For many Americans, buying a pack of sports cards was a standard part of their childhood. For many older Millenials, the 1989 Upper Deck, Ken Griffey, Jr, rookie card was the rave growing up, but very few people managed to get their hands on one.
Sports card collecting has been a favorite hobby for many Americans for decades. Still, in recent times, interest has grown massively, and sports cards are fast becoming a little more than just a hobby. A 1952 Topps Mickey rookie card recently set the record for the most expensive sports card sale at $12.6 million. In a manner of speaking, this sale has announced that sports cards are here to stay and not just as a hobby too.
According to Geoff Wilson, founder of Sports Card Investor, “Sports Cards is fast becoming its own legitimate alternative asset class. The next generation of investors in the US want to invest in things that have meaning to them or that they have a personal connection with; it’s why you’ve seen the rise of social entrepreneurship. I believe the same sentiment is driving the current boom in sports card collecting.”
Geoff Wilson is a lifelong sports card collector, a tech investor, and the founder of Sports Card Investor. This data-driven company provides sports card data to enable fans to track the value of their cards and make profitable decisions.
Why Is Sports Card Investing Rising In Popularity
By early 2019, there was a clear spike in interest in sports card investing, mainly due to the positive changes that card manufacturers were beginning to make at the time. However, few people were prepared for the remarkable change to the industry that the pandemic would bring.
Soon after that, the pandemic hit, and everything shut down. After all sports activities were canceled, the sports card industry briefly tanked, and all the significant momentum built up over the prior six months was reversed. The average card lost 30 to 40% in value over two weeks.
In the last 2 years the market has had a resurgence with a Mike Trout rookie card selling for $3.9 million in 2020, and a year later a $6.6 million Honus Wagner card selling.
“We have something the hobby has never had before,” Ken Goldin, the founder of Goldin Auctions said in an interview with Bloomberg. “All of a sudden, we’re cool.”
Wilson added: “Everything changed after about three weeks, and suddenly, sports cards became popular at a rate never seen before and one that we may never see again. This was because of a confluence of two factors, one being that people were stuck at home bored and looking for a hobby. For many Americans, sports cards were the perfect thing because they reconnected them to their childhood. The second thing was ESPN’s release of the documentary, The Last Dance, which chronicled Michael Jordan’s life, the Chicago Bulls, and their championships in the 1990s.”
After the documentary’s release, most sports card investors reported a crazy spike in the price of cards, from Michael Jordan’s cards to every basketball card. Eventually, the enthusiasm spread to other sports; football cards, baseball cards, soccer cards, and hockey cards. The surge in activity continued throughout 2020 and parts of 2021, but prices cooled somewhat after the country opened up as people started spending on other things. However, Mr. Wilson insists that interest has remained at an all-time high.
“The interest and engagement on our content on Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube have continued to grow at a sustained level even after the pandemic. This is evidence that this is no longer a short-term spike; it’s the norm, it’s a measurable growth in interest, and it is much faster than even we anticipated”
In 2003, Matthew Berger bought a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch Autograph card for $5000. Today he is expected to sell the card through Heritage auctions for approximately $2 million.
Talking to Sports Collectors Daily, Berger said, “I thought to myself, ‘If Michael Jordan had a rookie card like this Exquisite, what would it be worth?’” Matthew recalls. “$500 for a box of Exquisite was the first of its kind. I thought the value was so tremendous that one day [the LeBron RPA] will be worth $1 million.”
In 2016 someone from eBay
Positive Changes In The Sports Card Collecting Game
Sports card collecting has changed significantly from what it used to be 30 years ago. Many sports fans are now rediscovering it as more than just a hobby.
For investments to be credible, the cards have to hold some long-term value, and the industry has to be liquid. While this was not the case earlier, Fans are finding that this is often the case now with the positive changes introduced.
“Sports card manufacturers have introduced a measure of scarcity with their manufacturing which has really helped cards maintain value,” Wilson explains, “With the introduction of Serial number cards, Autographed cards, and grading, investors can now be assured of the value of their cards because of the obvious scarcity that these measures provide. Pro Athletes are only going to autograph so many cards a year, and the serial numbers indicate the number of cards produced in a series. Also, the fact that the industry has now become very liquid has helped build a lot of interest. With platforms like eBay and Check Out My Cards, investors can easily sell their cards and get paid, something that was not possible when we were growing up.”
In a world where fantasy football and daily fantasy sports are taking center stage, sports card investing is fast becoming a superior form of betting on player performance. Ideally, investors can buy cards of highly rated young players to bet on their careers’ trajectory. Cards can lose or gain value depending on how well the players perform during a season. The fact that these indices can be measured has made sports card investing a credible alternative asset class.
The other aspect is the Hall of Fame. When Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady announced he was retiring, his rookie cards grew substantially in price, with one selling on eBay for $2.3 million. With anticipation of him being inducted into the Hall and his current stardom.
According to Collectors’ Professional Sports Authenticator division staff member Todd Tobias, before 2018, you could purchase a 1961 Topps #139 Johnny Robinson card for $18. “Johnny Robinson was named the Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Candidate for the Class of 2019 on August 17, 2018,” Tobias wrote. “That very day another PSA 8 example sold, this time for $100.”
Appraisal experts Mike Breedan and Steve Gold talked about how many of the athletes being elected to Halls of Fame today have a spike in price in Sports Collectors Digest.
“The cards of most players elected these days were mass-produced, so they are not only easy to find but easy to find in top condition,” said Gold. Added Breeden, “mass-produced cards never really had any (relative) value and it’s likely that they never will.”
They suggested that players today that will probably be in the Hall Of Fame at some point in the future are good investments.
Data Is Helping Build Momentum
Before 2020, the only data available for sports card investors to speculate on the value of cards was the eBay sales history. However, the fact that eBay only shows data for the last 90 days made it difficult for investors to predict cards’ long-term value and the card’s movement over time. In August 2020 eBay reported that their card market grew by 142%, selling more cards in the first six months of 2021 than all of 2020.
As reported by Forbes in March, Collectors’ Professional Sports Authenticator division certifies and grades thousands of cards a day with $1.6 billion worth in the building on a day in March. Collectors secured $100 million in new funding from current investors in January 2022, moving its valuation to $4.3 billion. A five-time increase from the $850 million acquisition price in February 2021.
Wilson said, “For a long time, eBay provided all the data we had and it did help collectors make informed decisions to an extent, but I figured that this would not be enough to validate sports card investing as a long-term strategy. This is why I built Market Movers. It became the first real data-driven app that shows investors all the relevant data on their cards. Our website Sports Card Investor also has a price guide that is a free lite version of the app. What we have done is create a resource that can show investors the value of cards and the movement over time.”
As with every other form of investment, the growing availability of data is impacting the sports card investing world positively. While data does not ensure that investments are fail-proof, they inspire more confidence in the investor.
Being a sports fan often means spending money to enjoy sports. There are very few avenues for fans to profit from their hobby, and this is what sports card investing provides, but in a much more fun way. If sports card investing continues to draw attention and investment, it is not hard to imagine it becoming a major asset class in the near future.