Back in mid-April when the quarantine orders had taken hold, shows and shops shut down and the hobby was beginning to feel noticeable impacts of COVID-19, I posed a boatload of questions about what the future might hold in the days, weeks and months to come.
There weren’t many easy answers in the days that followed but with more than two months behind us, I thought we’d revisit some of them.
Will the National Sports Collectors Convention and any other card shows be held in 2020? It would appear that sports won’t be played with fans until we have a vaccine or public health officials feel confident there’s no risk of large scale infection. Will anything happen over the next few months to once again permit public gatherings of any real size or will everything be shut down until next spring, at the earliest?
The National, as expected, won’t happen in late July/early August. But…promoters have rescheduled it for December, still in Atlantic City. They did state that was subject to guidelines from officials there and as of now such a large gathering of people isn’t permitted. Much would have to change between now and then for things to move ahead, especially with health experts still anticipating a second wave of the virus but for now, it’s on.
Smaller shows are happening in some parts of the country as restrictions ease a bit. The largest was held in Texas earlier this month but whether shows do place depends on 1) local guidelines on the size of public gatherings and 2) the promoter’s desire to hold them.
How long will it take before autograph guests feel comfortable being in close proximity to the public? Has the virus changed that landscape permanently or not?
So far, autograph guests have been a no-go. The long-term outlook is still pretty hard to measure.
How much will the situation impact companies that specialize in autograph signings and card shows built around autograph signings?
Card shows that rely heavily on paid autograph signings are going to have to focus on dealers and collectors instead. In person rivate signings are starting to happen (see below).
— Fanatics Authentic (@FansAuthentic) June 22, 2020
When current year trading card products begin to dry up, will breakers seek out older boxes? Will prices then increase for those boxes? If that happens, will the content of the break spots still be worth the price of participation?
New products only slowed down for a short period of time. Printing facilities didn’t close for long and while the release calendars have been adjusted, there has been no shortage of material to open in recent weeks. The trading card manufacturers’ ability to make things happen during the pandemic has actually been pretty remarkable.
So far, the hobby continues to buzz along. Collectors still have money. Those who have typically spent money on sports-related trips, tickets, gambling, etc., are putting at least some of that into cards and memorabilia. We’re not seeing many signs of a slowdown, although prices for Michael Jordan rookie cards have settled back a bit since the end of “The Last Dance.”
Performance typically equals increased interest and value for cards of current athletes. If there are no more games for several months or more, how long will perceived values of popular players hold up?
This is the big conundrum in the modern market. Sports plan to return. Will they be able to actually pull it off? If not, we’ll be without sports for a VERY long time. Do you stick with a prospect or young star, not knowing if he’ll be the same player in 2021?
How will card companies, dependent on a supply of signatures, deal with the loss of shows and other public events that allow them to gather large quantities of autographs at one time?
They’ve done it so far. We’ll see if they’re able to continue avoiding a large number of redemptions or scaling back on autograph content. Hopefully, if the autographs are being done remotely, the players and agents can be trusted to ensure it’s not Cousin Frank signing those thousands of cards.
We don’t have all of those answers yet, but as we mentioned above, some spring releases were delayed but major disruptions are, for now at least, in the past. We’re actually seeing some new brands, too. Many collectors have complained that retail outlet stock has dried up completely or is a shell of its former self. Others seem to be business as usual.
If the MLB season appears unlikely to open or is shut down at some point this spring, will there be any new products released after a certain date?
So far, it’s been mostly all systems go, even with no baseball for the first three to four months of the season. Now that it appears on track to return for a short season, it would seem likely there won’t be many changes to the product calendar.
Already facing a huge backlog, when will PSA be able to resume full-scale grading and authentication and how will California’s shutdown impact turnaround times for collectors who have had items already sitting for weeks and months?
The backlog continues, but PSA was able to resume operations after a brief shutdown. SGC and Beckett were forced to slow down for a brief period but both are back in operation and doing a brisk business.
Will brick-and-mortar sports card shops without a strong online and/or social media following survive if they are unable to open by the end of next month or will the government’s programs allow them to stay afloat?
It’s probably still a little early to know the overall impact on hobby shops. Most have been able to re-open with some social distancing measures in place. In some areas of the country, facemasks are required. Some have moved much of their business online or are serving customers with curbside service.
Will some embrace increased online sales so much and have so much success that they shutter their stores and stick with the web and social media to buy and sell?
Some shops have had great success by selling or increasing their box breaks via social media outlets. Will they close up shop and go online? It’s probably too early to say, but most appear to be keeping their doors open on some level.
Those college photos and archives of past games will be getting a workout for a while. It’s likely teams will take fresh photos of players and distribute them but it’s hard to imagine card companies having access to players anytime soon. Topps did take photos in spring training. It’ll be interesting to see what’s used for rookies who make their MLB and NFL debuts in the months ahead.
This year’s NFL rookie class appears strong, with several potential new stars. How long will it take to acquire photos of players in their new uniforms?
Will some of the most promising prospects and rookies pick up where they left off when games resume or will some– unable to receive the needed coaching or not doing the right things —fall by the wayside?
That’s the $100,000 question. I’d be a little nervous to have a lot of money tied up in young prospects at this point, especially when it comes to baseball which has had only limited spring training and will embark on a stunted schedule. Young players won’t be getting nearly the amount of help they’d normally be getting. The same goes for minor league baseball, which may lose an entire year or more. It’ll be fascinating to measure the impact of the pandemic on players.
While pro sports and local officials may at some point come up with a plan to allow games to take place without fans, will there be an impact on the interest in sports as a whole? Without a large, excited crowd as a backdrop, will people care as much? Sport is great theater, but can theater be great without the audience? How will the lack of visual buzz impact interest in sports collectibles?
We still don’t know. Most fans appear to be more than ready to see sports return on any level, but some of the buzz will surely be missing.
My guess is that the return of sports would have a positive impact on the hobby for that reason. At least there will be performances to consider and some players will undoubtedly stand out and raise their profiles.
Should collectors be buying, buying a lot, selling or selling a lot…or not buying or selling at all?
It’s been a great few months to be a seller but there don’t seem to be a lot of bargains for buyers. Collectors appear to still be in a buying mode so demand is still outpacing supply in most segments.
Stimulus checks are expected to arrive this week. Will that mean an influx of cash into the hobby?
It seems like it did. Extra money is always nice, but that was now a long time ago and people are still spending. Certainly those who have lost their jobs are prioritizing elsewhere but there was undoubtedly some government money spent on collectibles.
Will continued social distancing rules impact auction companies, who often meet clients at major shows or travel to obtain large collections?
Certainly adjustments have had to be made with little in-person contact but they’re keeping the shipping carriers busy. The strongest companies seem to have no trouble filling their catalogs. A few seem to be having a harder time making it all work on the usual time schedule.
Several states have held out, not issuing ‘stay at home’ orders and keeping large plants in operation. Some states are now paying the price with more COVID cases being reported in areas with smaller population. Will their recovery now be extended, causing longer term shutdowns for shows and shops in those areas?
This is now something to watch again. Some areas of the country are seeing large spikes since restrictions were lifted earlier this month. Local and state government leaders still have their hands full and will for some time.
All in all, the hobby has done extraordinarily well despite some obstacles but it’s pretty obvious that at least in some respects, we still have a lot of questions to answer. Completely normal is still a long way away.