Card trading is a hobby that taps into very human urges, such as the thrill of gambling and the fun of obsessing over something we love. If you ever experimented with trading cards as a child, you’ll be familiar with the ultimate feeling of anticipation as you open the packet you just bought with your pocket money, your mind awash with the possibility that you could end up with that one rare card everyone wants. It’s a feeling similar to buying lottery tickets, but comes with instant gratification. And it’s all the more satisfying when it combines with other passions, like sports or gaming.
More than just a pleasant childhood memory of simpler times with little relevance for adulthood or the modern world, collectibles and trading cards have seen a resurgence over the past few years. YouTubers have learned to capitalize on that feeling of anticipation to bring in an audience. Perhaps most notably, in October 2020, major YouTuber Logan Paul livestreamed himself opening $200,000 worth of Pokemon cards to an audience of more than 100,000 people.
This isn’t an isolated incident—there are countless examples of collectibles and card trading surging in popularity over the past few years, from the success of NFT marketplace NBA Top Shot to people (literally) fighting over packs of trading cards in supermarkets. One person who understands this better than most is Geoff Wilson, the man behind popular YouTube channel Sports Card Investor, who has been enjoying the resurgence of one of his favorite childhood hobbies and wants to help others do the same. We caught up with him at The Mint Collective superevent in Las Vegas to get his perspective.
If you’re still skeptical about whether “sports card” and “investing” belong in the same sentence, he may be able to change your mind.
TRACING THE SURGE OF CARD TRADING
Look at the figures and the news and you can see the rise of trading cards and other collectibles.
In July 2020, a rare rookie card of Giannis Antetokounmpo sold for $1.8 million at auction. Then, in May 2021, Target had to take trading cards off its shelves (temporarily) after five men in Wisconsin got into a fight over a pack of cards due to fierce competition for the most desirable collectibles. Other retailers like Walmart noted that they had observed increased customer demand around the same time.
Perhaps most exciting of all is the transition online. NBA, NBA Players Association and crypto firm Dapper Labs joined together to launch NBA Top Shot in 2020, an NFT marketplace for trading official NBA collectibles. In other words, people can buy video clips and other digital items online and know they are the sole owner. The marketplace has been a huge success, and it acquired $250 million of funding in 2021.
Now, there are events like The Mint Collective (which started in 2022) dedicated to discussing collectibles, both as a hobby and alternative assets.
When did everyone start caring about cards?
“A lot of people credit COVID for the rise of the hobby, but the truth is, the hobby was red hot before COVID even hit, and it was going to grow the way that it’s already grown.”
Wilson points out that there was a flood of people getting involved before the pandemic really took hold of the world, in late 2019 and early 2020, and believes that a large part of the success is due to genuine improvements in the hobby. These days, there are features like in-built scarcity through serial cards, more liquidity thanks to online marketplaces for buying and selling, and grading systems.
All of this made the experience of trading better for hobbyists, so Wilson believes that a resurgence was inevitable. However, he admits that COVID accelerated the existing growth trajectory: “That just further pushed people into discovering new hobbies, getting in touch with, things maybe they had done as a kid … and collecting was a beneficiary of all of that.”
A STORY OF REDISCOVERY
Wilson experienced something similar—but luckily for him, the rediscovery came before the pandemic and gave him a unique window of opportunity to capitalize on the surge before others knew what was about to happen.
“It was about five years ago that my son came home from a trip to his grandmother’s house with a pack of football cards that she had bought. That resulted in me getting my old collection out of the attic and going through it again,” he says.
That was in 2018, before the hype had really taken off. But perhaps due to his extensive background as an investing professional, Wilson could see how things would go. He instantly realized that the sports card world was buzzing and that the market had changed a lot, so he became bullish and started planning out business and content.
The rest is history. His YouTube channel Sports Card Investor has nearly 200,000 subscribers and he runs various busy social media channels and a website full of educational info.
Wilson is a keen believer that the area allows you to be both an investor and a collector, and he wants to teach others to profit from that hobby through his content. For instance, he lives in Atlanta and is a fan of the Hawks and Trey Young, so he has around $500,000 worth of Trey Young cards—but he also thinks they’re a great long-term investment.
AN EXCITING FUTURE
By some estimates, the top 100 to 500 trading cards have beat the S&P 500 by 153% over the last decade, so the prospect of them continuing this trajectory over the next few years is nothing revolutionary. But it may well be that the best is yet to come.
“I think there’s going to be tremendous growth in the sports card hobby way beyond what we’ve seen in the last few years over the next five to 10 years.”
He uses Fanatics, a sports, apparel, and collectible store, as an example of what’s possible. Already, the business has acquired licenses to major U.S. sports and is set to become the exclusive manufacturer of sports cards, which is a significant achievement.
This will help to make sports card investing more mainstream in years ahead, which means revenue growth. Fanatics is just one story of many.
Wilson is also bullish on digital collecting, such as NFTs (and whichever other forms come in the future). Rather than separating the digital and physical sides of collecting, he believes they could come together in new ways in the future. “I think you’re going to see more and more overlaps between the two, where you’ll see physical card collections that have digital components, you’ll see digital collections that have physical components, and both are growth opportunities in the years ahead,” he says.
As for Wilson’s plans for the future, you might wonder whether he hopes to launch his own trading cards, but he’s focusing on his business and content for now. “Our desire with our content at Sports Card Investor is to educate, to help new people come into the hobby, to inspire,” he says. He’s also working on a data product called “market movers” to help people track the sports card market and collection value on a daily basis, as well as creating and investing in other projects.
The world of collecting can be a minefield, even for those who were keen hobbyists when they were younger. As Wilson points out, everything is a lot more complex now, with more sets and variation. So even if you like the idea of getting involved and think you’d be a dab hand, you need to do research before diving in.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free resources and educational content like Wilson’s to help you make wise decisions.