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Hobby to Investment: The Evolution of Sports Trading Cards 6

Founded in 1995, eBay became the first majorly successful enterprise to facilitate the buying and selling of goods in an online forum using automated auctions. The first item sold was a broken laser pointer, but the depths of possibility were just beginning.

A worldwide marketplace, controlled by free market mechanisms with instantaneous purchasing power from the comfort of home, has made eBay a household name and a tool consumers continue to use to purchase various items and keepsakes. So many items naturally meshed with this concept, such as rare antiques and collectibles, while others, such as cars and even jets, became normal over time.

From hobby to investment, here’s a look at the evolution of sports trading cards.

Hobbies and Collections Gain Value

The worldwide online marketplace created by eBay transformed many hobbies and collections into serious business endeavors. Sports trading cards materialized in the 1860s not long after the inaugural Major League Baseball season. They began as secondary inclusions in items such as packs of cigarettes or bubblegum.

In 1952, the first modern player trading cards were printed with season and career statistics. In 1981, the novelty of sports trading cards became valuable enough to sell to kids without including the added bonus of bubblegum. Once sports trading cards became a market of their own, brands like Beckett, Topps and Upper Deck were able to assess the market value and condition of trading cards.

Prior to high-speed internet, these types of services were the only system of checks and balances in the card collecting space. Luckily, through the internet, online services specifically tailored toward buying and selling sports trading cards emerged.

Sports Trading Cards Get Specialized Marketplace

Popular sports memorabilia sites allow trading card enthusiasts to view items that have been professionally authenticated in every aspect, such as autographs and the condition of the actual trading card. Filter and sorting options also allow individuals to search for specific sports, teams, players or certain seasons of cards.

The ability to match sellers with potential buyers/fanatics, while having a reference for how many cards remain in circulation, has made this market explode over the last decade. For example, the infamous Honus Wagner T206 baseball card has broken its own record for most expensive baseball card purchase twice in this time period, last selling for more than $3 million in October 2016. But a mint condition Mickey Mantle card may break that record this year, as it’s expected to fetch $3.5 million.

Digitization of the Sports Card Industry

In the early 2000s, Topps attempted to bring the hobby of card collecting to the digital space with their brand eTopps. At the beginning of 2012, that product line was discontinued, but in retrospect, Topps was just a little ahead of its time. Later that same year, Madden launched what became known as Ultimate Team mode.

This allowed users to build their own custom football teams through the purchase of digital packs of player trading cards. Like the old pastime of visiting a sports trading card store, the goal and hope is to acquire cards of today’s top stars or access an open auction area of player cards to bid on in real time.

The following year, the NBA 2K video game franchise did the same thing with its MyTeam mode. FIFA soccer was actually ahead of the curve as the first Ultimate Team mode introduced by EA Sports in 2009, and all have been wildly successful since. According to IGN, EA Sports rakes in $650 million annually on Ultimate Team content alone, meaning there’s still excitement in opening a new pack of cards in a digital format.

Great Time to Be in the Space

Collecting sports trading cards is as exciting and fun, yet smart and sound as ever. Some trading card investments are leading to increases as high as 800 percent over the last decade, such as the renowned Hank Aaron rookie card, the first ever of his in circulation.

Watching current all-time players such as LeBron James rewrite history also allows collectors to see active increases in value based on performance and accomplishments, especially with social media pouring gasoline on the fire of a great game or season. Whether you’re a fan looking to show support or an investor looking for sound returns, the sports trading card industry is a great place to be.



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