It’s the sports card hobby on steroids.
Money is everywhere.
Nearly every product the card companies crank out is selling. The biggest complaint from hobby shop owners isn’t that nothing is selling. It’s that everything is selling so fast they can’t get more of it. Good breakers who can secure cases of hot products are making a small fortune. I hear some are making a pretty large fortune. Online retailers are begging to buy sold out products at prices way above anything resembling normal. eBay sellers big and small are seeing their Paypal accounts grow beyond anything they thought possible. Auction houses are setting records for modern and vintage cards on a regular basis. Podcasters and YouTubers compile slick videos that draw big crowds and PPC money. New businesses have sprung up telling you how to invest and who to invest in. The card shows that are taking place are selling a lot of tables and the dealers behind them are selling a lot of stuff.
It all sounds great.
But I keep coming back to the unprecedented rise in the cost of collecting and I wonder how healthy all of this really is. While the wheels were in motion well before the pandemic, the explosion has still happened incredibly fast.
“Average collector” is a hard term to define but I can tell you that the hobby’s base has long been the person who spends $100 at a hobby shop, card show or online outlet once or twice a month, not those who think nothing of dropping 20 grand on a single card. There’s always been room for everyone, but it seems like the gap between the haves and the have nots is growing at a pace I’ve never seen.
I read accounts of experienced collectors analyzing the cost of newly-released products and passing because what’s inside doesn’t match the price that’s three or four times higher than it was a year or two ago. Even the consumer cost of buying new products directly from some hobby manufacturers has been pushed beyond anything seemingly rational.
The higher costs for some hobby boxes have shut the door for a lot of avid collectors who used to be able to make the occasional dice roll in hopes of landing something big. When your most ardent fans get discouraged, that’s not usually a good thing.
I see other long-time collectors on modest budgets lamenting empty shelves as flippers clear out blaster boxes at Target and Walmart to sell for a profit to those who, for some reason, are willing to pay two or three times retail. I wonder what the end user is doing with it and are they happy three months later?
I wonder about the family that hears how collecting is back but can’t find any product at retail and doesn’t have a local hobby shop so they pay through the nose for a box and get content that doesn’t add up to $60 in any way, shape or form.
I wonder about people buying into breaks who are paying twice what they would have for a spot a year ago and are starting to get discouraged with what’s being pulled for them.
I wonder about the people who jumped into basketball cards or high-end baseball and are now seeing some of their pricier buys drift downward.
I wonder about the horde of fresh-to-the-hobby 20-somethings who say they love cards, but in the same way a stockbroker loves a bull market.
I wonder how many of the young folks who’ve migrated over from the sneaker world and are doing much of the flipping will still be here in 2022. A lot of opportunists jumped into cards back in the junk wax era, too, and while the new card market is far different for a lot of reasons, it’s really not that different in others.
I see the new prices for even mid-grade popular vintage rookie cards in all sports and think of the long-time collector who sees his goal of finishing a couple of nice sets go out the window and wonder if he’s discouraged.
Look, cards are a happy little hideout in a world turned upside down. People who needed an escape have found them to be the perfect outlet. They’ve always served that purpose. For some, buying and selling has helped them stay financially healthy during an uncertain time.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
The excitement has been a big shot in the arm for a lot of reasons.
I just hope there’s a way for the hobby to stay “hot” without melting its core.