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Sports Card Boom: This childhood hobby has turned into big business

For many, collecting sports cards was a childhood hobby. But now, 'the hobby' is big business.

"I've got waitlists starting for products I won't even have for two or three months. I've got people that want me to call them as soon as it gets here and give them a price," said Don 'DJ' Joss, owner of DJ's Sportscards in Renton.

Joss knows the sports card industry well.

"I try to have every price range in here. You can walk in with a dollar or two and get a stack of Griffey cards or some quarter stuff. You can find something," explained Joss.

He opened DJ's Sportscards some three decades ago while he was still in high school. Back then, the sports card business was booming, but the bottom fell out of the industry during the 90's.

"I think all the lean years where I was really desperate for customers and sales have made me much more appreciative now that it's busy," said Joss. "I mean I have days where I can't even stop and eat lunch, but I'll take that any day over sitting here for an hour and a half wondering if anyone is going to walk in or not."

What has fueled the resurgence in the hobby? According to Joss, there are a number of factors including nostalgia, folks rediscovering their collections during the pandemic and, of course, the fact that we now live in an interconnected world.

"30 years ago there was no internet. Now even kids are selling on the internet, on Facebook, on eBay...It's a very liquid collectible," explained Joss.

The ease with which cards can be bought and sold online has given ride to a new group of sports card investors who tend to view sports cards as an alternative asset class, similar to art.

"I just feel like it has become a viable way to diversify your assets because money-wise, the money makes sense in the hobby, but it's also like by the way, instead of a mutual fund I get to look at this asset and it's cool. It's a cool memory," said Mike Gioseffi, host of the popular Sports Cards Nonsense podcast on The Ringer Podcast Network.

All the money and new people coming into the hobby can have downsides. Some card values (particularly the values of what are referred to as 'ultra-modern' sports cards) can fluctuate wildly, sometimes based on a player's performance game-to-game and, simply put, sports cards have gotten more expensive, to the point that the average collector can find themselves priced out.

"It's just a super expensive hobby to get into right now. You can't go to Target, Walmart, retail stores because guys line up to take [new sports cards] out of there immediately because the returns are insane," explained Gioseffi. "The hobby side of things are expensive. You go to a card shop, packs used to be $3-$5. Now, some packs are selling for hundreds if not thousands of dollars a piece...things have definitely gone up. The entry level is much higher than it used to be."

This all begs the question, is your old card collection worth anything?

"I mean, honestly, nine times out of ten no....but then there's some times when it is," said Gioseffi. "If you took care of your stuff 20 years ago, there's a good chance there's something of value."

Simply put, the most valuable cards are the rookie cards of big name stars or limited run autograph or memorabilia cards. The condition of the card matters a lot - even the most minute details can make a big difference in value.

"I tell people to be honest. Pull out a good light and some reading glasses and look that card over," said Joss. "If you see something wrong with it, they're going to see it too."

Many collectors are now sending potentially valuable cards to grading services like PSA, BGS or SGC. While grading takes time and costs money, if a card returns with a high grade (cards are graded 1-10, with 10 considered 'gem mint') it can exponentially increase it's value.

"(Grading) ensures the authenticity of the card...Also it ensures the condition of the card," explained Gioseffi. "It really gives you more of a baseline to go with too because there's an established market. I know a PSA 10 of this card sells for X amount of dollars. That same card graded a 9 sells for this price, so it does take a lot of the worry out of buying."

Even if you don't find hidden gems hiding in your shoe box or plan on spending big bucks on the latest releases, there is something exciting about rediscovering the hobby and in seeing places like DJ's continue to survive and thrive after all these years.

"I love it. These people are my friends," said Joss. "I've got people that have literally been shopping here since they were 10 years old and they still come in. I've known some of these people for 30 years. I love my community. I love my customers."