Biggest Sports Memorabilia Business Stories of 2009

In part two of our series on the biggest stories of 2009, we visit the business side of the hobby.

Business and industry sort of intersect in the sports memorabilia realm. One could categorize the card companies as "businesses" but what happens with them certainly has an impact on the industry as a whole.

If you missed the recap of top stories on the industry side, you might want to check that out first. The licensing agreements made by the leagues and companies were highlighted there.

The economy’s effect on sports card shops certainly towered above most of the other business happenings in 2009. While many managed to survive by diversifying their inventory and being a little more conservative, the downturn and continuing sales slide did force many to go out of business. Times were very tough in some areas, with unemployment stretching into double digits and that kept profits to a minimum.

Some card shops and online dealers found salvation through a very unbaseball-like sport. Mixed martial arts’ growing fan base led to new markets including the release of two series of UFC cards produced by Topps. The first was a near-instant sellout.

The price of many popular sports autographs dipped as supply outpaced the demand. Some card shows held "autograph price rollbacks" to encourage ticket sales. Many well-known living sports hall of famers can now be found with proper authentication for less than $100, even for an oversized photograph or bat. Autograph deals became court battles when some NBA players sued Topps over what they claimed was a breach of contract. Brian Urlacher suffered a season-ending injury, then sued Dreams Inc when it terminated his contract.

The economy didn’t help two large sports museums, one on each coast, from shutting their doors not long after they opened to the public. National Sports Museum The National Sports Museum in New York took items on loan, then abruptly closed, leaving some athletes wondering how they were going to get their items back. The Museum filed for bankruptcy after the public stayed away in droves. One of the hobby’s top collectors opened the Sports Museum of Los Angeles, hoping to show off his rare and vintage collection to the public, but it proved impossible after a few months. Gary Cypress had been open only by appointment before working toward his goal of allowing anyone to see his diverse holdings.

Yankee Stadium seats Crews finally got to work tearing down Yankee Stadium this year, after the team and the city of New York agreed on a price for the memorabilia left inside. The city let it go for $11.5 million and Steiner Sports was put in charge of finding buyers for the thousands of items it could salvage. Stadium seats were popular, but so were the products that contained a sampling of dirt from the old ballpark. Steiner held a major auction during the summer to sell off many of the signs and other items.

Texas Stadium was also a landmark venue and the Dallas Cowboys decided to pay for part of their new billion-dollar palace by selling what they could from the old one. The stars from the side of the stadium’s lower bowl attracted plenty of bidders.

More dealers, big and small, began to embrace the internet as their top priority for growing business in 2009. Many now sell far more products through their websites than ever before and have cut back on their card show travels. Auction houses increased their online marketing, some even produced virtual copies of their catalogs and at least one created a bidding application for mobile phones.

See more business stories in our Business Archive.