The Sports Trading Card Gamble

Ever thought your favorite childhood hobby could lead to a big payday? Today, sports trading cards can be a gamble—we look at some huge amounts of money sports cards have brought in.


Gambling is more than just quick gains. Sometimes it’s about playing the long game. Collectibles is a regular feature that showcases the “gamble” around sought after digital & physical collections.

Pieces of cardboard once clipped to the spokes of kids’ bikes to make it sound like a motorcycle are now viewed as pieces of art and rarer pieces are selling for more than $1,000,000. Joining the likes of Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies, sports trading cards are one of thee hottest commodities around the world.

In late-January, the holy grail of basketball cards, Michael Jordan’s 1986 Fleer rookie graded a perfect 10 by third-party Professional Sports Authenticator, sold for a record $738,000 through Goldin Auctions. In fact, two Jordan PSA 10 rookies sold for that amount.

As you can see, the same card, same grade sold for less than $32,000 just 14 months ago. And believe it or not, Jordan’s rookie card is not an outlier. Take for instance this Goldin Auction lot featuring a one-of-a-kind LeBron James autographed basketball card with a game-used NBA logoman patch. It sold for a record $1.28-million.

The Trading Card Gamble

So, you might be asking, what does any of this have to do with online gambling? Think about the initial concept of collecting trading cards, whether sports, entertainment, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, etc. You visit a hobby shop and purchase a sealed pack or box of cards. Before you rip that wax pack or crack open a box, you have no idea what contents are inside.

The mere act of purchasing sealed trading card products is itself a gamble and one kids as young as 5-6 years old have been participating in on a regular basis since the 1950’s when Topps and Bowman baseball cards were all the rage. Those that survived, especially Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps, one of baseball cardboard’s holy grails, can fetch millions of dollars.

ebay trading card sales trends

eBay Sales Study

Legacy auction houses have embraced digital to take advantage of the recent trading card boom, but the OG of sports card auctions remains eBay. The online auction site recently published a “State of Trading Cards” report to highlight the surge in 2020 sales. eBay saw a 142% year-over-year increase in trading card sales with Pokemon being the most popular. To look at the study another way, 4-million MORE trading cards were sold on eBay in 2020 compared to 2019.

Soccer card sales grew by more than 1500% as collectors looked to flip rare Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo cards along with Kylian Mbappé rookies. While China remains a leader in NBA card sales, look at Australia’s year-over-year growth of 379%. Aussies are known for their love of “pokies” or online slots, but it’s evident they’re also uber-interested in buying and selling sports cards.

Goldin Auction Investment

On the heels of PSA’s $853-million sale to a private investment group that includes New York Mets owner Steve Cohen and Charlotte Hornets minority owner Dan Sundheim, Goldin Auctions also announced that it had raised $40-million in financing from The Chernin Group, which included investors like Kevin Durant, Deshaun Watson and Bill Simmons.

Make no mistake, if Peter Chernin is investing, there is no bubble in the short-term. Is there a gamble? Always. Every time a collector opens a pack of cards or a box, they are just like the blackjack, craps or roulette player. As they rip open that wax pack, they’re hoping to dodge snake-eyes and hit the jackpot like PSA and Goldin Auctions have enjoyed over recent weeks.

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