There has been no shortage of discussions about the “Great Sports Card Boom” of 2020-21. This rise was driven by several factors including people who collected as a kid coming back to the hobby, and new entrants looking to make a quick buck in a rising market. More collector demand led to increased prices in almost all segments of singles and sealed wax products.
However, all good things must come to an end.
Over the last 12 months, 27 of the 29 card indexes tracked by Card Ladder are down. The High End Card index is down 38%, Football is down 51%, Basketball is down 42%, and even the Vintage index is down 15%. Cards that made headlines when they had record high sales a year or two ago are now selling at a fraction of those highs.
Not only that, but a handful of new hobby companies whose star burned bright during the peak of hobby activity have either shut down or are operating as a shadow of their former selves.
The Hobby is Dead!
Not so fast.
Long Live the Hobby!
From this collector’s perspective, I think we’re seeing something a bit different. It seems to me that while we’re seeing prices start to come down and normalize to more reasonable levels, we’re continuing to see the level of hobby activity be as strong as ever. We’ve had some of the “opportunists” come and go, but it appears we still have more active collectors today than we had prior to the boom.
There are a couple indicators I looked at to come to that conclusion.
Card Ladder tracks a vast amount of online sales across the biggest online marketplaces. When we dig into the data, we can see numbers from both a dollar and transaction perspective.
They recorded over $177 million of card sales in June of 2023. While that is down from the $251 million which were captured at the peak in February of 2022, it is still up One Million from December of 2021.
We can also look at the number of transactions to give us a feel for the level of hobby interest. There were over 1.8 million online card transactions in June. Now that’s down from 2.2 million in March of 2022, but still up from 1.6 million transactions in December of 2021.
The short term view looks bad, but if you zoom out a bit, you see a very healthy level of both prices and activity.
Also, not all hobby activity occurs online.
There has been an explosion of new card shops and card shows over the last couple years which have provided a ton of new opportunities for collectors to make in person cardboard transactions. That’s millions of additional purchases over that time which don’t get recorded with the Card Ladder stats.
Card show traffic is as strong as ever. In fact, July’s 2023 National Sports Collector’s Convention in Chicago set an all-time attendance record and several dealers have described it as their “best show ever”. From collectors ravaging dime boxes to five figure showcase cards, hobby activity is thriving in these shops and shows. This in person growth makes the online growth look even healthier!
So, after all that, what do you think? Is the hobby dead?
Well, if your definition of the hobby is the irrational exuberance we saw for a couple years where card prices go up every month, then yes, the hobby is dead. If your definition of the hobby is influencers who are selling you their “card picks” investment services, then yes, the hobby is dead. And if your definition of the hobby is sending in every base card of every random prospect to get graded and expecting to sell them for 10x levels, that yeah, it's dead.
But that’s not the hobby I know. That “hobby” was artificial. The artificial hobby IS dead.
The hobby I know is providing enjoyment to a 45 year old Wade Boggs collector who has built a collection of thousands of different Boggs cards. The hobby I know is thrilling a 25 year old Kobe Bryant collector who can now afford a card which was untouchable at its peak. It’s inspiring a 12 year old girl when she sees her heroes inside a pack of Parkside NWSL or Bowman U NCAA cards. And the hobby I know is filling this collector with joy when it gives him the chance to connect and hang out with a host of friends who are as passionate as him to chase down these little pieces of cardboard.
Long live THE Hobby!