August 2023

Are Trading Cards Collectibles, Investments, or Gambling?

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Sport trading cards have been a popular collectible for decades, with fans and collectors alike drawn to their unique combination of art, statistics, and nostalgia.

Trading cards are typically just a small piece of cardboard with a picture, stats, and player info so the materials cannot be inherently valuable, but this begs the question. Why do people buy trading cards in the first place?

Here are a few potential reasons:

Investment Potential

Some people buy sports trading cards as a way to invest their money, with the hope that the value of the cards will increase over time. A lasting question is, what creates the intrinsic value of a trading card?

Is it rarity? Is the player's performance? Is there really any tangible value?

related: Performance > Audience when deciding where to place your efforts

Some of the most valuable sports cards can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, making them an attractive option for those looking to build wealth.

In April, a 2003 LeBron James Exquisite Collection patch card sold for $5.2 million, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card sold for a record-breaking $5.2 million in 2021 and in 2007, a T206 Honus Wagner, featuring Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, card sold for a record-breaking $2.8 million at auction.

related: Sneakerheads aka Investors, Collectors, and Entrepreneurs.

Personal connection

Many people who collect sports trading cards are fans of a particular team or player, and they may feel a strong emotional connection to the cards they collect. 

For these collectors, the act of acquiring and displaying their favorite players' cards is a way to show their support and admiration in a way that is exclusive and tangible. Sports trading card can also bring nostalgic memories. It gives people chance to relive memories of their childhood or a particular time in their life.  According to some people might just buy trading cards because they are thinking about better times.

Trading cards can bring back memories of playing sports with friends or watching games with family, and for these collectors, the act of collecting is a way to hold onto those memories.

Also, according to Sam, a sports trade card collector "My dad and I bonded over collecting trading cards when I was a kid, and now it's something we can still do together. It's a way for us to stay connected and share a common hobby." So, for some collectors, sports trading cards can be a way to bond with family members who share a similar interest. 

Whether it's trading with friends or participating in online communities with other collectors. The act of collecting can be a way to connect with others who share a similar interest. There is a social element, especially in cards that center around a game of strategy that brings people together.

The Thrill

Some collectors enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and the competition of trying to find rare or hard-to-find cards can be part of the appeal.

There's a certain scratch off lottery ticket appeal to trading cards that scratches the itch our our vice seeking subconscious.

Mike Thomas was narrating his sports card and memorabilia show "People opened cards and didn’t even look at them. They blew past them and went directly for the shiny pink card in the middle to see how limited it was. It didn’t even matter who the player was. If it was one of 10 cards made of that particular insert, it was a hit".

For these collectors, the act of collecting is a way to test their skills and see who can acquire the most valuable or sought-after cards.

Educational Value

This is one of the most popular reasons for trading card collections across every industry especially in the sports industry. 

Trading cards share a lot of similarities with stocks. Collectors must be informed on the athlete and the cards, decisions are made on future speculation of how the player will perform, and a great investment will pay dividends in the future.

Sports trading cards can serve as a source of educational value for collectors, allowing them to learn about the history of sports and the achievements of past players from the information written on the back of most of the cards. Almost like a rolodex or encyclopedia assisting us in remembering athletes who have captured our attention and allowing us the ability to now keep track of them and claim fan-hood before they were on the mainstream radar.

Personal accomplishment

When Dave, a sports trading card collector was asked his reason for collecting trading cards, he said "There's a real sense of accomplishment when you finally track down that one card you've been looking for. It's like a little victory every time you add a new one to your collection."

Acquiring a complete set of cards or a particularly valuable card can be a personal accomplishment for collectors. It can provide a sense of victory when they add new cards to their collection.

These people can also see it as a way to express their creativity and showcase their collection. They can be displayed in a way that feels like a work of art created by the collector. 

Sports trading cards can offer a sense of escapism for some collectors. They can provide a way to relax and escape from the stresses of daily life, and can be something that a collector does just for themselves.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why people buy sports trading cards, and the appeal may vary from person to person. Whether it's for investment, personal connection, nostalgia, competition, or the social aspect, sports trading cards remain a popular collectible for fans and collectors alike.


JRZY provides unparalleled data, insights and analysis to identify and activate the best economic opportunities for athletes, brands and consumers.

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