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Sustainability of Sports Card Collectibles

Since April of 2020, the sportscard market has seen explosive growth within pop culture and thus producing monumental gains in monetary value. However, this kind of growth in such a short period of time does not come without concern. The question. What is the sustainability of the sports card collectibles market?

Sports Card Collectibles During a Pandemic

In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entire world shut down. Many with non-essential jobs hunkered down and hoped for the best. Many found solace in staying home and catching up on old hobbies like sportscard collecting. This caused a spark within the hobby unlike never seen before.

Key rookie cards and scarce, esthetically eye-pleasing cards turned into 5, 6, and in many cases 7 digit sales. By February of 2021 the prices peaked even higher, record-breaking sales became the norm, those with years of experience began to wonder how is this sustainable?

The truth is it wasn’t sustainable. By May card values began to dip. Many panicked but those with years of experience in the hobby did not. They’ve lived through many ups and downs and they knew this would not last.

However, the hobby veterans know that it would be in the best interest of the hobby if we could figure out a way to make this hobby boom more long-term and sustainable.

Hobby Veterans Gather for a Roundtable Discussion

The sustainability of sports cards was the key topic of discussion at the Sports Card Expo – Virtual Edition. On June 19, 2021, Jeremy Lee of Sports Cards Live hosted a roundtable discussion.

Joining Jeremy in this discussion was Chris McGill of Card Ladder, Karvin Cheung, and Dr. James Beckett. A highly qualified panel indeed.

I consume lots of hobby content and I typically won’t write about it unless I find the content really important, and beneficial. If this is the case I like to document it in writing because the video seems to get lost on YouTube a day or so after its posted.

I found this 45-minute discussion important enough to document here and will be paraphrasing their answers. Or you can click the link and watch it on YouTube in its entirety.

Q1) Is today’s prices shutting out the next generation of collectors?

Chris McGill – retail has been inaccessible and demand is very high. But on the flip side, there are many ways to participate on a smaller budget. Also, prices go up because of high demand but demand is never a bad thing in the hobby.

Karvin Cheung – gives the analogy of someone’s first car being a Cutlas Supreme versus a Porshe. He goes on to say. The reality is for most, you work hard to earn a living and save, later in life, you can buy the Porshe.

The notion is that the younger generation is entitled to products like Flawless or National Treasures but the reality is those products are designed more for a high-end collector, it’s a luxury item.

Dr. Beckett – society thinks that the educated can’t argue both sides of an issue. On this issue, kids are being priced out of certain products but they’re not being priced out of the hobby. Sportscard collecting is a demand-driven hobby.

Jeremy Lee – there are many ways to be active, COMC, card shows, etc. you have to come to grips until you can afford luxury items you’ll have to wait and work your way to the high-end product.

Q2) Card Manufacturers Single License, is it conducive to future growth?

Karvin Cheung – taking the angle of why competition does not work let me give an example. Let’s say Panini prints 40 brands a year for both licenses. Which for this example would be 20 products for football and 20 products for basketball.

Due to the cost of licenses, in order for this concept to be cost-effective, they would need to print at least 30 products per license.

Now if Topps, Panini, and Upper Deck all print at least 30 products a year, now we flood the market, and products will begin to cannibalize each other.

Dr. Beckett – breaks it down into 3 eras. Pre 1980s Topps had it all to themselves. 1981-2009 complete chaos. 2009 to present is the era of single licenses, and this is as good as its ever been.

Fact is, all companies and leagues are making money. Do single licenses work? Absolutely! It’s hard to argue and we don’t have a vote in it.

Chris McGill – I’m giving voice to other points like the risk of monopoly due to a lack of checks and balances. Also, multi-licenses give the hobby more innovation and creativity of card designs.

On the flip side, now there are more memorabilia and autograph cards. Inserts and parallels are being pushed to their absolute fullest capacities.

Collectors feel that competition between card manufacturers will create a safeguard to this issue, it would protect rarity and scarcity.

Jeremy Lee – Do we really need more products? Card manufacturers won’t survive making 10 products.

Q3) Collectors & Investors, how do both co-exist in the hobby eco-system?

Dr. Beckett – investors are going to come and go, collectors will always stay in the hobby. Both need to co-operate with each other. Symbiosis is needed, not vilifying each other.

Karvin Cheung – the past year has been a year we’ve all wished for. We’ve asked ourselves, how do we get more people into the hobby?

But now we’re divisive when we need to be positive. Don’t vilify and be negative. How about extending an olive branch and teach them how to collect.

Every sports card collector is a fan of the game but not every fan of the game is a collector.

Chris McGill – most men get into sports and finances, sports cards are a unique niche that combines both. There isn’t a big difference between the two. The investors that will succeed will be the ones who seek to understand what works in a collectible market; rarity, legacy, brand name, history, and continuity.

Every investor is a collector waiting to happen. This is where I quote my friend Josh Johnson when he says,

“We don’t like sports cards because they’re good investments, they’re good investments because we like sports cards.”

This is the bridge between collector and investor and their loss of common ground.

Q4) The Narrative Created by Content Creators, Is It Healthy?

Dr. Beckett – using the analogy of music, it’s not symphonic, it’s cacophonic, it’s not jazz, it’s everybody doing what they want to do and seeing what sticks. That’s not the kind of music I want to listen to.

As individuals, we need to tune out these discordant voices and put together people I want to hear from. Over time you’ll be able to weed out the sensational headlines without much substance.

In the world of music, many have different taste but its not about subscriber counts and views if your leading people astray it’s not good!

Chris McGill – the cynics do have an important role in the hobby. However, their role is less important when they’re right. At the moment it seems like they’re right. In a bull market, they appear to be right and in a bear market, the optimist appears to be right.

In other words, low pessimists provide balance in a bull market, and in a bear market, the optimist provides balance. If it’s not fun any more people will pause from creating content.

Karvin Cheung – there are good and bad content creators. As the consumer of this content ask yourself, who do they know? How long have they been doing it? Research the people behind the content.

Also, connect with people with good character and integrity.

The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

To summarize what we have here, these are four questions dealing with four issues that have the potential to affect the sustainability of the sports card hobby. The responses are given by four of the greatest minds in the hobby today. Seasoned collectors with analytical and intellectual minds.

On June 24, 2021, Dr. Beckett was on a live broadcast on Sports Card Live and he was asked by someone on the live chat, “how do you think content creators and data tools have shortened the learning curve for those recently returning to the hobby like myself?” Dr. Beckett’s response was,

“It’s shortened the learning curve for knowledge but not for wisdom.”

Oh! Drop the microphone and shut the front door on your way out. For me, the opinion of seasoned collectors carries a lot of weight. These are the guys I need to be listening to.

Guys who have been through the ups and downs over decades. Not someone who entered the hobby 2 years ago and is trying to give his or her opinion on what $20,000 card I should buy.

You see, hobby knowledge can be obtained fairly easily but hobby wisdom can’t be bought. It can’t come by way of data tools. It comes by way of experience.

An old adage says birds of the same feather flock together. Most hobby enthusiasts with hobby wisdom know each other or know of each other. These are the guys I want to hang out with.

I was taught in my younger years that if I hang out with turkeys I will inevitably become a turkey. But if I desire to sore like an eagle I should hang out with eagles.

The sustainability of sports card collectibles comes by way of hobby eagles pointing the way, not by listening and following the turkeys.

Click here to read more about Hobby Wisdom.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.