ATLANTA — When the pandemic brought sports to a halt last spring, many fans pivoted to trading cards to get their fix. Now more than a year later, the hobby is booming and even turning into a full-time job for some collectors.
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For the first time since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the sports trading card industry is having a moment.
“We are experiencing the greatest growth I have ever seen,” said Joe Davis, a longtime card dealer who opened his Loganville card shop during the height of the 1990s sports card boom.
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Davis told Channel 2 the sports card market has never been hotter, and much of the excitement can be attributed to nostalgia.
“You had millions of people locked in their homes,” said Davis. “Because dads were at home and said, ‘Son ... or daughter, let me get out my sports cards and show you,’ and start talking about what they did,” continued Davis.
Right now, card collectors are cashing in online. In February, eBay reported a 142% surge in domestic sales, selling 4 million more cards in 2020 than the previous year.
“Right now, we have about 600,000 different items on eBay,” said Davis.
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The rest of his collection can be found inside his showroom, where an unopened box of cards can sell for thousands of dollars. He also took Channel 2 downstairs to his temperature-controlled basement.
“How many cards do you have down here?” asked Channel 2′s Michael Seiden.
“Probably 10 or 12 million,” Davis answered.
He said the card craze is not only connecting him with new customers, but it’s also convinced some to quit their day jobs.
“I have two of my best customers, they literally quit their day jobs,” said Davis.
To determine the value of your cards, you need to send them to a third-party grading service which inspects them for authenticity and condition. Cards are graded on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most valuable.
From there, you’re ready to sell online or you can attend a card show. Every other Sunday, hundreds of card collectors and dealers gather inside a Cobb County hotel conference room to buy, sell and trade cards.
The most valuable cards are rare. The ones with an autograph or a piece of a player’s jersey can sell for thousands of dollars.
“I’m just looking for Trae Young because he’s going to make the playoffs, and if he averages 36 points per night, his price will double,” said 15-year-old collector Harris Seidband.
“To see the young kids come in, especially the little girls, it’s awesome,” said trader Michell Ferrell-Moore.
Social media also is attracting non-traditional collectors through online “breaking”, where a pack is opened and individual cards are sold. Ryan Springer and Andrew Buell are the founders of Classic Pack Break.
The two friends host a show on YouTube where collectors from across the country buy into a break, which can cost anywhere from a few to hundreds of dollars.
“It’s the thrill of the game and the fun of it, that, that if we do get the Wayne Gretzky rookie out there, that guy might be able to take off work for the next year or two,” said Buell.
“It’s a blessing, you know that the fact that we’ve been able to turn something that we enjoyed as a kid into something that we can do as an adult,” said Springer.
Dealers believe there are still plenty of home runs in the future.
“If the sports card industry and the trend we’re in right now is a baseball game, I think we’re in the first or second inning,” said Davis.
Sports trading cards have gotten so valuable that they’re getting the attention of shoe traders.
“Sneakerheads” who flip rare shoes told Channel 2 they’re jumping into trading cards because of celebrity influence, and as long as they’re protected, cards don’t deteriorate like sneakers.