Every day, sports fans across the country have the luck of going to a game to watch their favorite team and coming home with a souvenir that they didn’t expect or pay for. Some don’t think much of it, about the ball or the jersey they got, but most take it back home and store it on a shelf for permanent posterity. This little piece of memorabilia, now owned by us, represents a moment in time. It’s a reference to the people who used it, the stadium it was in, and is a part of sports history. Maybe that’s why the sports memorabilia market is worth $26.1Bn and is expected to grow to $200Bn by 2032 (GlobalNewswire.com).
The most prominent form of memorabilia is sports cards. The value of these can be as inexpensive as $1, with the most expensive card, the 1952 Topps (Mickey Mantle), valued at $5.2M. Interestingly, the manufacture of sports cards started as a loyalty retention tactic for cigarette companies. Started by Allen and Ginter in 1886, lithographic pictures of sports players and teams on cards were placed in cigarette packs as a way to improve brand awareness and appeal. This led to the advent of trade cards, with baseball being their founding sport. Early cards would generally contain 3 metrics, a picture of a player, the emblem of the team they played for, and then statistics.
Needless to say, it’s fascinating to see the exponential growth the industry has had since then as the landscape of collectibles now looks very different in the contemporary world. As counterfeiting has become an increasingly popular money-making tactic, there now exists a Professional Authentication Service (PSA) founded in 1991. PSA has state-of-the-art vaults in holding companies just to store these
6.4 cm by 8.9 cm pieces of paper and experts who employ themselves full time by examining cards and collectibles. Some collectibles are being digitized, and new ones are being created as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) to assure security by utilizing modern-blockchain technology. Athletes and teams have been signing endorsement deals with companies to produce these NFTs and create a digital community of the most committed fans who buy these.
While defining the intrinsic value of memorabilia, experts today consider 3 prongs. First, is the physical condition, the more pristine these cards are, the greater their value. Cards are rated on a scale of 1-10, and all other items are on a scale from 1-70 by the PSA. Second, the popularity of the player and team is assessed within the current market. Customers are required to pay a fee which can range from $50-$12,000 based on that, and whether the piece has an autograph. Lastly comes scarcity, while this has no official measure or rating, the relative scarcity of the card is known to consumers by market estimations and the rarer the card the more the consumer wants to and must pay for them. (Forbes)
It might be highly surprising to examine the massive industry and infrastructure that exists today for memorabilia. However, I think it’s clear. Sports are all about passion, purity, and hope. Memorabilia provides an insight, into a relationship with your favorite player or team, whose impact may have been more than just on the field. While objectively governed by rules, sporting audiences are cultivated in a highly personal way. There’s a story behind every fan’s relationship, and every supporter’s love for their team. Athletes inspire and transcend their sport in many ways. This nature is the underlying reason for the skyrocketing evaluation of the sports memorabilia industry, and I don’t see it dying down anytime soon.