Why the Sports Card Industry is Booming Right Now

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The sports card industry has been on a consistent upward trend since 2015, and recent events have sent it into overdrive. As amateur collectors and professional investors crowd around the booming industry, the question remains: What’s driving the surge, and will it last? There’s more than one factor contributing to the popularity of sports cards right now—let’s explore the main ones.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the sports card industry. With many live sports events canceled or postponed, fans turned to collecting sports cards to stay connected to the sports they love. Experts spotted the signs early on by mid-2020, with the prices of some football card boxes, like Panini Chronicles, rising by up to 500%.

The pandemic started off a chain reaction, reigniting the passion of existing collectors and prompting new ones to try the hobby out. Other popular trading card games like Pokémon were even more popular in this period, with live unboxings becoming a viral trend at the time. Collectors would pick one TCG up, and explore other products like sports cards as a result. 

Widespread Availability

Trading card stores have existed for over half a century, but the shift to a hybrid retail-e-commerce model only really picked up after 2020. Now, collectors can go online and shop for their favorite sports cards from the comfort of their homes. The widespread adoption of e-commerce has also been helped along by an improved global logistics network, allowing customers to quickly and securely receive their sports card boxes. 

Social Media 

One NJ-based store, having sold two cards for $80,000 each, credits the sports card industry boom to social media. Here’s why:

  • Community-building: Social media, particularly Instagram, provides a platform for collectors to share their passion, knowledge, and collections with other like-minded enthusiasts. Collectors can post pictures of their cards, join forums, follow influencers, and participate in discussions online. This participation requires little effort and creates a sense of community and engagement among collectors, while also building awareness for the industry.
  • Live Events: Platforms like Instagram offer a unique stage for trading card stores and enthusiasts to show off their sports cards. The recent surge has been fueled by live events hosted on TikTok and Instagram, where stores and influencers open up some of the most expensive hobby boxes to thousands of excited viewers.

    The events have an almost gambling-like appeal. Viewers watch with rapt attention, waiting for the next auto rookie card, and each rare card feels like their own victory. Since these events are usually hosted on the store’s own profile, viewers can buy those same boxes in just a few clicks.
  • Info Boom: Thanks to social media, collectors now have access to more information and opportunities than ever before. Even newer collectors who might not have connections or an existing network can find out about the latest trends and releases by following the right profiles. It is now possible for a completely new collector to find and purchase a rare Allen Iverson card in under 5 minutes.

    Social media platforms have created an unofficial marketplace of sorts. Interested parties can cut out the middleman and instantly contact other collectors or stores to find out about current prices, potentially even negotiating a great deal in the process.

Once you have a community in place, it becomes a self-sustaining loop that encourages other people to join in and fosters organic growth.

Nostalgia

You don’t have to be a fan of basketball from the 70s to get nostalgic over sports. Collectors view sports cards as a tool to go back and enjoy some of their favorite moments with the sport. This nostalgia has, to a certain extent, kept interest in sports cards high – whether that’s for a Mickey Mantle card or a relatively new Tom Brady rookie auto.

 

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Innovative Marketing

Brands like Panini and Topps have perfected the art of marketing, capitalizing on the recent surges in popularity to steady demand for their hobby boxes and cards.

  • Intentional Scarcity: Card manufacturers have been intentionally limiting the production of certain cards, creating a sense of rarity and exclusivity that has driven up prices and demand. Manufacturers have used this strategy for decades, but it has become more prevalent in recent years as collectors have become more interested in snapping up rare cards.

    One way manufacturers create scarcity is by producing limited edition cards. These cards are typically numbered, and only a certain number are produced, making them highly sought after by collectors. For example, the Justin Herbert rookie card from the 2020 Panini Prizm hobby box is a limited edition /25 card, meaning there are only 25 copies of this card.

    Similarly, manufacturers will include unique inserts in their hobby boxes, like autographed or patch cards featuring the team’s insignia or jersey. Collectors are more than willing to pay top dollar for these limited edition cards as their value can multiply over the years.
  • Rewards Programs: Companies like Topps have been proactive in promoting their extensive rewards programs. Customers can register in these programs for free and get rewarded with discounts and freebies for every hobby box. These programs encourage enthusiasts to share their hobby with friends and expand the community.

Alternative Investments

Investors have caught on to the skyrocketing prices of sports cards and hobby boxes, viewing them as alternative investment instruments. In addition, the rise of online marketplaces for buying and selling sports cards has made it easier than ever to invest in this market.

Diversifying the portfolio with assets like sports cards has already proven to be a smart move for the proactive investor. Events like the Super Bowl and viral social media trends can cause sports card prices to double overnight, allowing buyers to make a quick profit.

Sports Cards: Here To Stay

With all the different factors powering the booming sports card industry, it’s clear that this popular hobby is here to stay. Whether it’s because of live events or the expansive network of online stores, there has never been a better time to get into sports cards.

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