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Latest Trading Card Controversy: Are High Profile Breakers Getting Loaded Boxes?

Latest Trading Card Controversy: Are High Profile Breakers Getting Loaded Boxes? article feature image

LeBron James (Getty Images)

The trading card hobby has had many headwinds over the last six months. The latest? Math.

That's thanks to a long time collector and observer of the hobby, who argues it's statistically impossible that Backyard Breaks pulled four of the hobby's most-coveted 1/1s over a short timeframe.

Backyard Breaks is in the business of opening boxes and packs and selling the rights to particular cards in the pack or the pack itself to customers. The company is among the biggest of the groups who do this, breaking on live platforms and making highlights of their biggest pulls.

A man who goes by the name Eric Whiteback, or @ericwhiteback on Twitter, took to the social media site last week after seeing that Backyard Breaks pulled the No. 1 card in each of Panini's NBA Flawless, Prizm and National Treasures products.

Backyard Breaks pulled:

  1. The Lebron Triple Logoman 1/1, the most coveted card in the Flawless boxes
  2. The Warriors Triple Logoman 1/1, the second most coveted card in the Flawless boxes
  3. The Cade Cunningham Prizm Black 1/1, the most coveted card in the Prizm boxes
  4. The Cade Cunningham Autograph Logoman 1/1, the most coveted card in the National Treasures boxes.

A math minor in college, Whiteback, who says he uses an alias in part because of his collection, told The Action Network that his calculations prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this couldn't have occurred randomly. His conclusion is that Backyard Breaks is likely getting loaded boxes.

To make his case, Whiteback calculated how many boxes Backyard would have to open to give them a 0.5% chance to pull these four cards.

Why 0.5%? Because in statistics, a 0.5% threshold would indicate that you can reasonably disprove the Null Hypothesis.  In this case, the Null Hypothesis (which Whiteback seeks to disprove) is that Backyard Breaks randomly pulled the four cards in question.

In other words, if he could prove that there is less than a 0.5% chance that this would happen randomly, then it's reasonable to assume that there are other factors at play.

His conclusion: Backyard Breaks would have had to have purchased at least 26.5% of all product to have even a 0.5% chance of pulling all four of these cards.

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Panini gives no odds on receiving any particular card in its boxes and doesn't even say how many boxes it produces. But Whiteback was able to back into the numbers by looking at the checklist of players and understanding the print run of each through the serial numbers.

He concluded that the print run of Flawless was 4,530 boxes, that First Off The Line Prizm boxes were a run of 7,590 and that National Treasures had a run of 19,300.

Doing the math on the 26.5% of the boxes, Whiteback conservatively estimated that Backyard would have had to open about $40 million of these three products — and that's just to have a 0.5% chance to pull these four cards.

Whiteback also made what he believes to be a fair assumption — that it's highly unlikely that Backyard Breaks sold $40M of these three products alone.  "If they sold that much of these three products, they'd be looking at several hundred million dollars of revenue annually across all products," Whiteback said, "I don't think that's realistic."

What's interesting is that Whiteback just calculated the First Off The Line Prizm because the Shimmer cards allowed him to know the print run. If Whiteback included the print run of Prizm Hobby boxes in his calculations, the odds of pulling all four cards would have been at least 10 times more unlikely.  He admitted that because there is no way to accurately calculate the amount of Prizm Hobby boxes produced, that he opted to work with the available information, even though it would weaken his case.

When he tweeted his thread, there were four camps. It was either Backyard Breaks were the crooks or Panini was. Or the two were both in cahoots. Or it was mere coincidence.

"If Backyard got loaded boxes, they might not know," Whiteback said. "And if Panini was giving them loaded boxes, who is to say it was a company effort and not just some rogue employee? The only thing that's clear from doing the numbers is something is amiss."

The reactions might have been more telling.

Backyard Breaks responded on Instagram with a fake press conference/ad from its CEO Nick Telfer.

"It's being widely spread online that the odds of us hitting these four is 1 in 117,605, so my question to you, the hobby is: Why would you want to break with anyone else?"

Telfer did not respond to an inquiry from The Action Network to more seriously talk about the allegations and multiple emails to Jason Howarth, Panini's vice president of marketing, went unreturned.

"Panini has always been shrouded in secrecy," Whiteback said. "I imagine there are many meetings behind closed doors as to what they want to do here."

Despite the fact that pulling these cards from packs and paying to get them in a break is essentially the lottery, Whiteback speculates that what happens behind the scenes has far from the same controls.

"When companies make $1 million-winning lottery scratch-offs, do you think they know where that ticket is all the time? Would warehouse workers be privy to which scratch-offs are massive jackpot winners?  Of course not," Whiteback said. "I doubt the same precautions are taken with these enormous chase cards."

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