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The Past, Present and Future of the Sports Card Industry

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Trading card experts Lou Geneux and Jordan Hagedorn explore the booming industry as editorial contributors to ONE37pm. Team Gary Vee & ONE37pm will be at the National Sports Collectors Convention. If you’d like to connect, email lgeneux@vaynermedia.com

 

After a 15-year lull, the sports card market has been on the rise and is extremely hot. Former hobbyists and a new wave of collectors are buying up cards like crazy.

 

“According to our research, the total value of the U.S. sports memorabilia market amounts to $5.4 billion annually,” said high-tech entrepreneur David Yoken in an article on Forbes. Resale sites like eBay and independent auction houses have propelled the expansion, 

 

Here, we explore the hobby we’ve grown to love.

The Early Days of Card Collecting

Back in their heyday, sports cards were the hottest thing on the planet. Odds are, you or one of your friends from childhood have a connection to the hobby that swept the nation starting in the late ’80s and extending into the ’90s. During that time, card companies like Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, SkyBox and more experienced significant growth. The giants of the industry could seemingly do no wrong. Over the years, cards evolved from plain cardboard versions to glossy and foil-stamped, to serial numbered and autographed, to memorabilia-infused ones with bits of the player’s items embedded, like a jersey or a bat. The hobby of collecting baseball, basketball, football and hockey cards was booming.

 

Humans are nostalgic, and thus, we reminisce about the good old days of collecting, which consisted of targeting your favorite players and sets at the local card shop, buying a pack (or a box, if you were lucky enough to afford it), trading with friends and attending local card shows. Whether it’s the 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco rookie, the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck, some Dan Marino or Deion Sanders cards, a Michael Jordan insert or a LeBron James rookie from 2003, millions of us have a memory of the hobby.

 

There are crazy stories of collectors taking out a second mortgage on their house to hoard rookie cards of popular players, thinking if they purchased elite rookie cards they would be worth a fortune in the future. Those folks ended up being very disappointed.

 

Unfortunately, following years of huge success, the sports card market became saturated. Because of mass production, a changing seller’s landscape, the emergence of the internet (specifically eBay), a decline of local card shops and a lack of superstars in the sports world, interest in the hobby plummeted. Many retailers and collectors were left with much more inventory than they could sell. Supply was at an all-time high, while demand was at an all-time low. Of course, the rarest and most sought-after cards continued to sell at high prices, but by and large, the market had collapsed.

The Resurgence of Sports Cards

Ever since that “crash,” the major card brands have adjusted their approach, bringing unique, limited cards to the forefront. Now, relics—like autographs and high-end memorabilia—lead the charge. Card creators like Panini and Topps have made it easier to obtain eye-catching cards with pieces of memorabilia that were used in an actual game (such as pieces of a jersey or ball), autographs and numbered cards in packs.

 

Some people never ditched the hobby they love, but many did. And those collectors are returning to the hobby in droves. People buying cards from their childhood for nostalgia, increased player interest across all sports and resellers looking to capitalize on a hot hobby are factors that point to the card resurgence. Since 2000, there’s been a consolidation of mass-release sets, leading to a smaller selection pool and more variety in terms of brands and designs.

The Future of Trading Sports Cards

Starting now, ONE37pm is curating a team of experts to unearth riveting stories in the world of trading cards. At the National Sports Collectors Convention, thousands of members of the hobby will come together in Chicago to showcase their cards and we'll be there checking out the case breaks, watching Gary Vaynerchuk and Josh Luber discuss the future of the industry and maybe (definitely) making a few deals.

 

The only question is, who’s the next big star in sports?

 

Read More: 5 Most Underrated Pokémon Cards You Can Easily Buy

Read More: I Tried to Sell Stuff On eBay to Channel My Inner Gary Vee, Here’s What I Learned

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