see from this year’s Photo Shoot:

Upper Deck: Images from this event will first appear in SPx Football in September, with autographs and event-used items appearing throughout Upper Deck’s high-end products. The company used eight stations to secure everything from posed shots, interviews and action shots, even breaking out a snow station for some winter-like scenes from L.A.

Donruss Playoff: Donruss used four stations to secure studio shots, autographs, action shots and interviews that will appear on its website. Images will first appear in Playoff Absolute in late June and Score in early July. The company has already produced Playoff Prestige, which has images of the players in their college uniforms but with updated draft information. Each player received a box of Prestige from Donruss and the rookies could be seen trading their own rookie cards.

Topps: Topps took photos on Thursday and Friday to create cards that were finished and ready for players to sign on Sunday. Those autographed cards will be inserted into packs of Topps Football. “They were also given a set and they were all getting other players to sign their cards,” said Topps’ Clay Luraschi. “They loved the cards. Overall, It was a great group. They were very enthusiastic.”

“I think it’s been a huge success,” said Karen Bush, assistant vice president for Players Inc. “We can look forward to seeing great things from these guys this year and hopefully that translates into some great sales for football cards.”
On Thursday, Players Inc sponsored free autograph signings at two card shops in Los Angeles. Former USC receiver Steve Smith (New York Giants) appeared at Beverly Hills Baseball Card Shop in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, former Auburn running back Kenny Irons (Cincinnati) was at The Bullpen.

– Greg Ambrosius, reporting from Los Angeles

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