By Greg Bates
Mark Townsend used to own a card shop in Clarksdale, Maryland. One day, a customer walked into the store to consign a 1968 World Series ticket along with a Ty Cobb autographed baseball.
One item really caught Townsend’s attention.
“I looked at the ticket and said, ‘Man, I like this ticket,’” Townsend said. “I ended up buying it from him. I ended up buying the Cobb ball, too, but that’s another story.”
As time passed, Townsend started picking up more vintage tickets. By 1992, Townsend sold his card shop and by the late 1990s he was heavy into collecting and selling old full tickets and stubs. He eventually opened up Tickets from the Past and now exclusively sells tickets from some of the top sporting and non-sporting events of all-time.
Collecting tickets has quickly become a favorite hobby as enthusiasts can obtain tangible artifacts of some of most memorable moments in sports history.
Why the surge lately in popularity?
“I think people are starting to realize, A, it’s a piece of history,” Townsend said. “It’s an actual piece of memorabilia and the scarcity of some of the stuff that’s out there. Some of the things that I’ve sold I’ve never seen again. You realize once you sell stuff, that once this is gone, good luck on finding another one.”
Townsend noticed a major push in the hobby about a decade ago.
“When you go to shows, you see more of the tickets out there,” said Townsend, whose website is Ticketsfromthepast.com. “Since PSA has been grading tickets – they’ve probably been doing it for 10 years, maybe a little longer – it’s caused the popularity in the tickets to increase.”
Dennis Jose, who owns Superstubs.com, agrees that Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) adding ticket authentication and grading to its repertoire is a big reason for the spike in the hobby.
“With PSA grading, that has really pushed up what the top is,” said Jose, who has been collecting and selling tickets since the mid-1990s. “It used to be that some of those tickets before grading and authentication, a nice one was $300 or $400. And now a 9 or 10 are $3,000 or $4,000. So that’s a big difference in eight or 10 years.”
Full tickets and stubs submitted to PSA are checked for authenticity and graded on a scale from 1-10. Depending on the event, a high graded ticket can fetch a pretty penny.
“If you find something like that, the best bet is to get it graded,” Townsend said. “A, to prove it’s real and, B, it makes it much more marketable. When I look at stuff on eBay, I’m much quicker to look at something that’s been graded before something that’s not, especially the old stuff. You want to be sure what you buy is real.”
But Touchdown Treasures owner Michael Hattley isn’t necessarily all about buying tickets that are graded.
“The vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between an 8, 9 and a 10 to begin with, so if you can’t tell the difference then why spend the money,” Hattley said.
PSA releases a population report on its website that lists every item that the company has graded since its inception 25 years ago. This allows anyone at any given time can go on www.psacard.com/pop and check how many tickets from a certain event have been graded and what grade they received.
Full tickets are much more desirable by collectors and are more valuable, but ticket stubs can also be rare and valuable. Collecting tickets presents a different element than collecting sports cards.
“Cards are a great item to collect, but they’re produced and marketed as collectibles,” Jose said. “Tickets exist as consumables, and once the event is over, it’s like holding onto the napkin that was wrapped around a cone on an ice cream cone – it’s just like forgotten about. Now they’re pretty valuable.”
“This is a lot different from the card market, where if you wanted a ’52 (Mickey) Mantle, you could find one,” Townsend said. “Good luck in finding maybe a (John) Roseboro game where he gets his head smashed in by (Juan) Marichal with (Sandy) Koufax pitching or (Rocky) Colavito four-home run ticket stub. Those kinds of things, you see it, you grab it.”
Collectors can pick up tickets from the Olympics, the Master’s, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, the list goes on. Two of the most popular events to collect are the World Series and Super Bowl.
There have been 112 World Series and 657 games, but just 50 Super Bowls. Obviously there are a lot more World Series tickets and opportunities for collectors.
“World Series is a really strong collectible,” Jose said. “I personally never got as involved with it, because there were so many more years to cover and so many more games each year to cover.”
World Series: Plenty of options
With World Series ticket collecting, there are plenty of different angles collectors can go after: all the games a favorite team has played in, a favorite series, all the games a favorite player hit home runs in, Game 7s, series-clinching games and monumental moments in a series, just to name a few.
“Anytime there’s a milestone or a key game, like some people collect Mantle home run games. There’s 18 tickets from the World Series, one of which is the (Don) Larsen perfect game. That’s a tough set a few different ways,” Jose said. “The biggest tickets in the World Series are the final or deciding game. Then when you add the overlay of like a (Bill) Mazeroski home run to decide the series as the final game. It seems like every three, four, five years, there’s an especially memorable World Series with a milestone kind of game, so that would be an interesting collection.”
Townsend, who figures he has a couple thousand PSA graded tickets along with 4,000-5,000 ungraded tickets, said any tickets from when Babe Ruth played as well as the 1955 World Series that pitted the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees are certainly desirable items.
What is the hottest ticket right now on the market? The perfect game in 1956? Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in 1960? Babe Ruth calling his own shot in 1932?
None of the above.
It’s actually Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. It was a moment Chicago Cubs fans had waited 108 years for.
“That full ticket, I just saw one go on eBay a couple days back around $400 price range,” Townsend said. “Nothing’s been graded yet from PSA [at the end of December] that I know of from that series. I would imagine if a 10 comes across the board, it’s going to get a pretty high premium.”
Jose, who runs his business out of Chicago, said after the series he sold his two tickets for $495 apiece. He has found some tickets online ranging from $1,200-$1,500.
According to Jose, Cleveland Indians tickets from the series are going for five times Cub tickets because there were a small number of season ticket holders, so the population of tickets is smaller. However, it helps the ticket prices that the Cubs won the series in seven games.
“It could have been the Cubs and anybody and it would have been a really strong collectible ticket,” Jose said.
According to PSA’s population report, one of the rarest tickets to find is the 1908 World Series with the Cubs and Detroit Tigers. Only one ticket has been authenticated from the series, coming from Game 2.
Tickets from World Series prior to about 1912 are extremely tough to find in any kind of condition.
“The earlier years are the toughest ones,” Jose said. “There are teensy weensy numbers.”
One of Townsend’s prize possessions for the World Series is a full ticket from 1924 when the Washington Senators and New York Giants squared off. The ticket has admission for Games 1, 2 and 6, and stubs can be pulled off. All the other four games of the series are separate tickets.
A ticket Townsend calls a “sleeper” is Game 1 of the 1988 World Series when a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit his game-winning home run as the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Oakland A’s.
“I say sleeper in the sense that it’s not easy to find full ones out there, not as easy as you think it would be,” Townsend said. “And that’s one of those games, that to me is a little more modern type of game.”
Super Bowl: Early tickets are rare
With only 50 Super Bowls in the books, it seems plausible for a collector to go after a full ticket or stub from every game. However, it’s not easy – or cheap.
“If someone’s going to collect full tickets, realistically they’ve got to have a pretty good job,” Hattley said. “They’re probably older – 50 and up because they have more disposable income at that point – so it’s a small market that can afford the better full tickets. Stubs, it’s much more manageable when you get past the first few Super Bowls, then the stubs come down in price pretty quick and become more realistic that you can do it. But the problem with stubs are were they torn in half or did the ticket guy actually tear it at the perforation where you’re supposed to.”
Jose said it has gotten close to impossible to collect all 50 years of full tickets.
“Especially with the early tickets, like Super Bowl XX and before,” Jose said. “Those are all blue-chip tickets. A lot of them sell for two to three times what the SMR price guide suggests.”
“It’s a great collection if you can try and pull it off,” Hattley said. “Definitely stay in your budget. Like I said, for the vast majority of people that’s going to be stubs. Don’t be in a hurry to try and knock it off. Patience and try to get the better condition ticket, depending on your budget. But don’t worry so much about grading. In my opinion, it’s way too subjective to begin with. If it’s aesthetically pleasing to you and it fits in your budget, buy it.”
Super Bowls I and II are the most popular tickets to collect. But it’s Super Bowls II and III that are the most difficult to obtain. There are only a handful of examples of the early Super Bowl tickets that have even been graded by PSA. They are all in private collections, so collectors aren’t able to get their hands on the rare items.
There are very few full tickets, but a lot of stubs for Super Bowl I. There are also three color variations – something that is common for Super Bowl tickets – for the first Super Bowl. Gold is the easiest to find, blue is difficult to track down and white is virtually impossible, noted Hattley.
“If you keep in mind that the Super Bowl tickets are collected on color variations, there’s a number of people that have three, four or five of the Super Bowl II’s and III’s within one collection, because they own all the color variations,” Jose said. “So they’ve got $100,000 worth of tickets just on that one year.”
According to PSA, there are 37 full tickets and 152 stubs (as of the end of December) graded for Super Bowl I. Super Bowls II (22 full tickets and 103 stubs) and III (12 full tickets and 137 stubs) are even rarer.
Another hard to find ticket is from Super Bowl XII. There have been just 23 full tickets and 104 stubs graded.
Why is Super Bowl XII, where the Dallas Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos, so difficult to get hold of?
“I have not figured that out,” Hattley said. “No matter who I talk to, it doesn’t make sense. The more typical response you get is, ‘Well, it was the first year that the Broncos went, so everybody from Denver went to the game.’ Well, wouldn’t that be true for any team that went to the Super Bowl their first time? It was a different time back then.”
Super Bowl XII has two color variations. White is the most common and yellow is nearly impossible to track down.
“Trying to get that one is going to cost mucho dinero, compared to its counterpart,” Hattley said. “It’s not like it’s a simple formula, what can each bring based on condition. Color variations can play a huge part.”
Super Bowl XX can also be a difficult ticket to obtain. However, the prices don’t match what the early-year championship games go for.
Hattley believes Super Bowl 50 played a major role in ticket collecting becoming popular.
“Super Bowl tickets in the last couple years in particular at the National were probably my best sellers,” Hattley said. “It seems like a lot of people like that whole concept of whatever their team is. In football, it’s maybe a little bit different than other sports.
Football, people typically collect either by player or team, by college. In this particular case with the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl just happening, I think that spurred on maybe a little extra. ‘Hey, it would be pretty cool if I could get all 50 tickets.’ Depending on your budget, the vast majority of people will have to buy a stub as opposed to a full ticket.”
Hattley has noticed a trend over the last five years where collectors are purchasing a full ticket or stub along with the game program and then getting them double-matted and framed.
Collecting favorite teams is the most popular choice for Super Bowl ticket collectors. Hattley receives the most demand for tickets from Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
For those looking to start collecting Super Bowl tickets, the experts have some friendly advice.
“Rule No. 1, it’s got to be fun,” Hattley said. “And I think people lose sight of, ‘I only want to buy it as an investment.’ OK, that’s fine, but if it’s as easy as you make it out to be, then there would be more dealers doing what I’m doing. And if anything, they’re dropping out because it’s really tough to make money.”
“I’d say the thing to do in the year 2016 is to collect a nice set of Super Bowl stubs,” Jose said. “A nice set can still be obtained on the low end for about $5,000 and on the high end on the nicest of the nicest for about $30,000. So, I think instead of pulling your hair out or spending $150,000 for fulls and maybe never completing the hunt, stubs are the way to go.”
For World Series tickets, Townsend suggests people should know what they are looking for.
“Before you spend the big bucks, be a little careful what you’re looking at,” Townsend said. “A little knowledge is always good. Condition, especially if you buy newer stuff. Maybe one big tip is if you’re looking for something, let’s say you’re looking for a Cal Ripken debut ticket and you’ve been looking for a year and all of a sudden you see one some place, at that point it may be time to pull the trigger. And not think, ‘Well, I think I’ll hold off on this.’ Because you may be looking for another 10 years.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.