The Market for Collectibles: Sports Edition

Why you should hang onto your baseball card collection

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The market for collectibles boomed at the beginning of the pandemic, as people with money to spend found a new hobby buying, selling, and trading. With millennials entering their high-earning years, they’re investing in memorabilia the same way their parents and grandparents collected art and Royal Doulton figurines (IYKYK). It’s helped take the sports collectibles industry from a $5.4 billion-dollar market pre-pandemic to $26 billion in 2021. Some predict it’ll grow to $227B within 10 years. Others worry it’s due for a recession-fuelled correction

Here are some of the eye-popping numbers fuelling the recent rise…

£7,142,500: Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey

In May, Sotheby’s in London auctioned off the kit Maradona wore when he scored the most infamous goal in World Cup history. (Or “goal”, if you’re a Three Lions supporter.) Originally valued at $5-$7.5M, the jersey sold for $9.28M (£7.1M), becoming the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold. 

Until it wasn’t…

$12.6M: 1952 Mickey Mantle card

A 70-year-old baseball card became the first sports collectible to break 8 figures at auction last month. Previously purchased for $50K in 1991 — a then-record for a ‘52 Mantle card — this marked a 25,100% rise in value! Of course, value’s relative. Back in 1952, that same card came in a pack for a nickel. And it came with a stick of gum.

Some cold water on your high hopes before you go digging for that shoebox of musty Topps cards: condition is everything, and Mickey was in great shape for his age.

$208K: A Legendary LeBron James Moment

Even virtual memorabilia is shattering records. In 2021, the same NBA Top Shot NFTs that originally traded for a few bucks apiece shot up to a record $208K for a “Moment” of the King dunking over the Kings.

It’d turn out to be a high-water mark for the Top Shot market. Blame the #cryptocrash, sure. But whether you’re talking art, sports memorabilia, NFTs, or any other collectible, the same age-old truth applies: they may be worth whatever someone’s willing to pay for them, but that doesn’t mean the price’ll keep going up.