by Eamonn Donlyn
I walked into a local card shop last week, and uttered a standard greeting, 'What's Hot'?
Over the last five years, that question could have elicited a shrug, or possibly a player such as Stephen Strasburg, Aaron Rodgers, Kevin Durant, Cam Newton or any young star that was currently making headlines. Individuals. Occasionally a hobby box or set would catch fire for a while, and then simmer down. But it's been primarily a player, or even a single card that moves the market these days.
Some will take us all the way back to the 1994 MLB strike to mark a decline in the hobby, in the midst of mass production. But while the vintage collectors market always has some element of stability, a few macroeconomic factors have clearly impacted all aspects of the cardboard business, and in particular newer releases.
Why this trip down obvious lane? Because we have finally seen a slight shift. A blip of optimism. In a roundabout fashion, the answer to my question of 'What's Hot?" came with a resounding answer...
"The 2012 NFL rookie class....that's what's hot!"
Not just limited to one box, or one player, but the entire class! And that was after the regular season was over.
Immediately I began racking my brain to recall the last time an entire rookie class was the answer, and when actual excitement followed. Maybe the 2003 NBA draft with LeBron, Carmelo, and D-Wade comes to mind. But the timing of this NFL rookie card class has come with more intrigue for more collectors, and many have been coming out of the woodwork, not just looking to try and sell their old collections but to get consider getting back into the hobby. It's been a huge boost for hobby shops and online dealers.
Of course, starting with a highly touted number 1 pick that replaced a future Hall of Famer was a great start for collectors (Andrew Luck). But when RGIII, and Russell Wilson decided to lead their teams to the playoffs as well, the class was brought up a notch. When you add in a few running backs that torched the league periodically, in Alfred Morris, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson, it makes everyone take notice. As more experience is gained, players like Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon, TY Hilton, among many others could make this one of the deepest classes of all-time, and that's just on offense.
Now this class in and of itself cannot be fully credited with a resurgence in the hobby that we are all hoping for, but it has given collectors and dealers some hope for the future. While Major Leaguers like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, and young NBA studs like Kyrie Irving or Blake Griffin create a stir, the NFL has the benefit of instant impact. Baseball collecting has always required more patience, and therefore those like Harper become the exception rather than the rule when they hit the market hot and rise to the top so quickly. The NBA youngsters levitate to stardom a little sooner, but are still so young when they hit the league. Each and every card and player over the last few years have helped boost the market profile, with Strasburg standing out in the crowd, but this year the NFL blew everyone out of the water.
At the risk of sounding like a young school child that can't wait to rip open 20 packs to find the next great rookie card, well, I am that kid this year! And I'm glad to see others capturing that same spirit and considering a return to this great past-time.
So whether you're chasing a Luck or RGIII auto from a fresh box of Topps Chrome, or indulging in the newest Panini Limited offering, spread the word and tear open a pack for me.
Baseball is still where the hobby's heart lies but those three letters--- N-F-L ---sure do carry a lot of weight in this country. The hope is that the buzz pushes everything forward.
Eamonn Donlyn is a former ESPN writer and producer who currently works in broadcast marketing. He lives in Hawaii.