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What is going on with the sports and trading cards hobby?

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

Soccer pitch

Yet again, things have shifted in dramatic fashion. We have been doing a lot of reflection, research, and preparation for what we believe is coming next.

Things had to change.

I can remember opening boxes of 2015 Crown Royale for $50 each and pulling $100 worth of sports cards on a semi-regular basis. Before I had the means to just open case after case of that product, prices started going up. In 2018, my dad and I opened a half case of 2018 Optic for $80 per hobby box and did extremely well. By the time we decided to try again, the prices had gone up.

eBay is a wide open market, easily accessed and frequently monitored by people in every corner of the sports, trading cards, and collectibles hobby - from our new collectors in elementary school to the offices of Panini and Topps. When the value of single cards increase, the higher ups realize that the customer base is making a solid profit off of their product and are therefore willing to pay more. Simple economics, right?

The healthy economy of the last few years, partnered with influencers taking a real interest in the hobby, allowed for more and more money to be thrown at investing in sports cards. Singles sky-rocketed. All of them. Rookie autographs, veteran rookies, shiny inserts - all of them. It made sense for prices of sealed boxes to go up.

But then things went crazy. We all saw it.

Breakers were making a killing. EVERYTHING was selling on eBay. People were buying wax on release day just to sell it a month later and make significant profit.

Companies at the top decided they were going to make sure that they got the biggest cut. Honestly, I don't fault them for that. However, its pretty clear that things got out of hand. It seems that they decided to go with the "let's shoot for the moon and see if it sticks" approach. And for a while, it worked. Breakers could still make their money. Companies like us had to adjust our prices, but we could survive.

The problem was that their increase in price was much steeper than the increase in economic growth in the sports card hobby. People have been getting priced out of the hobby left and right. COVID-19 prompted stimulus checks that gave collectors extra spending money that helped sustain those ridiculous prices in the short term. Hobby profits were getting reduced but it was "house money" that people were playing with so uproar was minimal. As life has creeped back to normal over the last few months, single card sales on eBay have been dropping significantly. Wax prices are creeping down to reality, but are still too high. Life expenses are going up with a dip in the economy and even more sports card collectors are getting priced out. Market correction was needed. Things had to change.

When will things be normal again?

We are very fortunate to have some incredible big brothers in the hobby.

Our sounding board is made up of several of your favorite card shops and Instagram accounts. Everyone is trying to adjust and figure out what the new normal is going to look like.

It is abundantly clear that the hobby is not dead.

We had a meeting with Indy Card Exchange last week. We always meet with them before business hours to try not to disrupt their day. They open at 11am. At 11:02, one of the employees came in and said that there were 25 people in the shop. He was right.

We have been going to card shows every month. I have seen no drop in attendance. The J&J All Star Sports Card Show and the Bee Sports shows have been packed. Content is being made all over social medias. Our eBay store has been just as active.

The amount of participants in the hobby is not much different from where it was two years ago. The amount of sales is also not much different from where it was two years ago.

Things got wild. Things calmed down. Things look pretty bad right now, but the collectors are still here. So when can we expect things to get back to normal?

First, I have only been in the card business for about six years, but it has been pretty consistent that May, June, and July are SLOW months in the card world (except for last year). More than half of the NBA is eliminated from playoff contention. The newness of baseball has worn off. Football season is a few months away we all know that college uniform products usually don't stick.

This time of year is always slow.

There are a few other factors that I think are a bigger deal than what people think.

Every time I have opened a box in the last few years, I make four piles:

-cards to top load for eBay

-cards to look at for grading

-cards for $1 box

-base cards

I feel silly when I make these piles now. Top loaders are unavailable at a reasonable price. This changes how I think about my $1.99 auctions on eBay. I am down 30 cents when I put a card in a top loader. PSA is still closed, and I don't feel comfortable sending my cards to get graded anywhere else. Honestly, my $1 and base boxes are killing it at shows. But the hobby doesn't thrive there.

Even when PSA does open up, prices are going to increase. POP reports of base rookies and inserts are growing by the day, so I am hoping people will be much more selective with what they send in. Will that help or hurt wax?

There is still so much to be figured out about the new normal of the hobby.

Market correction, grading, supplies, The National, new seasons and new rookies -there are going to be a lot of moving parts over the next several months. It is extremely important that we stay true to the fun of this hobby during this time.

To those of us that do this for a living - there are going to be more ups and downs this year and every year. It is important that we keep that fun in mind for ourselves and our customers. Rip some packs. Watch some games. Tell your friends. Sports are beautiful. The hobby is beautiful. Regardless of how much money flows, let's keep it that way.

Jonathan Keith


Brothers In Cards

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