In late 2019 and early 2020, as the US braced for coronavirus, the economy fell drastically and millions of people lost their jobs. It is not hard to imagine how most people would think businesses in the sports trading card industry would decline, losing their jobs as well. However, amazingly quite the opposite happened. The industry would explode on online shopping sites like eBay and Amazon during the quarantine. For many people, sports cards have been a popular hobby in the past as a child. The quarantine has had people digging through their garage and attics in nostalgia as they begin to find their collections from childhood. On eBay, Basketball cards have seen a shocking 130% boost in sales while basketball and football cards have seen around a 50% increase in sales. Although some people might think of sports cards as a waste of money and only simple pictures of athletes on cardboard paper, many adults, kids, and teenagers find it to be an extremely fun and valuable pastime.
According to ESPN, over 40 cards over the price of fifty thousand dollars sold on eBay from just May to June. In late August, a Mike Trout baseball card sold for 3.9 million dollars in an auction, setting the record for the most expensive sports card purchase in an auction. Let’s think about that for a minute. That was 3.9 million dollars, a sum less than a minuscule fraction of a percent of the world population can even afford, for a baseball card!
In July, a LeBron James basketball car was sold for an astonishing 1.8 million dollar. Not long later in September, a 1.8 million dollar Giannis Antetokounmpo card was sold.
You might be wondering how a piece of cardboard (although many people including me think of it more than just that) could sum to millions, thousands, or even hundreds of dollars. Although I am no expert, trading cards, in general, are valued based on the player, the rarity, and the condition. Popular superstars and sports players in the hall of fame are valued more than a regular player. After all, many collectors would find some connection to players they see on TV or looked up to as children. The rarity of the card is also extremely important. Vintage trading cards from years in the 1900s tend to have a larger price because they are simply rare. Even a 1960’s baseball card of a player no one has heard of would fetch a large sum. Modern players, although more famous, actually tend to sell for less due to the fact that their cards are more common and are constantly being manufactured in large amounts by the many large companies in this industry. Finally, the condition of the card factors into the price tag of a card. Professional grading services such as PSA or Beckett grade the condition of the card on a scale-out of 10 in areas such as centering, edges, surface, and more. A 10 out of 10 would have to be perfectly flawless and pristine, almost like it came straight out of a new booster pack.
Meanwhile, it is possible other types of trading cards including the modern childhood game Pokemon have also seen a boost. Youtube influencer, Logan Paul, recently bought a vintage pokemon card booster box, for around 200,000 dollars. He released several videos showing his newfound love for these pokemon cards. One video details about how he paid 150,000 dollars for a “Charizard” pokemon card after visiting a collector who once appeared on the well-known TV Show Pawn Stars.
Overall, although some people might see trading cards as a bad investment or an odd way to splurge money for a colorized picture on cardboard, millions of other people including kids, adults, and collectors see it as a great way to embody their nostalgia and attachment to a player or character. How cool is it to visit your collection one day, and observe the colorful effects, shine, and features of your valuable sports or pokemon card and reminisce in your childhood glories of pulling and showing off that card to friends?