Sports Cards Resurgence: Finding A New Life Online

Written By Darren Cooper on April 19, 2022
Trading Cards Resurgence Online

When you stop to think about it, sports trading cards are the world’s first NFTs.

They are unique, rare and hard to duplicate. But with the tangibility involved, they are way more fun to gamble with.

While NFT’s, or nonfungible tokens, are still relatively new, sports cards have been passed back and forth for over 100 years.

Thanks to a plethora of factors, including social media, manufacturing scarcity and that whole coronavirus thing, sports cards just went through a boom phase. Values on just about everything rose, especially in California.

This makes for a thriving, high-risk, high-reward trading scene.

“Everyone was at home and it allowed everyone the time to look through old collections,” explained Ryan Woodward, who buys and sells cards on Twitter. “Stimulus money got pumped in and influencers really hyped it up.”

The card market doesn’t look like it did when collecting really picked up. There’s no more going down to the local store and plunking down a few quarters for a pack. There has been a digital revolution.

You don’t even have to open the cards yourself!

Put those cards into action at a show near you!

California is a hub of sports card and memorabilia shows.

The San Francisco Card Show, hosted annually, was only a few Sundays ago, April 10 at the Hyatt Regency SF Airport. The Facebook page says it’s a show for “trading cards only” which means sports cards, wax boxes, and collectibles. The show also hosted a “trade night” Saturday night and Sunday night after the show.

On May 7, there’s yet another opportunity to score big at a show at the Wyndham in Sacramento.

Searching out the breaks

It started with unboxing. That’s the term given to the YouTube sensation where kids would open toys or presents and then play with them for a few minutes showing what the toy could do.

Incredible as it sounds (man, I sound old), it was captivating for the audience of young kids. Toy companies loved it too because it was increasing the demand.

These days, kids don’t play video games as much as they watch other kids play video games on YouTube. They laugh at their follies or marvel at their accomplishments.

Around the same time as the unboxing trend took off, so did “breaking” a pack of cards live on Instagram. Card shop owners could broadcast to around the world as they ripped open a fresh pack of trading cards.

People could put in to buy a random pack that were then unopened in front of the audience, or just say, they wanted all the Dodgers in that pack or box.

There was always the chance to hit it big. It was like buying a lottery ticket, but instead of picking numbers, you were picking card pack No. 6 and hoping for that Mike Trout card or LeBron James card.

“It allowed you to connect with anyone and everyone with a similar love for the hobby,” said Woodward. “And it would help you buy and sell stuff without the fees on eBay.”

The surge and the stock

In February 2021, eBay reported that sports card sales had jumped on the site by 142%. Target was unable to keep cards on the shelf with customers racing in to buy boxes and then either open them online – breaking – or turning around and selling them on eBay (for a mark-up, of course).

Now Target only allows card purchases online. With every box came the possibility that a card in there could be worth thousands. And the way things were going, the price was only going up.

The gambling comparison is obvious. Grabbing a card of a rookie prospect is like buying a stake in him or her. As their performance improves and fame grows, so does the value of the card.

Cardmakers also learned their lessons after flooding the market with tons of cards in the late-80’s and early-90’s.

Cards sets have subsets that make them rare, and then the card makers devise even more ways to make the cards unique by attaching game-worn jerseys or an autograph to the card. The cards are rare on purpose, which helps drive up the cost.

Is the surge sustainable?

The market for cards has leveled off as things have gotten back to normal (more or less). People don’t quite have that much time to rummage through their attic.

The thing about sports cards, though, is that they always have an intrinsic value to the fan. There are players and teams we grow attached to – and gamble on – so there will always be some market for trading cards.

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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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