The rise of the blockchain has brought about a new era in collecting, with digital assets now being traded on decentralized platforms.

The sports memorabilia near me is a booming industry. It has seen rapid growth over the last few years and continues to grow at an exponential rate.

A 35-year-old Target customer walked out of the store and into the parking lot in May. Four guys attacked him before he could get to his vehicle. The 35-year-old, who had a valid concealed carry permit, drew his firearm, scattering the four guys.

Target was evacuated as police searched for the four suspects, who were ultimately apprehended. What’s the deal with the parking lot squabble? Sports cards purchased from a shop.

Perhaps no one event better encapsulates the current gold rush in sports memorabilia. The event wasn’t the first time a Target store saw pandemonium in the aisles, prompting the retailer to suspend all in-person sports card sales throughout the nation. This prohibition is still in effect.

Kelly Cohen, Dan Hajducky, Dan Murphy, and Tom VanHaaren of ESPN reported and wrote this article.

In the sports card and memorabilia world, it’s been a crazy two years of ups and downs (but mainly ups). And when card collectors and autograph hunters from all around the globe descend on Chicago this week for the 41st National Sports Collectors Convention for the first time since 2019, they’ll be entering an altogether different age than the hobby was two years ago.

With record-breaking prices, unprecedented scarcity, and an NFT obsession that has become an almost daily part of the ever-changing sports news cycle, the memorabilia industry has exploded in the last 24 months or so.

Let’s take a look at the major questions that led us to this point, as well as the future of the hobby.


What brought us here? And how long can this bull market go on?

Skepticism regarding sports memorabilia, particularly in the NFT (nonfungible token) sector, isn’t limited to those on the outside looking in. Insiders are scratching their minds as well, particularly because the market has cooled somewhat over the last three months.

The pandemic was a major factor. In 2020, total digital sales in the United States increased by $200 billion, increasing an already-growing trend of consumers purchasing goods online. That’s how eBay witnessed a 142% rise in sales from 2019 to 2020, while Goldin Auctions is a company that specializes in auctions., the world’s biggest memorabilia auction house, made $100 million in 2020 — and has already quadrupled that amount in 2021.

There has been a little downturn in the market in recent months. Most analysts believe that record-breaking sales will become less common, and that middle-ground cards would be difficult to sell. However, just as great art has ups and downs but never goes out, the very top of the market is likely to stay stable, generating enough of headlines to keep mid-tier investors and ordinary collectors interested.

“The top echelon market, where you’ve got individuals spending millions of dollars for cards, that’s still going to happen,” says John List, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and a lifelong collector. “However, in the lower, mid-level market, where individuals spend $500 to $400, people aren’t going to be as interested coming out of this epidemic.” Dan Hajducky (Dan Hajducky)


Every week, it seems like a new record is being sold. Is that accurate?

It’s not your imagination: when a piece of sports memorabilia sells for a record price, it’s typically just a matter of weeks until it’s shattered again.

The original Olympic Games Manifesto, penned by a French nobleman in 1888 and auctioned at Sotheby’s for $8.8 million in 2019, was the most expensive item of memorabilia ever sold. However, the majority of the astronomical figures are still driven by cards. There have been at least a dozen $1 million card sales since February of 2020, with six cards selling for more than $3.75 million.

Sports collectibles, according to Chris Ivy of Heritage Actions, are now the strongest financial market. “A combination of the limitation on spending on other pleasures like vacation and fine dining, plus the increasing recognition of the validity of collections as an investment vehicle across the world contributed rocket fuel to the collectibles market,” Ivy adds. “We’ve had more million-dollar sales in the last year than we had in the previous twenty years.”

And don’t forget that, despite the hobby’s ebbs and flows over the last 30 years, the most valuable sports cards and memorabilia have never really reached bottom. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2010, far before the current increase, that sports card investments beat the top Dow Jones equities over time. Kelly Cohen is an actress.

Here are a few more mind-blowing sales over the last two years:

From 1928 to 1930, a Babe Ruth New York Yankees uniform

$5.64 million is the asking price.

When and where: June 2019 at Hunt Auctions


Mickey Mantle’s immaculate condition baseball from 1952 Baseball card from Topps

$5.2 million in price

When and where: January 2021, PWCC Marketplace

Rob Gough, an actor and entrepreneur, paid $5.2 million for a Topps Mickey Mantle card from 1952. Berk Communications provided this image.


Item: A LeBron James RPA (rookie patch autograph) parallel card from the 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection.

$5.2 million in price

When and where: April 2021, PWCC Marketplace


Mike Trout rookie card from the 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor set.

$3.93 million is the asking price.

When and where: August 2020, Goldin Auctions online


Luka Doncic’s one-of-a-kind Logoman RPA

4.6 million dollars (most ever for a basketball card)

When and where: February 2021, Layton Sports Cards


Wayne Gretzky (item) PSA 10 rookie card of O-Pee-Chee

$3.75 million is the asking price (most ever for a hockey card)

When and where: June 2021, Heritage Auctions

The identical edition of the 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card that sold for $1.29 million this past December just sold for $3.75 million. Heritage Auctions provided this image.


Mia Hamm rookie card from 1992 Sports Illustrated for Kids, PSA 10

Price: $34,400 (the most expensive women’s card ever)

When and where: June 2021, Heritage Auctions


A huge boom, followed by an even greater collapse… Isn’t this a movie we’ve watched before?

True, following a comparable fast rise in large sales in the early 1990s, the business hit bottom. However, there are some significant changes between then and today, which is one of the main reasons why most analysts believe the company will not collapse as it did a quarter-century ago, even if it continues to decline for the remainder of 2021.

Jesse Craig, director of business development at the famous PWCC Marketplace, believes that some of the large purchases, many of which were made anonymously, may not be seen again for a long time, if ever. The continuous talk about massive sales fueled the gold rush, but the steadiness of large purchasers hoarding memorabilia is healthier for the industry’s long-term health. “You may never see this card again,” Craig added, “or it might be 20, 30 years.” “These unique assets will continue to sell in record quantities, and these men will die with them or pass them on to their children.”

Goldin Auctions

One thing to keep an eye on: With the men’s 2022 FIFA World Cup just over a year away, soccer cards may provide a short-term boost to a market that has been declining over the previous six months. In late June, an Erling Haaland Superfractor rookie card broke the mark for a contemporary soccer card when it sold for almost $442,000 in the same auction as the record-breaking Mia Hamm card.

Most other sports, on the other hand, have seen a drop in popularity, and prices in the top tier of cards are all over the place. The good news for collectors is that the mistakes that led to the industry’s demise in the early 1990s are less likely to occur again. Serial numbering and (relative) openness from card makers have quelled overproduction, which was the single greatest reason the market collapsed decades ago. Most analysts believe that the highs will not remain as consistently stratospheric in the future years, and that the bottom will not fall out. Dan Hajducky (Dan Hajducky)


How concerned should collectors be right now about fraud?

The short answer is that it’s difficult to say. However, industry analysts point out that there has always been and will continue to be fraud while the card sector is growing.

Longer response: An FBI investigation into collectors breaking open graded cards, changing them, and having them regraded and resold was detailed in a 2019 Washington Post article. The inquiry seems to be continuing, and it revolves around Gary Moser, the suspected card doctor. Moser denies altering cards, claiming that grading agencies, particularly market leader PSA, have too much influence in deciding card condition and worth. He confesses to ripping graded cards open and resubmitting them.

Trimming and polishing up cards, on the other hand, has been going on for decades and is almost certain to continue. A benefit of the contemporary age is that digital pictures of high-profile cards can be widely disseminated, and careful inspections by internet sleuths have often shown changes. Though there have only been two large-scale FBI memorabilia busts since the October 1999 takedown in Operation Bullpen (which resulted in 63 charges and convictions, 18 forgery rings dismantled, and more than $15 million in economic loss avoided), class-action lawsuits still pop up now and then, and purveyors and auction houses are dragged online.

In July of 2020, a raid on Donald “D.B.” Henkel’s 4,000-square-foot north Michigan warehouse occurred. Henkel was accused of producing fake Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Willie Mays artifacts.

The other was the arrest of John Rogers of Arkansas, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2017 for orchestrating a $23 million counterfeit memorabilia scheme. An FBI search resulted in the seizure of 529 bats, and Rogers pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with a multimillion-dollar sports memorabilia scam.

In the Washington Post article, FBI agent Brian Brisokas said: “I often remind people in the hobby that it is based on trust: trust between buyers, dealers, sellers, graders, and auction houses. To get grain trust, you must do business ethically. If you aren’t, others may decide you aren’t worth dealing with.” Dan Hajducky (Dan Hajducky)


You haven’t even discussed NFTs! Is it simply a fad or something?

No, NFTs will continue to exist in some form for the foreseeable future.

In terms of what they are, what they accomplish, and how they are presented, there has been some innovation with NFTs. However, since the industry is still in its infancy, we are unlikely to have reached the NFT ceiling yet. Rob Gronkowski and Patrick Mahomes both had eye-popping first-round performances. In March, Gronk’s collection brought in $1.8 million, while Mahomes’ one-of-a-kind art work brought in $247,000 later that month.

Alex Atallah, co-founder and CTO of OpenSea, the world’s biggest NFT marketplace, thinks that the definition of NFTs and what they accomplish for fans will soon evolve. “The next generation of NFTs will be considerably more helpful,” Atallah said. “As time goes on, it will be increasingly essential for things to become unlocked — digital experiences that can only be accessed if you possess a certain kind of NFT or game.”

NBA TopShot, a community and marketplace for particular players and specific plays from NBA games, has enjoyed perhaps the most recent success of any NFT product. TopShot figured out how to convert popular plays, which can be seen on SportsCenter, TNT, and YouTube, into valuable must-have digital mementos. Users of TopShot may collect or sell packs immediately after buying them from the website, and Dapper Labs, which owns the brand, is already working on the next stages of the user experience.

“You can see people’s excitement when an athlete retweets them on Twitter,” says Caty Tedman, Dapper Labs’ director of partnerships. “Imagine having the greatest Trae Young collection and Trae Young calling you and inviting you to a game. The idea of genuine authenticity is being able to identify and reward your most ardent supporters.” Tom VanHaaren (Tom VanHaaren)


Who buys NFTs in the first place?

It’s pretty much everyone, although it’s mostly young guys. For the duration of its history, since 2017, OpenSea has led the way with the largest volume NFT marketplace, with males accounting for about 70% of purchases. One-third of purchasers are between the ages of 25 and 34, with 27% of consumers being between the ages of 18 and 24.

Atallah further points out that the most popular sports have so far mirrored the popularity of actual trading cards. Basketball is now the most popular sport, with baseball, football, and soccer following closely after. What’s noteworthy is that, according to Atallah, the amount of digital soccer cards and NFTs is now greater than the number of traditional soccer cards.

The majority of the press around NFTs focuses on big sales, while the industry is really driven by products under $100. And, with clubs and leagues realizing that NFTs may be a fantastic way to market to fans while simultaneously capturing their digital data, the remaining 99 percent will almost certainly be able to join. Tom VanHaaren (Tom VanHaaren)


Previously, collectors could hold jerseys and signatures and display them on a mantle. What are individuals doing with their non-financial tokens (NFTs)?

Yes, you can’t hang a digital item on your wall. But displaying NFTs isn’t difficult; after all, 97 percent of American adults (and 5.27 billion people globally) own a smartphone these days. “I don’t believe that young people have the same attitude toward [having a physical item], that something needs to be on the wall of your home to be valuable,” Tedman said. “It’s much easier to have your favorite items online and with you wherever you go.”

Let’s not forget about the most popular method for people to flaunt their wealth these days: social media. Nobody can whisk people into their living room to look at a game-used jersey or signed ball the way buyers can flood Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok with videos and pictures of their NFTs.

“The most important method to show it out is on social media,” Atallah added. “If people want to go to my Twitter account from my OpenSea account, they can just click the link in my bio and see what I write in addition to what I own. Both of these activities are now commonplace on social media.”

Smart industry professionals are also considering wider digital exhibition possibilities. TopShot offers online areas where users may explore other people’s collections, and some collectors have created their own virtual reality galleries. Van Haaren, Tom


Will there be an NFT boom particular to college players now that Name-Image-Likeness limitations are practically gone?

McKenzie Milton of Florida State jumped at the opportunity to combine the two most popular acronyms in sports memorabilia this year: NFT and NIL.

On July 1, Milton revealed intentions to sell a set of digital trading cards, only hours after state legislation and NCAA rule changes allowed collegiate players to sell the rights to their names, pictures, and likenesses for the first time. Milton’s first five NFTs, which have an embedded video as well as a gif-like picture of him donning a garnet and gold football jersey, sold for $3,100 earlier this month.

Dreamfield

For the time being, the long-term market for NFTs in the NCAA remains unclear, as it is with so much else in the fresh new age of college players earning money. Experts believe, however, that verified digital assets will offer a time-efficient method for busy student-athletes to interact with followers and profit from their fame in the future.

Milton’s cards were created by Dreamfield, a Florida-based start-up that aims to assist college players negotiate numerous new possibilities as a result of the NIL regulation changes (Milton is a part owner with Miami QB D’Eriq King). Luis Pardillo, the creator of Dreamfield, claimed his company gets a cut of revenues in return for designing and selling NFTs for college players. The athletes themselves will spend less than an hour on the procedure. As they continue to iron out the wrinkles of functioning in the fledgling business, Dreamfield plans to release a few additional player cards each month. D.J. Uiagalelei of Clemson, Sam Howell of North Carolina, and JT Daniels of Georgia have all declared intentions to distribute NFTS shortly via a business named Candy Digital.

One of the most difficult tasks for college athlete NFTs is to get fans and players of those teams and athletes familiar with the crypto world. Milton had intended to auction off two dozen of his new digital cards, but after learning that few Seminoles fans possessed the digital money or wallets required to own one, he opted to restrict the sale to just a few.

According to Solo Ceesay, co-founder of the digital creative marketplace Calaxy, college athletes may benefit from adding some sort of special experience or physical object for fans who buy their NFTs in the future. Fans may use Calaxy to buy athlete-specific tokens that offer them access to unique material, one-on-one conversations, or other tangible things verified through blockchain, according to Ceesay, who played football at Penn. Ceesay hopes to build a platform that would assist fans get more comfortable with digital money.

He explains, “We’re aiming to reduce all of those hurdles to entry and make it appear and feel familiar.”

More established industry brands, such as Panini, may also encourage collectors to purchase NFTs. According to VP of Marketing Jason Howarth, the card firm has been investigating the NFT sector since January 2020, but has been taking its time deciding what to do with collegiate players.

The greatest demand will come from superstars and brand-name institutions, according to Howarth, but it’s too early to say how large the market for college players in the NFT sector will be. He doesn’t think a player’s college card, whether physical or digital, will be as valuable as his rookie card. Panini has revealed that real trading cards for collegiate players would begin production this autumn.

College players, according to Howarth, should be cautious about flooding the market with their NFTs too soon. In the digital realm, scarcity, like with any collectable, is the primary driver of value. Dan Murphy’s remark


Is it still possible to engage in memorabilia and NFTs if you don’t have $5,000 to play with these days?

The surge of white-collar clients into the pastime over the last decade or so has certainly priced out customers, particularly hurting the parent-kid relationship that characterized the activity at its inception. When boxes of 2020-21 Panini Noir Basketball and 2021 Topps Diamond Icons Baseball cost $1,799 and $2,699, respectively, the demographic of those who can compete in the hobby decreases rapidly.

That is why the Target closure is so painful. People may participate for $50 or less and purchase blaster boxes and other cheap releases that yet had the potential to generate huge draws at the major stores. Consumers can still acquire such low-cost releases online, but they’re up against bots and an ever-growing horde of breakers and flippers who buy large quantities of low-cost items in order to turn them around quickly for a large profit.

Graded cards are where the big money is in contemporary cards, and we all know what happened there. PSA’s Value, Economy, and Regular-priced options for mailing in cards have yet to reopen, with the lowest option now costing $200 per card. Beckett Grading Services, PSA’s largest rival, has likewise stopped submissions for most collectors, with a Premium service starting at $125 per card.

Sure, there’s always stuff to accumulate if we’re talking about collecting for the purpose of collecting. But, whether it’s cards or the rich world of NFTs, there’s not a lot of space for non-wealthy people to participate in the pastime right now (the median household income in the United States was still below $70,000 in 2019). That may change when the card feeding frenzy dies down.

For the time being, though, getting those $500,000-type cards requires either extraordinary money or extraordinary luck. — Tom VanHaaren and Dan Hajducky

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