Virus causes sports card sales boom

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) – David Orr has been selling collectible sports cards to Dubuque since 1990, but he’s never seen a year like the last.

“I’ve had a storefront for 30 years,” Orr said. “Usually (the sports card industry) looks like a roller coaster.”

Interest in the hobby generally rises and falls, and the prices rise and fall, Orr said.

“This (last) year was more like a rocket going up,” he told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

Business is booming in the sports card industry.

The auction website eBay reported in February that US collectible card sales increased 142% between 2019 and 2020 and that it sold 4 million more cards in 2020 than the year before. .


Orr, who owns tri-state baseball cards and shows in Dubuque, attributes the growing fortune to habits influenced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“People needed something to do,” he said. “They had nowhere to go, so they had some extra money to spend and they got to grips with the hobby. It only increased interest.

Orr wasn’t sure how the pandemic would affect his business in early spring 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions put an end to large swathes of the economy.

“When we had to go through the closure, I thought it might be a long drive,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”

Orr continued to sell cards, relying on phone orders, fad and eBay sales and other internet sales.

“Sales were pretty much normal, then in April (2020) everything exploded – eBay and everything,” he said.

Orr started selling three to four times as many cards on eBay.

“About 75% of those funds were for California,” he said.

Orr’s business saw another big wave of sales in the summer of 2020, an increase he attributes to people investing some of their stimulus funds in collectibles.

“Investors are starting to put (their money) into tangible things – gold, silver, comics, baseball cards, coins, whatever was tangible to collect – people just wanted it,” Orr said.

Some cards have broken sales records since the start of the pandemic. A rare card of baseball legend Mickey Mantle sold for a record $ 5.2 million in January on a nationwide collectible card market. A signed rookie card for National Basketball Association player Luka Doncic sold for $ 4.6 million in February and a 2009 signed rookie card for Major League Baseball star Mike Trout sold for $ 3.9 million dollars at an online auction in August 2020.

The sports card market is estimated to be around $ 5 billion.

Card collectors range from investors to hobbyists.

Tom Langas of Dubuque has been collecting football cards from a young age.

“It keeps you busy and keeps you busy – it gives you something to do,” Langas said.

Langas said he relied on the internet to buy cards that help him complete sets.

“They would be hard to find without the Internet,” he said. “With the Internet you can go (shopping with maps) from the east coast to the west coast.”

According to the eBay report, sales increased among cards in all sports. Football trading card sales increased 1,586% from 2019 to 2020, followed by basketball cards (up 373%), hockey (258%), soccer (168%) and baseball (73%).

“The popularity of basketball cards surprises me,” Orr said. “We can’t have (basketball cards) and we can’t keep (basketball cards) on the shelves.”

Orr believes interest in basketball was fueled by “The Last Dance,” a 10-part ESPN television documentary about former NBA star Michael Jordan that aired in the spring of 2020, when most sporting events live had gone dormant because of the pandemic.

Matthew Garrett of Dubuque has been collecting cards since he was a child.

“Baseball has always been my primary focus, but I’ve immersed myself in soccer, basketball, hockey and WWE on and off over the years,” Garrett said.

Garrett said he believes the Jordan documentary and the renewed interest in retired star players sparked much of the current boom in card sales.

“What is happening now is unprecedented in my experience,” he said. “Retail outlets must enforce minimum purchasing regulations and have the security present in the cards section.”

Garrett said the boom had an impact on his fundraising.

“I’m not going to wait long lines for the product, nor will I pay premium prices on aftermarket retail products,” he said. “So I collect fewer new products.”

Based on his 30 years of experience with the ebb and flow of the business, Orr said he doesn’t expect the dramatic increases in sales from the pandemic to last.

“It’s already starting to decrease,” he said. “He’s going to come back down.”

However, he sees signs that a new generation is poised to fuel steady future growth in the hobby.

Orr said that another interesting aspect of the current card boom is the age of many collectors.

“We have more kids collecting – we still have middle aged people, but there was just a child attack – which is great,” he said.

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