Sports Hobby Getting Mainstream Press – Good and Bad

In between the NCAA tournament coverage, Tim Tebow mania in New York and Tiger Woods’ latest victory, there has been a fair amount of mainstream press focusing on the sports collectibles hobby.

ABC premiered the series Ball Boys on Mar. 24 with a pair of 30-minute episodes. A few days later, Bill Goodwin of Goodwin and Co. was all over newswires with the projected $1 million (or more) sale of a T206 Honus Wagner. And finally, as part of its Sunday news special on Mar. 25, CBS’ Sunday Morning ran a nearly five-minute segment on the dying nature of the sportscard hobby.

That’s a lot of mainstream press that didn’t involve arrests, burglaries or a player having to sell off his memorabilia to satisfy debts.

Let’s get to the negative report first. The CBS “report” was a producer’s idea to try and generate a story. The basic premise of the piece was that kids aren’t involved any more, there are no more shows that are well attended, all of the cards produced in the 1980s and ’90s are junk and the trading card hobby is on its deathbed.

To prove its point, CBS went to a local weekday night card show in New Jersey, compared it to national shows from 1991, talked about how new cards were over-produced in the 1980s and ’90s and maintained the overall baseball card business was maybe a third of what it was at its peak.

To those of us in the hobby, the overproduction of cards and lack of a youth movement in the hobby is well known. However, the show flip-flopped a lot between modern cards and vintage cards. SCD advertiser Alan Rosen was interviewed for the piece. Rosen is a vintage card expert who shared that his call volume has gone from more than 100 calls a day 15 years ago to 20-30 per day in 2012. And the show kept showing vintage cards (and images from shows 20 years ago).

The fact is, the modern card market and the vintage card market are in different categories. Look at the auction results from vintage cards (and some of the rookie cards of modern players) and see the prices they can fetch. Are shows down? Yes. Are fewer kids collecting? Yes. Is the hobby dying? No. It was evolved with time, and continues to bring in million of dollars on an annual basis.

The show did have a good impact, however. It got a lot of people fired up, banding together and talking about the hobby, which is never a bad thing.

Over on ABC, Ball Boys premiered with two pretty good episodes. The show is produced by the same folks who did Pawn Stars, so the basic premise is the same. People come in looking to sell something and the owners and customers haggle over price.

Some of the pieces featured in the first episodes were a Reggie White game-used jersey (authenticated on the show by MEARS’ Troy Kinunen), a Jim Brown signed full-size helmet (authenticated by Brown on the show) and Notre Dame championship rings a customer had requested.

It looks like the show will be memorabilia-based, with the personalities of the staff at Robbie’s 1st Base, where the show takes place, part of the focus. It airs Saturdays from 3-4 p.m. EST on ABC.

I enjoyed seeing the warehouse at Steiner Sports. It’s that behind-the-scenes stuff that I like, as most of the memorabilia brought in has been around the block, so to speak.

Anyone see any of these episodes and have any comments?

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6 thoughts on “Sports Hobby Getting Mainstream Press – Good and Bad

  1. Hi Tom,

    Great article again! I haven’t got he chance to see any of the shows but just like you said, I think these kind of shows are good for the hobby but they are only entertainment when they bring out something special. That behind-the-scene you are referring to. If you watch any of the other shows, like for example ”All Star Dealers”, you’ll see that what people are looking for is that unique and privileged access to the everyday activities of auction houses and other hobby experts. They want to know what they know.

    I think that in conclusion, these shows are good for the memorabilia market because they expose it to people that wouldn’t think it exist and it certainly raises awareness. The fresh stuff is hidden out there and just waiting to come out!


  2. Erik Cagle on said:

    Hi Tom,
    I find it interesting that you accuse CBS of manufacturing a story. I’m sure CBS could bring your objectivity, as a reporter for the card and memorabilia hobby, into question. After all, auction ads are strewn all over this page.

    If you’re basing the long-term viability of the hobby on the results of the high-end auction circuit, you’re missing the big picture. The hobby doesn’t consist of millionaires forking over seven figures for doctored T206 Wagners; it’s heart and soul are the sweaty people who make less than $50K a year and are perusing eBay auctions in search of those final mid-grade cards to finish off their 1965 Topps baseball set. That group is vanishing. The generation of collectors that snapped up cards in the `80s and `90s is now trying to unload them for a penny per pound on craigslist (do a search in your region, it’s incredible how cheaply they’re being offered). And that generation’s children has absolutely zero interest in sports cards.

    The hobby should be welcoming a report such as this one, as it casts a light on some of the major problems it faces. Topps is making zero effort to reach out to kids; if one is afoot, that effort is misguided. The whole cheesy gold theme of 2012 Topps baseball demonstrates that the venerable card maker is completely out of touch with the magical quality that drew each of us into card collecting. Is Topps reaching out to 48-year-old men with slicked back hair and pinky rings with its diamond- and gold-based marketing campaigns? That’s pretty obvious. Kids don’t care about diamonds and gold.

    To take a “oh, anyone in the know is aware of these problems” attitude underscores the notion that CBS appreciates this problematic trend more than you do. Your decision to focus on the high-end aspect of the hobby and glaze over the dying/dead market for anything post-1975 (and some would argue 1960) reflects short-term thinking.

    C’mon Tom, you’re a slave to your auction house advertisers. What percentage of collectors are forking over $50K for a uniform or a bat? And you say the hobby’s evolving? Any hobby that has little or no future is dying. And once the generation of high rollers has moved on, the sports card and memorabilia business shall, too, come to pass.
    Erik Cagle

  3. Tom Bartsch on said:

    Just to clarify Erik, are you saying the hobby as a whole is going to die when the current generation of high rollers passes?

    • Erik Cagle on said:

      Die? Maybe in the context of the dizzying heights the hobby reached in the 1990s, the peak of its popularity. A lot of those people sitting on unopened boxes and cases of cards have a bad taste in their mouths. They’re not passing down their love for the hobby to their kids, who would rather play with electronic gadgets than crack open a box and sort cards. That’s why I picked on Topps, because its obviously not targeting youngsters anymore. The love of cards and memorabilia is not being passed on to subsequent generations. I think CBS wanted to show that cards have taken the road to irrelevance, and it did a pretty good job of that.

      • steve b on said:

        I agree Eric,The Topps gold thing is lame.Like I give a shit if I win a fake gold coin on Topps website.Every week in SCD its all about auctions and I pass right over the auction articles.Some guy with more money then he knows what to do with paid 23,000 for a graded 10 rookie from the 70’s means nothing to me.I dont care about inserts or graded cards.I like putting together the regular Topps set but at 70 dollars a box and it takes 5 or 6 boxes at the least to build a set it is prohibitive for normal working people.I hate when they have the ten most popular cards and they have all the most expensive cards.Not in my league.Yea the high end market is alive and well but for regular people like me it has been dead a long time

  4. Pablo on said:

    You can’t expect us older collectors to collect forever, or anymore for that matter. I got tired of the over-priced, over-valued, reduntant designed, and over-hyped, mordern cards years ago. Buying packs got too costly, and so did buying boxes. Even when you buy a box of cards with a autograph or two, you usually get no-name players. Worst of all, many of stores that sold cards and memorabilia have closed, leaving us collectors with less places to shop for cards and memorabilia. Nowadays, I only meet and buy autographs from baseball and football players. And even today’s players (retired or currently playing) overcharge for their autographs. Well, at least, I get to meet the players and take their picture. Sometimes, I get lucky and get their autographs for free!

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