The concept that gave us the internet turned 30 earlier this month. As with any new invention, there have been moments of greatness associated with this watershed change in communication and moments when we wish it had never been invented at all. It’s changed how many of us live, how we shop, how we communicate and really changed how we learn.
It’s also changed the sports collecting hobby in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in the late 1980s when buying packs, opening them up and doing your buying, selling and trading (remember trading?) through shows or hobby-oriented magazines was about the extent of things. It’s also sped up the rate at which hobby-oriented activities have unfolded. Don’t think 30 years. Think ten…or less. The evolution of the hobby in recent years has been taking place at a dizzying pace. Some of it is internet-related. Some of it really isn’t, but I can’t remember a stretch of time when so much has changed.
I took about three minutes and jotted down a list of some of what’s happened. I’m sure you could add more. eBay has been around now for over 20 years so I won’t even put that on the list, even though it’s probably had the biggest effect on the hobby. That’s the stunning part. The innovations and changes in how things are bought and sold has largely happened in this decade.
These aren’t trivial changes, either. Most have had huge impacts on sports collecting as whole. Here’s what I came up with–and by no means is this a complete set:
- COMC. The internet that gave birth to this site has made it possible to buy and sell thousands of cards without ever touching them. It’s a flipper’s paradise but the site has also made it possible to sell cards and let someone else ship them, then buy cards you need using the credit you earned for your sales. Doesn’t everyone like less paperwork?
- High-end investing. Technology has made the card market a fluid one. Prices for high quality cards have almost always trended upward but ten years ago, it would have been unfathomable that so many cards–modern and vintage–would sell for six-figure prices in a span of a couple of weeks. “Cards as commodities” seems to have legs. We’ll see if it lasts long term, but it’s also possible we’re still in the embryonic stages of a boom in sports collectibles.
- Case Breaks. There are sites that specialize in breaks, of course, but most hobby shops have found breaks to be a great source of much-needed revenue. To say breaking has been a boon to sports card manufacturers doesn’t do this relatively new concept justice. It came along at a time when some card makers were wondering how they’d survive. You can watch it all unfold, live, on any one of a number of online video channels.
- Pack Breaks. Newer still are vintage pack breaks, an off shoot of the case and box breaks of modern cards. Are there mint cards inside that 1970 Topps cello pack? Now, you don’t have to buy one to find out. Buy a spot–or just watch. Some lament the loss of some relatively rare and very cool pieces of an older person’s childhood but watching them unfold is fascinating.
- Facebook Groups. Talk about impact. Facebook is barely 15 years old and has only been available to non-college students for even less time. In recent years, it’s become a gathering spot for collectors looking to share their specific hobby interests, to buy, sell and trade and to share opinions. Many have resisted or left. Many, many more have taken their hobby to these little clans. Twitter and Instagram have also provided the opportunity to quickly build a business or share information quickly–with no cash outlay.
- Pro League Authentication: Fifteen to twenty years ago, game-worn and game-used authenticity was sometimes a dicey proposition. Iron clad provenance was hard to come by unless a player acknowledged something as his own. Now, some of the guesswork is gone, especially when it comes to recent seasons. With one or two authenticators at each game and in-stadium shops selling everything from helmets to foul balls, MLB has taken control of its gear. MeiGray’s programs with the NBA and NHL have their origins in the previous decade and have since brought a sense of order to those sports thanks to a high-tech pre and post-game tagging platform and photo-matching.
- On-Demand cards. It’s not entirely new, but the card companies have made a much bigger deal out of this concept as they try to hook casual fans and avid collectors who seek something different and somewhat limited. Topps NOW, Panini Instant and Upper Deck ePack have all been born in the last few years. Card companies that have been looking for revenue see the ability to showcase new cards, print them and ship within a short time frame as a good way to improve the bottom line. All of the ordering is done online.
- Smartphones. You can now list cards for sale right from apps on your phone. You can also consult selling prices on the go or even monitor and bid in auctions through the Collectable app. You can broadcast live or keep your wantlist with you all the time–all on a device that fits in your pocket.
It doesn’t matter if you use any of these–or whether you like or dislike them. For a hobby often accused of living in the past, a little innovation is a sign of good health.