Walking into All Sports Collectibles, a trading card store located south of Miami International Airport on NW 7th Street, you immediately hear a deal in progress.
“Can you do $250 for the card?” asks Justin Tobar, a kickboxer in his mid-twenties who has been collecting sports cards for two years. He has invested between $5000 and $6000 on his collecting hobby.
“I don’t know, can I take a look at it again,” says Raymond Pages, a 67-year old who looks younger than his years, a side effect of his childlike obsession with the hobby that he has developed for more than 20 years. He is the store’s owner.
Several minutes later, after some haggling and intense silences, they finally come to an understanding. Pages and Tobar close the deal at $220, for a basketball card of Luka Doncic.
Right after they close the deal, two others in the back of the store show Pages a box of cards they are looking to unload.
“No, I’m not interested in these cards,” said Pages.
One of the young men, probably also in his mid-twenties, says “How about this box of cards and $450 for that hobby box?”
“No, can’t do it,” said Pages. I’m not interested in that box of cards and that hobby box goes for $750. The disappointed patrons walk out of All Sports Collectibles with no deal in hand.
The hobby of sports cards has always involved money. Sometimes cards bought for a few cents with bubble gum go for a fortune. One of the most valuable cards is the 1909-1911 Honus Wagner card. As recently as August 2022 was sold for $7.25 million in a private sale through Goldin Auctions. Market Decipher, a research and consulting firm, estimated the sports memorabilia market at $26.1 billion as of 2021. The company forecast that by 2032 it will be at $227.2 billion. While this does include photos, jerseys and helmets, cards are still one of the most popular and affordable targets that attract early collectors.
While some may look at the hobby of sports card collecting as a fad that will only lead to dollars being wasted, savvy hobbyists see it as asset building. It is much like art collectors, who look to buy coveted pieces of art, or stock brokers, who try to buy the best stocks at the lowest prices.
Avid collectors seek the most exclusive products for a chance at a rare card. One such product is known as a hobby box. Hobby boxes are a premium product in the world of sports card collecting. They come with guarantees of cards that are autographed by athletes or come with a piece of sports memorabilia such as a jersey embedded into them. These boxes can range anywhere between $200 to $1200, sometimes even more.
“The sports card market is great, a lot of money to be made. You can put your children through college with one of these cards,” Pages added.
One component to understand in the sports card hobby is that not all cards are created equal. If you are looking to join the hobby to make money, research will become a crucial part of the investments you make.
Just like stock trading, knowing when to sell or hold a card is part luck and part knowledge. One player collectors are seeking is San Francisco rookie quarterback, Brock Purdy. His mythos of a little-known player becoming potentially an all-time great has increased his value in the card market.
Some may look to sell their Purdy card as soon as they acquire one, as the market for them may never be as hot as it is now. Others may want to hold onto it, as the value may continue to rise depending on their career success.
Jeremy Lee has collected cards for 40 years he is also the host of Sports Card Live, a YouTube show where he brings luminaries of the sports card hobby on to talk.
Lee uses a term for certain cards, he calls “commodity cards.”
“You can go on to the PWCC marketplace, you can go on eBay, you can go to a card show, you can go on Facebook groups anywhere you want and you can probably find your choice of dozens if not hundreds of these cards,” said Lee. “That’s why I call them commodities because there’s no shortage of them. I don’t know if I want to say they’re overproduced, but they’re quite plentiful.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are cards that are far rarer, such as numbered cards, that have on them how many of that specific card is printed. These cards are more valuable due to the limited number in existence. Due to the scarcity, certain collectors may try to hoard a particular card. This may lead to a handful of collectors potentially controlling the market for a certain card.
“A card where there’s only 100 copies made or maybe 50 or 10 or five then you can have a better chance of controlling the pricing of that card on the market because there are so few of them,” said Lee.
While the allure of making money flipping sports cards is what is drawing many into the hobby today, the spirit of collecting still runs deep.
“Having a hobby, whether it’s sports cards, or fishing, drawing, or playing guitar, they should really be an escape for you,” said Lee. “So they help add balance to your life. They can be a coping mechanism, they can be a way to just relax and just not think about everything that stresses you out during the day.”
Finding community is a valuable part of this hobby. It may be difficult in South Florida to find a place where you can learn and get into the hobby of investing and buying sports cards. When was the last time you noticed a sports card shop?
Across the street from the iconic Wynwood Walls, lies a card shop called Loupe. Not only is Loupe a brick-and-mortar card shop, but they are also a tech company. Loupe is an app catered for the sports card hobbyist. On the app, anyone can create an account and start buying cards from vetted vendors directly on the platform.
In speaking with the CEO of Loupe, Eric Doty, had this to say about the sports card community on his app. “We have tens of thousands of what I would call regulars.” He continues to say, “and I think what’s really been impressive with that size of audience is what we call the retention, they’re not just coming, you know, once or twice a month and buying a couple of things, but they’re there all the time, an hour a day sitting in a livestream. That to me is what has been most impressive about our community, not just the size, but the actual engagement.”
Like any other fandom, there are fans of all ages. From young children to adults with jobs who can afford to be extravagant. “There’s a wide range of people who collect, they’re literal children, and adults with a lot of disposable income who are investing,” said Doty.
When it comes to this hobby there are some connotations to gambling. Some may continue to buy products to look for a six-figure card with no luck. But this is where knowledge about the sports card market becomes helpful to those looking to begin collecting.
“What we want to bring to the consumers is a very boutique, luxury experience and education, you’re not just going in and on your own trying to figure out what product you should buy,” said Doty.