Sports Trading Cards have been around for over 100 years and feature some of the most iconic players that have ever participated in their respective sport, captured in time on a piece of cardboard. Initially, trading cards were included with cigarette tins, attached to various food items, then sold in wax packs with bubble gum. Over the years trading cards have changed in many ways; brands have come and gone just as quickly as the players themselves. Today, there is more attention on the hobby than there ever had been before, with that comes more varieties and deeper pockets. Two of the older companies are still around in Topps and Upper Deck; however, Panini N.A is the newest brand to change the sports cards landscape. We are seeing a complete renaissance sort of speak when it comes to the variety available and ways you can collect or invest. Graded cards are just the latest thing to take the hobby by storm.
So, where do you start, you ask. Having a clearly defined reason why you are venturing into sports cards is the single most important thing to consider. The hobby presents many challenges for outsiders and isn’t for the faint of heart. Whether you’re investing long term, flipping the hot players to make extra cash, or like many of us, you love the hobby and sports in general; you’ll want to be educated.
• Determine a budget, do not go over.
• Identify a few players you want to target
• Know the market
• Know the cards
Budget is probably the most critical component in all of this. It is very easy to get carried away with purchases and over extend yourself. Depending on your budget a few cards a week or month might be all you can muster up. There is nothing wrong with this, you have to start somewhere. Setting realistic expectations with yourself is also critical; most cards do not double overnight. At the time of this writing the market is incredibly hot, it seems everything you bought a week ago has already increased 30%. Do not be fooled, as that hasn’t always been the case. Set a goal with yourself. You want X player that so happens to cost 2 months’ worth of your budget. You can either save up and wait to purchase X player, or you can try another route, buy Y player now and maybe in a month you can sell Y player and get X player one month early. The latter is what we would consider a short term flip. You are buying a player with the sole purpose of making a little cash in order to buy a Personal Collection (PC) player or even a more expensive card to then perform another short term flip.
A player’s performance generally dictates their market prices. Popularity also plays a huge role in a players prices. Social media presence and off field issues can pull prices down as well. Take James Harden for example, one of the better NBA players. He just doesn’t get much Love in the hobby. Why is this? Mr. Harden has the perception of being a dirty player, poor teammate, and generally just not liked by fans and peers. Let’s take a look at rookies; these are players with huge upside and tremendous risk. Professional Sports are completely different than High School and College level talent, so the transition for some is challenging and many will fail.
Rookie cards of the current crop of rookies tend to be more expensive than older veteran players as everyone is hunting the next Mahomes, Trout, Lebron, or McDavid. These young players are where the most upside and the quickest way to double or triple your money in a matter of months happens, but they are also the most risky. Let us look at another part of the market, players with a great game. You will see players that have a great game coming off the bench or just completely out of nowhere. Their expectations were suppressed and now everyone wants them, driving up demand. I will refer to his specific occurrence as the DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) impact.
We are seeing this far too often now within the hobby. A player has a great game, scores 30 points or hits two Home Runs or scores two Touchdowns, causing demand to shoot up and in return their prices double overnight.
My single word of advice is be very cautious when buying these players. Yes, there is a much higher reward with these “DFS players”, but there is great risk involved as well. You have to think to yourself, can this player sustain this again and again, why were they so inexpensive to begin with? Players have good games, this is occurs across all the major sports night in night out. Someone that hasn’t been performing well will suddenly explode onto the scene for a game or two, skyrocketing their card prices overnight. We are seeing this happen nightly in the NBA right now during the restart. What were relatively complete unknowns suddenly become the hottest buy for 48 hours. I want to caution you.. use extreme caution and don’t get caught up in the FOMO effect!
As you may have seen and possibly wondered, why are there so many brands? Variety, everyone likes different brands for different reasons. The cards companies try to have a new product coming out every few weeks during the season in order to meet the demand. There are some that flop, then there are others that every collector desires. Generally speaking people gravitate towards the shiny cards; they just look cool. Panini Prizm is a fan favorite for collectors and investors in both the NFL and NBA (MLB/NHL are not licensed) and generally are considered the “key cards” to obtain, which coincidently cost the most as well (supply/demand).
I try to tell people, collect what you like, which this ties back into a prior topic of why are you entering the sports card space? Donruss Optic and Select are two other very well received brands across NFL and NBA (not MLB/NHL no license). I keep mentioning this “no license” and you might be asking yourself what does this mean. Basically the 4 major sports have awarded the rights/licenses to display the teams logos onto Trading Cards to just one exclusive company per sport. MLB has Topps, NHL has Upper Deck, Panini N.A has both NBA and MLB, then Soccer is has both Topps and Panini.
I wrote this article with respect to my 25 plus years of experience in the SportsCard Hobby. Seeing the daily ebbs and flows of the market the last 6 months has been one of the wildest rides I have ever seen this hobby experience since I was a little boy. It is undeniable that the sports cards industry is changing. I could sit here blame and complain about all the new people entering the space for ruing my once great hobby.. but I am not, I will be taking a different approach, teaching.
Written By: Justin, Co-Founder SellThePeak