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‘There’s never been a time like this’: Wall Street is piling into trading cards as prices soar

Febraury 15, 2021

Ken Goldin has sold sports trading cards for four decades. However, what happened earlier this month still shocked him, CNN Business reports.

In early February, a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card in pristine condition sold for a record $738,000 at an auction run by Goldin Auctions of Runnemede, New Jersey. The kicker? The exact sameitem went for nearly $215,000 just weeks before.

There’s never been a time like this in the history of the business,” Goldin told CNN Business. “I would bet that for every person who wanted a Michael Jordan rookie card in 2019, there’s 100 [now].”

The shock sale is part of a much bigger trend in sports collectibles that’s grabbed the attention of sophisticated investors as well as small traders—transforming card collecting from a fusty hobby into a major investment market.

But the timing and scale of the price surge also have sparked worries that it may be fueled by the same speculative forces that recently sent bitcoin and meme stocks like GameStop through the roof, CNN notes.

Industry insiders acknowledge that their business may be benefiting from broader market euphoria. But they push back on the idea that the boom in demand is generating a price bubble.

“This is now part of our culture,” Goldin said. “I wouldn’t go anywhere near the word bubble.”

Looking at the bigger picture, the trading card renaissance seems to have taken root during the pandemic. Stuck at home without live sports games, people began raiding their attics and basements and digging up old cards. They also sat down to watch “The Last Dance,” the documentary series about Jordan, the legendary former NBA star, which aired on ESPN.

Suddenly, trading cards were everywhere, boosted by celebrity endorsers ranging from actor Mark Wahlberg, whose kids launched a collecting business, to DJ Steve Aoki and Resy Network co-founder Gary Vaynerchuk. Videos of fans opening packs of cards on YouTube and TikTok started racking up tens of thousands of views.

“This is a market that’s growing in demand, but doesn’t have more supply,” Vaynerchuk, a longtime advocate of card investing, wrote on his website last March. “That’s a recipe for opportunity.”

Prices for top-quality cards featuring all-time greats jumped dramatically. Those featuring newer talent rose, too, as enthusiasts tried to scout the next big stars.

“Instead of betting on a game, people look at this, and they can bet on a career,” Goldin said.

The spike in prices has caught the attention of a wider class of investment professionals, flush with cash following unprecedented stimulus measures from governments and central banks. Rock-bottom interest rates also have made it harder to find lucrative investments, bolstering interest in creative alternatives.

“Funds are being created. They’re getting investors involved and pooling five, 10, 15 million dollars,” said Jesse Craig, director of business development at PWCC Marketplace, a top seller of premium cards.

Josh Luber, the co-founder of sneaker resale startup StockX, left the company last year to form Six Forks Kids Club, an alternative asset management company focused on cards. The moment, he said, was simply too big to pass up.

“It’s hard to find someone [in] my generation whose first business wasn’t buying baseball cards when they were 10,” Luber, who is 42, told CNN Business. “We’re all of the age where we have a little bit more money, but we’re also in positions of decision-making for investment funds.”

The arrival of institutional money has quickly transformed the market. Goldin said for the first time in his career, he’s fielding calls from hedge funds interested in gaining exposure.

Takeover interest also has emerged, given the limited number of prominent companies in the sector. Last month, angel investor Nat Turner and Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund titan and owner of the New York Mets, announced they were buying authentication service Collectors Universe in a $853 million deal, after sweetening a bid first made in November.

“I think trading cards are one of the most undervalued asset classes out there,” Luber told CNN Business. He added that while the 1986 Jordan card appreciated faster than he might have expected, he doesn’t think the value is out of line with where demand is headed.

Everyone in the industry thinks it’s “a $1 million card,” Luber said. “But we all thought it was a year away instead of a month away.”

Goldin acknowledges that prices will inevitably fluctuate. But he believes supply will remain in check, particularly on the upper end of the market. “The difference between cards and stock [is] nobody loves a stock,” he said. “Some people who buy these cards, to get them to sell it is like getting them to take off an arm.”

Research contact: @CNNBusiness