News and Notes from the World of Sports Collectibles

2018 NFL licensed football card products from Panini America are on fire. Shown here is a Saquon Barkley Rookie Patch Auto.

Hot Players Fueling Steamy Football Card Market

For the first time in NFL history, every quarterback selected in the top ten picks in the first round of the current year’s draft is starting for their respective team. As a result, 2018 NFL licensed football card products from Panini America are on fire. Many retailers I spoke with report brisk sales but finding new inventory difficult with escalating wholesale prices. Autographed rookie cards of these players are fueling the high demand for current year products:

  • Baker Mayfield, QB – Cleveland Browns (1st overall pick, Oklahoma)
  • Saquon Barkley, RB – New York Giants (2nd overall pick, Penn State)
  • Sam Darnold, QB – New York Jets (3rd overall pick, USC)
  • Josh Allen, QB – Buffalo Bills (7th overall pick, Wyoming)
  • Josh Rosen, QB – Arizona Cardinals (10th overall pick, UCLA)

Other notable players whose autographed rookie cards are performing well on the secondary market are Calvin Ridley (WR), Atlanta Falcons, Nick Chubb (RB), Cleveland Browns, and Kerryon Johnson (RB), Detroit Lions.

Despite these breakout rookie players, it has been the emergence of one sophomore sensation that really has the attention of fans and collectors. Patrick Mahomes, starting quarter back of the Kansas City Chiefs is setting the record books on fire. The tenth overall pick in last year’s draft, through four games has already thrown for 1,200 yards with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Coupled with his completion percentage of 65.2 has led to a remarkable quarterback rating of 126.5.

Mahomes autographed rookie cards have seen dramatic price increases on eBay.

Mahomes autographed rookie cards, found in 2017 NFL licensed products from Panini America, have seen dramatic price increases on eBay and other secondary marketplaces. In addition, unopened boxes of 2017 product are quickly drying up and seeing price increases more than double what they were at the start of the season.

The strength of these products isn’t solely the doing of Mahomes. Other second-year players having breakout seasons and having a big impact on their teams include players from some high-profile, large market teams.

Mitch Trubisky, the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and quarterback for the Chicago Bears had an unprecedented performance that has fans in the Windy City absolutely giddy. Trubisky threw six touchdown passes in a recent game, the second most in franchise history.

Other hot players that have collectors going back to look for last year’s football cards are Deshaun Watson (QB), Houston Texans, JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR), Pittsburgh Steelers, Christian McCaffrey (RB), Carolina Panthers and Alvin Kamara (WR/RB), New Orleans Saints.

Combined with all the above evidence of a healthy football card market is the performance of several third-year players from the 2016 NFL Draft. Bonafide stars in their own right, including Dak Prescott (QB) and Ezekiel Elliott (RB) for the Dallas Cowboys and Jared Goff (QB) Los Angeles Rams and Carson Wentz (QB), Philadelphia Eagles are all seeing strong secondary market values for their autographed rookie cards as well. As would be expected, this has translated into licensed NFL football card products from 2016 becoming harder and harder to find.

High-End Sports Cards and Memorabilia Becoming Tradeable Asset Class

When it comes to qualifying collectibles as “investment” worthy, stamps, coins and art have long been the torch-bearers among the country’s affluent populace. However, with recent market research studies and new tools available to the collectibles investor, sports cards and memorabilia are quickly becoming a new hard asset alternative to traditional asset classes.

One company leading the way in heralding the sports collectibles market as worthy of traditional investor consideration is PWCC. Brent Huegins, the company’s CEO, recently wrote an article for Financial History magazine that was also featured by Forbes. The article, titled, “From Hobby to Investment – The History and Rise of Trading Cards as a Tradeable Asset Class” provides compelling evidence for such a bold statement.

Through meticulous research and proprietary historical pricing data, Huegins explains that the 100 most collectible trading cards that form the company’s PWCC 100 Index, have more than doubled the performance of the S&P 500, over the last ten years. The numbers aren’t even close as evidenced by the accompanying graph below.

Some of the cards included in the index are well known hobby heavy weights including the 1952 Topps and 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle, 1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb, the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, and the 1954 Topps Hank Aaron, to name a few. You can see the full listing here.

Sports Collectibles Market Valuation

The sports collectibles “hobby” has always been big business. Now, for the first time in maybe forever, someone has actually tried to calculate the total valuation of the sports card and memorabilia market. Dave Yoken, founder and CEO of Boston-based Collectable.com spoke with Forbes in a recent article explaining the company’s research process and methods.

The company properly excluded all fan apparel and merchandise sales, but, in my opinion, improperly excluded the new sports card market saying that “he admits that the aggregate value of rare cards produced in recent years may be considered in the future. One hurdle is the volatility of these cards.” But we’ll circle back to that issue in a minute.

$10M Mickey Mantle card.

Yoken went on to say that the market valuation “includes the total gross merchandise volume generated from eBay, which accounted for the largest segment at $4.7B, independent auction houses which generate $290M and another $62.5M in brokered private sales and finally, other online marketplaces, retailers, card shows and other sources.” (totaling a conservative $400M). This rough calculation amounts to a total estimated market valuation of $5.4 BILLION.

However, if you were to factor in the direct sale of modern sports cards from manufacturers and the revenue generated from ancillary service providers including grading and authentication companies, it’s probably not a stretch to guestimate that this number totals an additional $600M or more. So, what is the real market valuation for the sports card and memorabilia market? We may never really know the exact answer, but it’s probably safe to say that it exceeds $6 Billion, EACH YEAR.

Yoken believes that, “knowing the size of the sports memorabilia market is critical to assessing opportunities for major change that companies like his can bring to the industry and that this data will help the industry track its growth in the future.”

Recent Auction Highlights Reflect Strength of Sports Collectibles Market

In recent weeks some of the industry’s top auction houses and marketplaces have concluded several high-profile sales events. Some of the hobby’s most desirable items were showcased and resulted in some near and record setting prices. Highlights from these sales include:

2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani SuperFractor Autograph sold for $184,056.

1964 World Series Mickey Mantle Game-Worn Jersey – Heritage Auctions, $1,320,000

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 8.5 – Heritage Auctions, $810,000

1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Eddie Plank PSA 7 – Heritage Auctions, $690,000

1909-11 T206 Piedmont Sherry Magee Error Card PSA 8 – Heritage Auctions, $660,000

1939 Hall of Fame Inductees Signed Baseball – SCP Auctions, $623,369

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 8 – Heritage Auctions, $420,000

1909-11 T206 Old Mill Ty Cobb Portrait Green PSA 8 – Heritage Auctions, $360,000

1933 Goudy Babe Ruth PSA 9 – Goldin Auctions, $312,000

1916 Indianapolis Brewing Babe Ruth PSA 4 – Heritage Auctions, $264,000

1914 Boston Garter Color Ty Cobb SGC 50 – Heritage Auctions, $204,000

2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani SuperFractor Autograph – Goodwin & Company, $184,056

1980 Topps Larry Bird-Magic Johnson Rookie Card PSA 10 – eBay, $125,200


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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