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Hobbyists vs. Resellers – The constant battle in the trading card industry

A largely contested debate in the hobby; are resellers good for the hobby? Is there a clear answer to this question? I guess a lot depends on your age.

First, some background about myself. I’m a soon-to-be 43-year-old collector. I’ve recently returned to the hobby after an extensive time away from it. The nature of the hobby is quite jarring to someone like me, who spent over 25 years away from it. How did a sticker company (if you’re my age, you remember Panini being the hockey sticker company) take over an entire industry? What happened to all the beloved brands from my youth? What happened to prices?

With Panini, and to a lesser extent, Upper Deck completely taking over the industry, we also saw other early 90s brands disappear (Pro Set) or become shells of themselves, like Leaf. Is the amalgamation of brands good for hobbyists? It’s pretty easy to argue it hasn’t been, as prices have exploded, and seen a lack of entry points for new hobbyists. 

Of course, as prices have exploded in retail packs, which mirrors sale prices of cards, a new generation of collectors has emerged. The Yeezy/Supreme reseller, seeing value in cards and markets on Stock-X has driven interest, value, and prices. Is this good for the hobby? The answer is confusing; I would argue it is and isn’t. Any time your hobby becomes more mainstream, the better it is for casual collectors. More companies enter the mix, more product becomes available, more buzz is generally good for the industry. But the demand being created is not sustainable.

Case in point- my local Dollar Tree (dollar store) on occasion gets basketball cards- very low-end Panini Absolute Memorabilia; 5 cards for $1.25. A location near me had their grand opening, I went the next day to get actual dollar store goods and the basketball cards were sold out. I asked the cashier if they had more; she laughed and told me the very first customer purchased 2 boxes of 100 packs each, 200 dollar store packs immediately. How could this be good for the hobby?

Another case in point- my 8-year-old son has recently taken up collecting. He likes hockey cards (Crosby and McDavid in particular) as well as basketball cards, especially Raptors players (we live in Toronto) and stars like Curry, Lebron, and Giannis. More times than I care to remember, we’ve seen people cleaning out entire aisles of cards in one swoop, leaving nothing for anyone. And my 8-year-old’s reaction? A total loss of interest in collecting. Hobby loses a potential collector. With this insane demand, what are we doing to future collectors? 

The price point is another concern with regard to the hobby, especially from a Canadian perspective. Astronomical prices create a pay-to-play hobby, which is totally different from my youth. 1 pack of ‘21 Panini Elite Football retails for $27 Canadian a pack. Football Chronicles draft picks retails for $17 for 15 cards. While I understand inflation has occurred, I grew up on .25 cent packs of O-Pee-Chee stickers, boxes of Pro Set hockey and football, and Hoops basketball, which usually retailed for around $20, with 36 packs of 15 cards. Pay to play is dangerous for the future of the hobby, as it drives collectors away, especially during a pandemic, where people’s money tightens.

So where does that leave us? Resellers create buzz for the industry, but driving prices and demand out of control. Old heads and kids are frustrated by an inability to collect. What’s the solution?

  1. Create low-end sets and overprint them like crazy. Remove inserts, jersey cards, autos, etc. This only include base cards and basic rookies. Have grading companies refuse to grade them. With ungradeable cards, that are mass-produced, people should lose interest in those sets
  2. Maintain higher-end sets for those who want to collect rarer, or more expensive items
  3. Create new competition with a greater variety of brands
  4. Grade your cards that you deem to be valuable- this creates extra value on the cards you want, and grading suits both re-sellers and collectors- I grade my cards for presentation purposes, as I plan to leave my collection to my son. Some will grade cards to increase resale value. Both sides win.
  5. Heavily punish companies like PWCC for shill bidding which benefits no one in the industry

Both groups can co-exist in the hobby, with a few minor tweaks by retailers and manufacturers. Now leave some cards in the stores for my kids and I!

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