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The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Sports Cards, during the Covid Era

     In the later part of 2019, the Sports Card world was doing great. Card Shops and business were seeing an uptick in demand and business was thriving. Social Media channels were popping up producing solid content bringing in new faces to the hobby helping the industry grow organically. There was a sense of excitement in the air for the future of the hobby. Sealed product was widely available, grading times were relatively quick, and Return on Investment was coming.

     Then came Covid, in 2020 the hobby experienced a revolution unseen since the early 1990s. Retail product slowly began to disappear off Target and Walmart shelves. The resale market through the likes of began to see sealed product dwindle. The rapid influx of hobbyist was a direct result of several key factors ranging from Covid Lockdown boredom, non-essential business closures, supply chain strain, and word of mouth regarding profits to be made. During the early months of Covid. We saw Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) close their doors for several months effectively slowing down the Grading Turnaround times, a key component to the hobby. Panini and Topps were forced to close their doors for a few months as a result as well, thus killing the supply of wax and delaying product releases by upwards of 6 months. Yes, another key component to the Sports Card Industry. Then you have the rush of interested parties, chasing their dreams, “investors, speculators, and profit chasers” all entered the marketplace at the same time. This era was truly a The Stars are aligning moment for industry veterans.

     Profits were to be had everywhere you looked. Times were great, people became rich beyond their wildest imagination. It seemed like the Gold Rush of the American West. All walks of life, corners of the world entered the marketplace looking to cash in, on what seemed to be the latest get rich quick scheme. You could buy a card off eBay one week and turn around and sell it the next week for double. Times were truly unimaginable. Prior years, the only real ways to profit from Sports Cards were to rip product, get lucky and sell a major hit. Buy a prospect, hold until they broke out during the upcoming season, or just buying low selling high.

     I credit a vast majority to the rise and ultimate fall of Sports Card during this time specifically to social media. The influx of “experts” and “gurus” was no short of unexplainable chaos. Everyone on Instagram suddenly was pushing their “picks” or sharing their expert opinion on the future of the industry. Mega Accounts quickly formed and the thirst for content was insatiable. The term “Sheeps” grew into a meme of reality, as everyone was looking for the easy buck.  Some collectors truly wanted to learn and be part of something more, but many were just flippers after the quick buck. This effect was noticed immediately in sealed product prices. As all the sealed product and wax dried up, everyone began using Bots (computer programs) to buy product online instantaneously pushing outrage by collectors and children. Part of this hobby was built around affordable prices for sealed product and children collectors. This obviously priced out the children and made wax crazy expensive.

     Then you have the push to buy graded singles, this took the guessing game out of card condition. Graded cards by the likes of PSA are truly the best investment vehicle. You know the condition and relative value of these items through sites like ours. Graded singles were targeted as the go too get rich quick scheme by the social media accounts. Everyone was telling all the new profit chasers that you should only buy Graded Cards, which in turn drove the prices for existing graded cards to unprecedented levels. Entry level cards graded PSA 10 to high end cards, all saw 10x returns over the course of a year.

     The rapid popularity of grading was a ticking time bomb for the hobby. PSA failed to staff and increase their grading costs quickly and adequately, as more and more people were submitting cards to flip.  Cards grading was touted as one of the best ways to increase your Return on Investment. You take raw examples of cards, pay a small fee and hopes you obtain a card in Mint or Gem Mint condition which you can then sell for a Return on your Investment. This thinking was driven down our throats as consumers. Social Media accounts began showing content centered around grading reveals, showing individuals how to review and submit cards to the grading companies. A whole genre was created how to profit from cards, tracking individuals attempts at buying raw cards and submitting them.  As quickly as collectors would find sealed product, we would ship them off to the grading companies in hopes for a positive ROI. The continued thirst for graded singles on the secondary market and rapid price increases for the existing inventory, caused a massive influx of cards submitted to PSA. Pushing their already strained workforce into a Covid backlog which got up to a 18-month turnaround time. So, you can see how the rise of grading and wax prices was just ripe for a bubble popping. Prices weren’t sustainable for both cards and wax. PSA holding inventory hostage for 18 months slowed down the recycled profits. Investors and flippers couldn’t get their cards back to sell to thus buy more cards. Money was tied up elsewhere and things began to stall out towards the end of 2020.

     Then came the trendy picks and the documentary bumps. Sticking with our social media themes, you have all these experts’ recommending cards or giving their professional insights on who’s next to pop off. Sure, enough as a result those cards 3x overnight, and lone behold the expert social media guru was right. This was a vicious cycle that took many of months to dissipate as people had to learn the hard way.  The hobby experienced the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant on Jan 26, 2020, which saw some of his rookie cards jump nearly 5x in a matter of days, the first sign that things were changing within the hobby. Then we had the Michael Jordan Documentary release in April 2020. Prices for existing Michael Jordan cards skyrocketed shortly after the announcement of the firms release date, everyone thinking they were going to capitalize on the documentary success and viewership. What happened, the entire 1998 Bulls squads’ rookies went up considerably prior to the release, and after the documentary aired, prices fell flat quickly. The exact opposite of what social media experts claimed, “would happen”.  Nothing made sense to some, and those who had been around the hobby for while quickly realized things were getting out of control fast. Everyone was caught up in making money and trying to follow others lead to riches. I’m sure many long-time collectors decided to sell off some if not all their collection, making 10x ROI or more. You had too, these times were crazy, and you had a feeling something had to change. This cycle went on for the better part of the year, nobody really learning any real lessons, stuck in the allure of making it rich and feeding into marketing tactics by the likes of Goldin Auctions, PWCC, and popular social media accounts pushing Record High Sales results. Everyone was short sighted, lost in their own quest, and oblivious to reality.

     In early 2021 reality struck; the bubble finally popped. Topps and Panini were back at full-strength printing so much product for everyone. Introducing new parallels which increased the quantity of cards, somehow making it seems like everything was rarer. In some cases, these new product parallels were nearly doubling the prior years set. In the spring and summer of 2021, flipper funds began to dry up and people began to leave the hobby as, as easy money ended and covid restrictions loosened. Everyone’s cards were being held “hostage” at PSA due to the overwhelming influx of cards to be graded. Prices began to fall across the board, and they fell fast. Some instances cards were falling 25% a month. For example, base common cards which nobody had any interest in owning before Covid, were suddenly the favorite flip to grade for everyone. There was no end user on these types of cards, so those values dropped significantly.  Keep in mind while everyone’s cards are backed up at PSA pending grading. Social Media accounts kept telling everyone that the GOATs were safe, the low parallel cards were still great investments. Michael Jordans 1986 Fleer PSA 10 Rookie sold for $720,000 at one point through Goldin Auctions in Feb 2021. That same card today, can be bought for under $200,000. The trading card landscape is littered with examples just like this, some down 90% from the peak. Our friendly social media accounts tried their hardest to keep the hobby bustling, however. Positivity posts and Highest Price Realized posts continued to pop up daily. The little guy was being squeezed slowly, the super high end, ultra-rare, ultra-expensive was not meant for the masses, yet nobody was talking about those declining prices. Prices continued to soften throughout 2021 and into 2022 and 2023. We realized that no card no player no level of rareness mattered. Money dried up and people exited the hobby for their next adrenaline rush.

     So, what does all this mean exactly? The Sports Card Hobby experienced one of the most exciting times I have ever experienced within the hobby, as a direct result of one of the most chaotic times in human existence. For many, Covid meant loss of jobs, loss of freedoms, and loved ones. The hobby was an outlet for many, a chance to get away from everyday life. This very website was always a dream and came to fruition because of the boom in the hobby. The boom opened up the sports cards hobby to so many new faces, good or bad. Business and lives forever were changed from this Covid era Sports Card boom. Trade Nights and Card Shows have never been busier and product is now more available than ever.  No matter which side you are on, was this good or bad, this was one heck of a wild ride.

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