Last Updated On: April 16th, 2023
There was a huge price increase in the sports cards market starting in March, 2020, and it continued to accelerate for a full year.
The COVID pandemic created a perfect storm of events that caused your favorite basketball and baseball players’ sports cards to skyrocket in price. So what caused the massive move higher?
The most obvious reason is the pandemic itself, but if we look deeper there are three primary reasons:
- Government stimulus checks
- Stay at home orders nationwide
- The Chicago Bulls documentary “The Last Dance”
Government Stimulus Checks
One of the primary contributors to prices skyrocketing higher is simply more money having been pumped into the economy.
In April of 2020, approximately 160 million payments totaling almost $270 Billion dollars were sent to Americans. Let that initial number sink in.
$270 billion dollars in tax free stimulus checks were sent to Americans via direct deposit or paper check in a matter of weeks. Sure, many people lost their jobs, but plenty others have held their job and got free money to spend or save or invest.
Let’s try to breakdown how much of the money that was sent to Americans could possibly makes its way to sports cards.
If we assumed 1 in every 1000 Americans collected sports cards, that would be $270 million of new, tax-free money available to spend (or invest) in the sports cards market. Let’s also back out about 20% of that available cash due to many people having lost their jobs, and buying sports cards is the very last thing on their minds. That still leaves us with $216 million dollars.
Obviously $216 million is the ‘high’ mark based on this back of the napkin math, as many folks are buying all sorts of other items online, even sprucing up their patios for example.
So what does up to $216 million flowing into the sports card market look like?
Exhibit A: Lebron James Topps Chrome rookie card (PSA 9 grade) went from around $1950 at the beginning of March to $6,000 in July, 2020! That’s a price increase of three times in just a few months.
Exhibit B: Giannis Antetokounmpo 2013 Panini Prizm rookie card (PSA 10 grade) went from around $2250 at the beginning of March to just topping $4,500 in early July, 2020! Two times your money in just four months.
Exhibit C: Stephen Curry 2009 Topps rookie card (PSA 10 grade) went from around $920 at the beginning of March to almost $4,000 in early July, 2020! If you’re not good at math, that’s almost four times your money in four months.
As you can see, it’s very obvious with the three examples above that prices were very stable for a couple of years, and then insane price appreciation occurred in just a matter of months. You can keep a pulse on the most recent prices in sports cards yourself.
One major thing to consider is whether our ballpark figure of 1 in 1000 Americans being sports card collectors is way too low. What if it was 1 in every 100 Americans? That would increase our ‘high’ mark from $216 million to $2.16 billion dollars. Holy moly.
Stay at Home Orders
For the many Americans that kept their jobs, where were they spending their money during a pandemic? Online.
If you can’t go to restaurants, bars, or most shopping malls, you’re spending money online and have excess cash that you’re no longer spending traveling or at restaurants, along with up to an extra $1200 to spend from good ol’ Uncle Sam.
Along with more money, many having more time at home resulted in a whole host of stay-at-home trends. For example, people were spending more time shopping online as Shopify confirmed seeing “Black Friday” like traffic each day since the pandemic started. Even gaming skyrocketed, and of course watching Netflix.
Even eBay reported one of the biggest quarterly increases in sales in 15 years thanks to the pandemic. I can attest to this, as I was also spending a lot more on eBay buying sports cards than in prior years.
But how does being stuck at home also impact your spending habits? Well for starters, more Americans were reporting loneliness due to prolonged isolation thanks to the pandemic. And guess what people do when they’re lonely? They spend more money.
Suffice it to say, all of these trends have obviously returned back to average growth rates in recent years.
The Last Dance, Chicago Bulls Documentary
ESPN smartly launched the immensely popular Chicago Bulls documentary, named “The Last Dance”, a few months ahead of schedule during the start of the pandemic. With all major sports halted, it was a brilliant move to bring TV programming to the sports-starving public (and arguably the only choice they had with nothing to show viewers).
It worked. The show consistently averaged millions of live viewers per episode, making it one of the most popular shows in ESPN history. With reruns, and DVR viewings, the total number of viewers per episode is sure to climb into the tens of millions.
Netflix also debuted the series in the U.S. market for streaming, and it consistently ranked in the top 5 of U.S. shows for months. This undoubtedly created another tailwind for soaring card values of Michael Jordan, and basketball cards in general as fans can now binge watch the show at anytime.
2020 was one of the strangest years of our lifetime. The impacts of a global pandemic rippled through world economies, causing massive disruption in economic demand, millions of jobs to be lost, and trillions of dollars in stimulus to contain the financial fallout.
It’s hard to tell what will become of the U.S. economy in the next few years given the drastic amount of money pumped into the market. The stock market soared from its initial March lows, and assets like gold, real estate, and sports cards appreciated in value all while the pandemic was wreaking havoc from city to city, and state to state.
If you’re still considering if the sports card market is for you, check out this post to learn how to get started investing in your favorite cards.