Interest in the hobby is higher than ever, and the same goes for unopened sports card boxes and packs. Prices are higher than ever for unopened products, and availability is shrinking. Just check out the lack of inventory on the Baseball Card Exchange’s website; there is very little vintage product compared to the past. So let’s talk about what’s driving this phenomenon across the hobby.
First, there are more collectors in the market. Even before the pandemic found people with more time at home, cards were booming. Collectors from the 60s/70s/80s have grown up, have good jobs (with disposable cash), and have re-ignited their love for the hobby, and they want the products they opened when they were kids. So there is a ton of demand.
The increased quantity of collectors in the market means more folks hold onto the product as a collectible. There is a private unopened product Facebook group with over 8000 members, and it’s incredibly active. More collectors mean less supply since you can’t print more vintage sports cards.
Gambling and sports betting culture is a natural fit for unopened material as well. Folks participate in group rips and rip packs looking to cash in on PSA 10s. Others are just seeking a thrill. This behavior eliminates the product from the market. When you pair product elimination with flip culture and collector demand, prices go up.
The economic realities of today are also driving investments in sports cards and unopened product. Savings accounts and bonds yield little, and with inflation a negative real yield, people are looking for stores of value outside the traditional financial system. When you add an increasing money supply (stimulus), non-traditional investments like art, wine, and sports cards have done well.
There are a few other cases that affect prices as well. People are hoarding products looking to cash in later, so unopened products don’t even come to market. Some people have a unique box of cards and list it at a crazy high price, which slowly drives market prices higher (one could argue vintage unopened is not a very liquid market, so it isn’t efficient like stock trading is presumed to be). And some older collectors have no desire to sell anything, again limiting availability on the market.
It all boils down to basic supply vs. demand and price equilibrium.
Demand is skyrocketing, and supply has nowhere to go but down, so the price will go up. In a regular market, there will be an equilibrium quantity and price. For example, if there is an increased demand for coffee and, mistakenly, producers supplied less coffee, prices go way up. But when prices go up, producers are incentivized to deliver more coffee to take advantage of that price. But then there is more supply, which may (but not necessarily) cause a drop in prices. In the case of an unopened product, there can’t ever be more supply. So given current economic realities, prices continue to rise.
What are your thoughts on the unopened vintage sports card market? Are you a collector and now priced out of the market? Do you think prices will come back down or continue to skyrocket? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter.