The suspicion that big companies provide loaded boxes to choice breakers and celebrities have plagued the hobby for years. It’s nothing new. But many of the previous scandals and suspicions have involved Panini.
A recent public unboxing featuring Fanatics CEO Michael G. Rubin and soccer star Antoine Griezmann has cast doubt on the integrity of Fanatics. It has raised the question: are Fanatics giving loaded boxes to celebrities? We have the answers you seek.
On June 7th, Fanatics CEO Michael G. Rubin posted a video of himself opening boxes of 2023 Topps Sterling Baseball with Antoine Griezmann, a French soccer player who features as a forward for his country Atlético Madrid. They appear to be having a friendly competition of who hits the bigger card.
Then an unwrapped box of 2023 Topps Baseball Sterling is presented to Griezmann. Who then proceeds to say, “I have a big one, I am sure.” When the next box is opened, the soccer player looks genuinely surprised to hit a Jackie Robinson 1/1 autographed card. An even bigger card.
Rubin also tries to act surprised and says “whoah” several times. However, as some have pointed out, Rubin said the word “Jackie” before he had a good view of the card in his line of sight. So, I will let you be the judge of whether this comes as a genuine surprise to the Fanatics CEO. Rubin then says, “This is insanity,” and very tellingly, “That’s like impossible.” Meanwhile, Fanatics Trading Cards President David Leiner makes a surprised face, which some have called unconvincing.
Then it is Rubin’s turn to open a box. As a reminder, each 2023 Topps Sterling Baseball hobby box has 2 inner boxes. Each contains a card. We can see Rubin get the second box. His hit is a 1/1 Trout autograph relic. Rubin smiles and says, “It’s very good, but you know what, the real athlete won.”
Leiner, who was holding the box before handing it to the two luminaries in question, said of the Trout card, “That would win nine out of ten times.” And that seems proper. The two boxes were filled with unreasonably good cards. Was this just a coincidence, or was this a choreographed affair where the cards were selected ahead of time?
Rubin posted this video on his own account and wrote: “Antoine Griezmann obliterated me – sorry, Mike Trout, no disrespect.”
The response overall has been muted. Most hobby influencers don’t want to get on the wrong side of Fanatics. But there has been some criticism of this policy by Fanatics, mostly on social media. Some commented on the video itself, and the account for Breaking Cards replied: “did you really just seed out the product hit to a celebrity on camera and call it good content?”
Mario Alejandro of the Wax Heaven Blog Tweeted: “Michael Rubin gifted Antoine Griezmann a $1,200 box of 2023 Topps Sterling, & he magically pulled a 1/1 Jackie Robinson. This hit should have been packed for a struggling LCS that’s been in business for decades, not a millionaire.”
He then updated the thread and wrote that Antoine Griezmann “reached out by DM regarding this situation. He states that nothing was staged, and it was all pure luck. I explained to Antoine my take that the hobby is full of struggling card shops that could use this type of publicity from Fanatics and Michael Rubin. Antoine said he agrees and plans to create future content, which involves going to local card shops to film box breaks.
I understand collecting is now about group breaks and eBay, but I hope Fanatics takes steps to prop up the LCS, which was once the backbone of trading cards for decades before social media.” As an aside, I have to say that I completely believe Griezmann.
He seemed genuinely surprised at hitting that card. And if the hit was staged, Rubin has no reason to let the French soccer player know. It would make for a less convincing reaction.
The trouble with the allegations that fanatics give loaded boxes to celebrities is that the evidence is circumstantial. The edited Instagram clip makes it seem like just two boxes were opened, each containing a colossal hit. But is that an accurate representation of what happened? The clip certainly looked edited.
How many other boxes were opened? It is hard to say. The editing here is a reminder of why honest breakers show the boxes being opened from start to finish. That way, there is less chance for tampering or manipulation.
The video seems to show that the first box, the one given to Griezmann and containing that phenomenal Jackie Robinson 1/1 box, was unwrapped. Each box comes with a transparent wrap that is stamped with the Topps logo. There is also a sleeve around the box with an MLB logo.
Finally, the two inner boxes are each individually wrapped. Both are missing when we first encounter the box in the edited video, in the hands of Topps CEO David Liener. At no point in the video could I spot a wrap on the outer or inner boxes of this 2023 Topps Sterling Baseball hobby box?
That is not evidence in and of itself, but it certainly is suspicious. It leaves the possibility that the box was never wrapped but was just intended for this publicity stunt.
It is hard to say anything for sure without an unedited video of the boxes being opened. Even if we did have that available, we wouldn’t know how the boxes slated for an appearance at this event were selected. Therefore, it is all speculation. But the optics are not particularly good.
There is a problem here on a fundamental legal level. The odds that Fanatics publish on their boxes are a guarantee made to the customers. And it is already challenging to hit a truly good card. Therefore, in theory, a class action suit addressing the odds on Fanatics boxes is possible for something like this. As one account on Instagram put it, “They pull that for marketing now you go spent thousands and don’t pull jack.”
There has been a rash of accusations of loaded boxes going out to specific breakers in the hobby. Most notably to the controversial Backyard Breaks outfit. However, until now most of these stories have centered around Panini. And we all know Panini is having significant trouble right now. Since losing the rights to NBA and NFL cards, they have experienced employee poaching, break-ins, and other misfortunes.
But that matters far less than what Fanatics do because, as we all know, they are the future of the hobby in America. Topps has so far not been associated, at least not firmly, with marked or loaded box scandals.
The video in question here doesn’t necessarily change that. However, it is a warning sign of a potentially serious problem. Since Fanatics will soon be the only game in town for licensed cards, even the appearance that they are unfairly distributing their strongest cards and boxes can undermine the integrity of the hobby.
On one level, Fanatics may not care all that much. After all, they will monopolize cards, so where will the collectors go? That is true as far as it goes. But Fanatics is trying to increase the visibility and prestige of high-end products like Topps Sterling Baseball.
And if these brands are associated with unfair practices, it can hurt their branding and even lower the value of boxes. After all, why would anyone spend thousands on a product where the best cards have already been taken out of circulation?
2023 Topps Sterling Baseball is, without a doubt, loaded with many good hits. But are they as good as the pulls Michael Rubin and Antione Griezmann pulled? The suspicion that this opening was staged and loaded boxes were used is primarily based on the premise that it is unlikely that anyone would pull cards this good.
One Instagram user, Mike Norkus, said matter of factly: “I’m sorry, but this is a joke. A product hit AND the greatest player in recent history in one box? And we’re supposed to believe this is just dumb luck? I’ve seen cases of this stuff opened, and most boxes are lucky to get one good card. Not a good look for the Fanatics takeover already.”
But it’s hard to say how representative this is without looking at the contents of other 2023 Topps Sterling Baseball boxes. You know, the ones intended for the general public. So, we looked at a few breaks to see if those kinds of hits are commonplace.
A hobby box comes with 2 cards in each container. A guaranteed autograph relic, and the second card could be another or unique or cut signature card. So, generally speaking, that first autograph relic is supposed to be the massive card. But the second one should also be a good card.
So, I watched this Layton Cards case break:
And then this one:
Ozzie Albies Autograph Relic (Logo Patch) /25
Steve Carlton Autograph Relic /25
Byron Buxton /5
J.T. Realmuto (Letter Patch) 1/1
Mark McGwire (Logo Patch) /5
Jose Altuve /25
Fernando Tatis Jr. (Camo Patch) /15
Redemption for Triple Auto Relic of Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine
Aaron Nola (Letter Patch) 1/1
Tristan Casas /25
C.C. Sabathia /25
Triple Auto Relic Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Shohei Otani
Roger Clemens /25
Vladimir Guerrero /25
Wade Boggs /25
Bobby Witt Jr /25
Dale Murphy /10
Carl Yastrzemski /10
Freddie Freeman (Bat Knob Relic) 1/1
Shohei Otani /25
Will Clark /25
Christopher Morel /10
Greg Maddux /25
Cal Ripken Jr. /25
We looked at a sample size of 12 boxes and haven’t seen one that matches the box Michael Rubin and Antoine Griezmann opened. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a bigger card than a Jackie Robinson 1/1.
The closest thing in any of these boxes was box 6 with its awesome Triple Auto Relic Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Shohei Otani. A wonderful card. But none of those guys is a world-famous civil rights icon and Hall of Famer who has been dead for 50 years and is no longer giving autographs. It was also a redemption, which we know is always problematic and doesn’t guarantee you get the card promised.
To make matters worse, the second card was a solid Mike Trout. Meanwhile, the Japanese superstar trio card was accompanied by a particularly weak C.C. Sabathia /25 (sorry, C.C., but you are no Mike Trout).
Therefore, we can say with certainty that the box opened by Griezmann and Rubin was atypically strong for a 2023 Topps Sterling Baseball hobby box. While that does not prove the boxes are marked, it does nothing to dispel suspicions.
The jury is out on whether Fanatics is giving loaded boxes to celebrities. It may well be that the whole process was edited down to two glamorous cards, eliminating all of the fluff that would make the outcome look more probable and realistic. But without a doubt, there is a public relations problem here.
The video does not look good, and the comments and responses to it have been overwhelmingly negative. We would ask that Fanatics release the total footage of the break to see whether the box was wrapped. In addition, we would like to see more transparency from Fanatics in the future when they engage in publicity stunts of this sort.
The baseball space is very different from the basketball and football one. The fans there do not necessarily want to see glam and glitz. One user named joeyventre wrote, “Michael Rubin really thinks he’s done something with this post. He does not understand the hobby. The hobby isn’t supposed to be shiny, glossy, and full of celebrity worship as you do, Michael Rubin; take a step back and learn – you are clueless in this space. That’s my feedback.”
Most collectors would instead feel that they have a good chance of hitting the best cards in the product than see glitzy stars get them. And to make matters worse, Antione Griezmann is not a name that means much to the average baseball fan.
I happen to be a big soccer fan and have followed his incredible career. But as ripripboom from Instagram put it: “This is disrespectful to people that actually buy the product to chase big cards. And it’s wrong and tone-deaf, considering Griezmann doesn’t even really care for baseball.” Fanatics should work on changing these optics because the whole hobby is watching.
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