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The Sports Collectibles Market Is On Fire
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Today’s email is a guest post from my friends at Altan Insights. Their platform provides retail investors with institutional-grade research for the once-secretive world of alternative asset investments — think sports cards, fine art, exclusive wine, and million-dollar watches.
You can learn more about Altan Insights on their website here. And a special shoutout to Dylan Dittrich and Bradley Calleja specifically, who work on the Altan Inishgts research team and put together this research report. Enjoy!
The boom of the sports collectibles market has drawn headlines for over two years now. The height of the pandemic sent many into attics and basements on nostalgia-driven adventures to experience their forgotten collections. That trend, fused with major cultural events like The Last Dance, created renewed and passionate interest in sports collectibles, with values sharply ascending and activity broadening dramatically.
But with life returning to normalcy, has that market begun to fizzle?
The team at Altan Insights dove into 2022’s first-quarter numbers in their Sports Collectibles Market Report, focusing on the high-end to shed light on the goings-on in sports cards and memorabilia. Here’s what was discovered.
Auction activity tamer, but still very robust. The number of six-figure auction sales was up 48% over the first quarter of 2021, with 363 in the first quarter this year. That’s right: on 363 occasions in the first three months of the year, someone paid $100,000 or more for a sports collectible. Now, some of the increase is due to a new entrant (PWCC) in the high-end auction space, as leading auction houses Goldin and Heritage experienced slight year-over-year pullbacks in six-figure sales. The value of the top 50 sales at each of the auction houses sampled dropped 3.7% in aggregate, while the value of those sales just off the top experienced greater weakness, falling 21% Y/Y.
Q1 Six-Figure Sales by Auction House
The high-end of the market is performing strongest. CardLadder is one of a few data providers offering indices tracking the performance of the sports card market. Their high-end sports card index was up 8.92% in Q1 and 42.64% over the last 12 months. Contrast that to their low-end index, which was down 6.54% and 40.17% respectively. The emphasis on quality, blue-chip items is clear, and the large wallets continue to push those items higher. Similarly, the Altan Insights Fractional Sports Cards Index, which encompasses those sports cards that have been offered on fractional platforms like Collectable and Rally, was up 5.38% in Q1, though it fell 7.60% over the last year. The fractional markets trend higher-end, but there are many high-end items trading fractionally that have suffered relative to their dizzying peaks in the spring of 2021. Fractional sports memorabilia has been broadly challenged, and the Altan Insights Fractional Sports Memorabilia Index was down 8.41% in the first quarter and 18.1% over the last year.
Records are falling with regularity. The first quarter saw numerous significant records fall, as the appetite for category grails is alive and well. The following are just a sampling of the records notched:
Most Expensive Soccer Card - $1.33mm - Alifabolaget Pele Rookie Card
Most Expensive Ticket - $600,000 - Signed, Inaugural Masters Pass
Most Expensive Women’s Sports Card - $163,200 - NetPro Serena Williams Apparel Auto
Most Expensive Sports Video Game - $480,000 - John Madden Football (Heritage)
Most Expensive Formula 1 Card - $312,000 - Futera Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton
Most Expensive Game-Worn NFL Jersey - $480,000 - Tom Brady “GOAT” inscribed Bucs jersey
Collectors are chasing the next great quarterback. In the first quarter of last year at Goldin Auctions, there were just three first-quarter sales for quarterbacks not named Brady or Mahomes that cracked six figures. This year? Twelve. Six-figure results are now commonplace for the likes of Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and Josh Allen, though along with Mahomes, their battle for AFC supremacy will surely be hotly contested in the years ahead.
Huge sums of money are being paid for MLB prospects. Perhaps the biggest story in baseball card collecting in Q1 was the amount of cash splashed for players nowhere near the major leagues. The most coveted rookie card of Yankees prospect Jasson Dominguez sold for $474,000 at Goldin in February. Dominguez will start the season in Single-A. Similarly, the most coveted rookie card of Red Sox prospect Marcelo Mayer drew $132,000 at Goldin in March. He also starts in Low-A. These are significant sums of money, spent chasing the loftiest of outcomes for players with many hurdles still to clear.
The soccer market is growing fast. In last year’s first quarter, Goldin recorded 26 five-figure soccer sales. This year, that number basically quadrupled, with 102 such sales. The breadth of players achieving those results has also increased considerably. In Q1 of 2021, Goldin made just 17 total sales (of any value) of players outside of the Pele, Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe, and Haaland group that propelled the sport’s market early on. This year, there were 22 such sales that reached five-figure levels, as collectors seek less well-trodden ground and those more collectable stars take a breather.
Five Figure Soccer Sales at Goldin
F1’s collecting popularity follows viewership. Coming into 2022, the record for an F1 card was $59,040. That record was absolutely shattered in March when Goldin sold a 2006 Futera Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton card for $312,000. To put the rise of the F1 collecting market in context, last year Goldin didn’t sell a single F1 card in the first quarter. This year, eleven F1 cards crossed the $10,000 mark, which was also up over 5 in the fourth quarter. The scope of high-end cards in demand expanded to include Vettel and Senna alongside Hamilton and Verstappen.
Serena leads the women’s sports collecting charge. Back in June of 2021, a Mia Hamm Sports Illustrated for Kids card became the most expensive women’s sports card ever sold at $34,440. Since then, that record has been broken five times, including four in the first quarter. All five of those sales were Serena Williams cards, with the current record standing at $163,200, approximately four times the record entering 2022. The question of course becomes “who’s next?” To date, no female athlete has captured high-end wallet share quite like Serena.
Women’s Sports Card Record
With the number of high-flying results on display in the first quarter, it’s clear that the sports collectibles market retains considerable momentum, even if some values have not yet returned to their spring 2021 peaks.
An increasingly discerning community of collectors and investors continues to chase blue-chip assets, while turning to emerging sports and athletes for a differentiated chance at large upside outcomes. Now, all eyes turn to a busy spring auction season as baseball gets underway, soccer reaches its conclusion, and NBA and NHL postseasons heat up.
For more in-depth insights on the sports collectibles market, go check out the Altan team’s full report!
Altan Insights empowers the modern investor to navigate the growing alternative asset landscape with confidence. Whether your passion is for sports cards, fine art, or everything in between, Altan’s industry-leading platform provides in-depth analytics, breaking news, and institutional-grade research to help guide winning investment strategies.
I hope everyone has a great day, and we’ll talk tomorrow.
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