Sports Dealers: Turn Maelstrom to Money

It seems you can’t go five minutes without hearing the doom-and-gloom talk about our economy. Companies are going out of business. Workers are getting laid off. And consumer spending is plummeting. This begs the question—what do these poor economic times mean for the typical sports-collectibles enthusiast?

To begin, it’s important to define who is your average sports-memorabilia collector. I’m not talking about the people who bid hundreds of thousands of dollars on rare pieces. Of course, those really high-end collectors will continue to acquire expensive rare pieces despite how bad the economy gets.

I’m referring to the collector who visits his local sports-collectibles shop or who browses online auction sites regularly to find new pieces to round out his collection. Has this economy squeezed them out of the market?

Sports-collectibles spending taking a hit

Judging from the reports from various sports-collectibles shows and dealers around the country, for now, the outlook is bleak. The number of dealers attending collectibles conventions has declined significantly over the past year. The bottom line is many people are cutting back their spending, and sports collectibles isn’t a necessary expenditure for them.

Worthologist Howard Lau (owner of Houston Sports Connection) confirms this point saying, “Right now, people are viewing sports collectibles as something that’s not a necessity but rather a luxury.”

Rarity items are still stong

While the rarity pieces that attract wealthy buyers seem to always have their market, how are the more expensive mainstream pieces (signed jerseys, helmets, etc) holding up? It seems this is the segment of collectibles currently taking the biggest hit. Your average sports-memorabilia collector just can’t afford to drop $1,000 on a signed jersey from his favorite player. Instead, he’s opting for lower-priced pieces that fit his budget.

But making a living by selling low-priced items can be difficult for card-shop owners. That’s why many dealers are pinning their hopes on a holiday-spending surge to boost their bottom line before the end of the year. It’s too early to say how much money will be spent on sports collectibles this holiday season, but it’s clear that for some dealers, their fate lies in the success of holiday sales.

Lau is optimistic there will be a holiday push, saying he believes “people will buy last-minute sports-collectibles gifts for Christmas.”

How can dealers get through the crisis?

So, what can dealers do to weather this economic storm? I believe focusing on a specific niche could prove valuable for sports-collectibles shop owners. For instance, pieces that have held their values for a long time will always be desirable. Vintage autographs, rare cards and big-name pieces (Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Ruth, etc.) are proven investments that are safe to buy because they’ll always be valuable.

The demand for these pieces will always be there. And in difficult economic times, collectors are likelier to buy proven collectibles than take a chance on new, unproven pieces that could plummet in value.

No one can predict where the world of sports collectibles will be in a year from now, but I think there is hope for the market. As long as dealers are willing to make adjustments to help the average collector, the hobby will weather this storm.

Eric Brantner is a baseball fan and freelance writer living in Houston.

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