Every year as baseball season comes around, many sports enthusiasts get the itch to return to one of their childhood hobbies of collecting baseball cards. Many have hundreds of cards already tucked away in shoe boxes taking up space that need to be organized and put away.
The hobby of collecting sports cards has been described as cardboard crack. It may be a very drastic term but also somewhat fitting. The rush of opening a pack of cards hoping to find your favorite player or limited autographed card can give you a high that may only be related to hitting that jackpot on a slot machine. But the simple fact remains that no matter who is on the card it is still simply just a two-by-three piece of cardboard. That being said the hobby is still very alive and thriving today.
Sports cards have existed since the 1860’s when Peck and Snyder, a sporting goods company from New York, started to print cards. Baseball cards became especially popular when cigarette and candy companies sold them in their products in the 1920’s.
In the modern era, card companies like Topps, Upper Deck and Donruss have taken over the sports card industry and mass-produce cards. People can now find cards everywhere, from Target to card shops and card shows.
The sports card industry was worth an estimated $13 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow to almost $50 billion by 2032, according to Market Decipher. Much of this growth can be attributed to eBay and other online shops.
“I think that sports cards are so popular because you can find value in an alternative asset like cards,” Banger Sports Cards owner Luke Breon said. “When you buy a card, and that player does well the price of your card goes up. Plus, if it is an autographed or relic card you have a piece of that player with you in a way.”
Sports cards can be a very expensive hobby, as some cases of cards cost hundreds of dollars like Bowman 2023 which is $300. The hobby that was once considered for kids now requires adult-like money.
“Cards can be expensive, especially if you are looking at boxes that guarantee relic or autographed cards,” Breon said. “That doesn’t mean you can find packs that don’t cost a lot. It just means the chances of getting something big are lower. If I could run the hobby one day I would try to make sure it’s more affordable for kids.”
But that doesn’t mean that kids are still not trying their luck by collecting cards. On May 7 at the Omaha Sports Card Show at the Omaha Police Officers Association Hall, there were kids who walked around with briefcases full of valuable cards and bartered with vendors who were old enough to be their grandfathers.
“If you have a kid that wants to learn how to be an entrepreneur, collecting cards is one way to learn and make good money,” Derek Williams of DJ13 Collectibles said. “I get that it might not be for every kid especially when looking at how expensive the hobby is. But the kids that are in the hobby would surprise you with the cards they have.”
For those wanting to get into the hobby, there may be more work than meets the eye. It is not as simple as buying a few cards or packs and selling them for a profit.
“You have to do your research,” Williams said. “I work about 20 hours a week organizing cards and pricing them using eBay because it shows the real-time value of cards. Then I travel on the weekends to card shows. I have been everywhere. I’ve done shows in Omaha, Chicago and Houston.”
With collectors and other people in the business the term ‘gambling’ comes up a lot for a hobby that isn’t underneath the term. According to Merriam-Webster gambling is defined as the practice or activity of betting.
“It is essentially gambling whenever you buy a box of cards,” Breon said. “That’s why I tell people to stay on the hobby side of things because at least hobby boxes guarantee something. I’d like to say that if you buy 10 boxes you would get your money back on five of them.”
That is why many people in the hobby continue to buy single cards because they at least know what they get.
“I buy singles of players I like,” avid collector Tyler Brunk said. “Because even though it is still a gamble because the value of the card may go down at least I still have the card of a player I like. Compared to buying a box and ending up with what equates to a bunch of paper.”
The numbers show that the sports card industry is booming. With such growth, it will be hardly recognizable to the adults who as kids collected cards. The trend may be a pastime for some but the money in such an industry will make it hard to keep away from.