The Truth About Who’s Collecting Sports Cards These Days

 

Sports card collecting is still an active hobby for many people. You can tell because every so often, a card sells for a record amount and makes the news. But who are these mysterious collectors? Is it old men who buy vintage baseball cards? Is it young fans who buy hockey cards? One thing is certain: the demographic of the hobby has changed.

It’s true that the audience is skewed to an older crowd today, which is the opposite of what you might have expected. After all, baseball card collecting has a history of being a young boy’s hobby. Remember when cards made bicycle wheels sound impressive? Those same kids are now older guys with a new respect for their hobby. And they buy vintage baseball cards.

Baseball Card & Sports Card Collecting History

Let’s take a look at the hobby in a historical context. By the 1970s, the card companies had a good thing going, even as their products were substandard photos on perishable cardboard stained by cheap bubblegum. Then came the 1980s’ explosion that paired great advances in quality and design with a glut of production. For a while, the card companies had the best of both worlds: huge production runs and an eager public ready to buy hockey cards, baseball cards — anything they produced, really.

Then reality sunk in. Rookie cards that used to gain in value — mainly because most card collections didn’t last past puberty — sank like a nickel tossed into a fountain. With the newfound interest in investing, not just collecting, more sports cards stayed in pristine plastic cardholders. Coupled with incredibly high production rates, the glut meant that all the cards lost value because even desirable rookie cards became commonplace.

Old Cards Rule

So the public still interested in buying and collecting sports cards tried other tactics. When baseball cards lost value, they decided to buy hockey cards, football cards and basketball cards. But they too proved to be poor investments, even as those sports gained popularity and the card quality increased.

Then, like real commodities brokers, they turned to the one place where value remained high. They found the niche where the love of the sport matched the urge to collect. They found the sweet spot where collecting again became investing. Their new strategy was to buy vintage baseball cards.

Old Guys Rule

Take that, you Whippersnappers!

Photo credit: Boston Public Library via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Vintage cards hold or increase their value. They’re rare, so collecting has again become a fascinating hobby, rife with strategy, tactics and bargaining. But the price points are higher, which precludes young boys from really participating. Furthermore, as the sport of baseball declines in popularity, it leaves fewer people to buy vintage baseball cards. It leaves the hobby to old guys.

Specifically, it’s now old guys with money who rule the hobby. That’s of course a generalization — others buy hockey cards, baseball cards and cards from other sports, but when it comes to the rare gems like a Mickey Mantle rookie card or a Bobby Orr rookie card, it’s the older generation that collects them.

The Future of Card Collecting

The bottom line is that the trading cards collector’s market will never be as red-hot as it was in the 1980s. The card companies don’t seem inclined to slow their production, although the introduction of rare inserts has helped drive sales. But whether you buy vintage baseball cards as an investment or buy hockey cards for fun, the hobby will continue.

While older guys bemoan the lack of interest in sports card collecting in the younger generation, someone always comes along to set a new record price for that Honus Wagner or that Mickey Mantle. Is sports card collecting still a solid investment? It’s in the cards.