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State of the Hobby

As we sit in the middle of a world-wide pandemic and a country full of unrest, unemployment and the typical wariness of an election year, the memorabilia industry is thriving. But why? This can be a complicated answer with many variables, especially when considering our Country has never been universally sitting at home, with little to do before. One would think, that people would be setting aside cash for a rainy day. Instead, people are spending more time than ever online and watching re-runs of classic games. The result, nostalgia has fully set in and people are looking for something to do, buy, hold, admire, share with their family members, engage with fellow collectors online in message boards and forums etc. This has resulted in a boom in collectibles purchasing like we have never seen before. This even tops the baseball card craze of the late 80's and early 90's for the dramatic spike in resale prices, seemingly setting new records daily on eBay and auction houses. Those same kids who were driving the sports card boom in the 80's and 90's are now in their 30's and 40's, have young children of their own and are at a point in their careers where they are earning discretionary income. That 40 year old is watching old games of their childhood heroes like Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken Jr breaking records, explaining to their young children that they were their ages when watching these games live. Explaining that they did not have the internet or 200 channels to watch back then, rather, they had bedrooms lined wall to wall with posters of their idols, binders and boxes full of baseball cards and stacks of Beckett magazines to entertain them and spark their imaginations of one day breaking Cal Ripken Jr's games played streak themselves or sending a ball sailing to the upper deck of the Kingdome with the sweetest swing the game has ever seen. This curious 40 year old is pulling out their old collection of cards while simultaneously googling what this card sells for today, which will inevitably lead them to eBay. Ebay can easily become the rabbit hole which leads them to exploring all of the cards, magazines and autographs of their past. A further dive into the PSA/DNA population report will show just how rare some of these cards are in perfect mint condition these days when considering how many kids grew up collecting and idolizing these players. Before you know it, people are fully immersed back into the hobby.

Another reason for the surge are the investors. The ones who want something tangible to hold onto, they can touch and hold what their investments are buying them. As the stock market continues to be volatile, investors want to diversify and put their money where they can quantify the exact scarcity of their purchases. To say that the prices which have been paid over the past few months for top of the line cards and memorabilia have been aggressive would be quite the understatement. The bar has been raised as an overlooked asset class to the general public continues to garner more and more attention from people who were outside of the hobby just a year ago. A record number of new cards are being submitted for professional grading to grading services such as PSA/DNA and Beckett Authentication, this could dilute the scarcity of some of these cards but realistically, the new cards graded a "10" will not outpace the number of people dipping their toes back into the hobby. Most importantly, people are having fun and enjoying this trip down memory lane. The community aspect of connecting with fellow collectors could be filling a void caused by sheltering place and social distancing.

As cards and memorabilia prices continue to soar, there has been a trickle down affect to game used memorabilia. The bat market in particular, is soaring as well. People will begin to get "priced out" of the high grade cards as they reach a temporary ceiling. Collectors and investors begin asking themselves, why am I spending $5k for a Mark McGwire rookie card when I could own one of his actual game used bats for the same price or possibly cheaper. The coolness factor of a game used bat will always trump a piece of cardboard ten fold.

Investors who feel that the value in cards and the opportunity to buy low is dwindling, will begin diving into game used memorabilia and researching the scarcity of these items, especially in high grades. What they will find is a much scarcer pool of pieces to buy. Unlike cards, there is not a plethora of bats waiting to hit the market or being graded. There is a finite amount of Ken Griffey Jr. game used home run bats, better grab one while you can. The upper echelon example of bats, especially those with exceptional provenance such as photo matches or exception character which differentiate themselves from the run-of-the mill examples will sell for seemingly outrageous prices. The reality however, is that these pieces are irreplaceable and the new owners will dictate what the next sale price will be. Subsequently, bats with lower grades such as a PSA GU 9 or GU 8.5 will increase in demand as well. These bats are great pieces themselves and may become the only realistic way to build a collection at a reasonable price.

I truly believe that more and more collectors will continue to enter the hobby and supply will continue to dwindle. If you see a special bat, buy it. If you used to skim past lower grade examples, waiting for the perfect "10", it may be worth grabbing what you can in a high grade and enjoying that piece until a better one comes along. As always, continue to network and do your homework so that you are positioned to make the best educated decisions when investing your discretionary funds into tangible pieces which can take you down memory lane and possibly give your children a glimpse into life pre-pandemic, pre-internet, when players and owners got along and played the game we love between the white lines.

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