Sports card collecting is the perfect hobby for the armchair athlete. You
don't need a good arm to collect baseball cards, you don't need to be able
to skate to collect hockey cards, and you don't need to be over six-feet tall
to collect basketball cards. You just have to love sports and sports heroes
-- and want a piece of the action!
"It's not what I need, it's what I want. It's just that kind of thing,"
explains sports card enthusiast Ray August.
August runs the Kitchen Table Card Shop over the Internet and trades cards
with other enthusiasts all over North America. All it costs him is postage.
"I send out 10 cards and get 100," he explains.
Sports cards come in packs, with anything from four to 24 cards in a pack.
When you buy a pack, you often don't know what cards are in it. Alan O'Brien
says you may buy a pack for $5 and end up with 50 cents worth of cards, or
you may have cards that are worth $200. You take your chances, but enthusiasts
say it's a wonderful feeling to "pull" a valuable card.
"I'd like to take the profit out of cards," says Mary Ann Elchisak, who
runs a card and collectibles business called All Stars Online. "Still, it's
exciting to find something someone will pay $1,000 for -- not that I have,"
Sport card packs are also sold in boxes. Boxes can hold from 100 cards
to over 500 cards. The goal, according to August, is to search the boxes for
cards you need to complete a set. Sets can have several hundred cards or several
To limit the cost of card collecting, Elchisak recommends limiting your
collecting. "A favorite player, TV series, team, cards of a specific sport,
only from one manufacturer, athletes whose last names start with 'Z,' whatever."
Sport card enthusiasts like to keep their collections at home. Many have
a room dedicated to their hobby. They meet at card shows, through trade papers
and over the Internet.
O'Brien says it's a good idea to go to card shows on a regular basis. "That's
how you meet people and get advice," he explains. "It's definitely a social
thing. The more able you are to communicate with people, the more you'll be
able to enjoy it."
There were just under 60,000 people at the National Sports Card Convention
in July 1996 in Anaheim, California.
New sports card collecting is a $1.7-billion industry, according to Tom
Mortenson of Sports Collector Digest. "And that doesn't include old cards,
autographs and memorabilia." Mortenson says he's heard there are two million
people collecting cards in the U.S., and he feels that's a pretty good guess.
Borau predicts the demand for sports cards in general will remain moderate
and steady over the next few years. "It's not like the explosions [several]
years ago," Borau explains. "Then everything you bought, prices went up. Those
days are over. There are too many people doing it, too much on the market,
and prices are too high."
The exception, Borau says, is hockey cards. The market for hockey cards
is expanding in the United States after years of popularity in Canada.
Elchisak says the volume of cards on today's market means it will be harder
for today's collectors to make 'big money' in the future. "But," she says,
"I believe it will continue to be solid, not necessarily as an investment,
but solid because the hobby is, pure and simply, fun."
O'Brien says it doesn't have to cost a lot to get involved. "Five to six
dollars can get you a nice pack at a reasonable price," he suggests. But he
says don't be surprised to see packs of cards out there for $75 or $120.
The cost of individual cards also varies widely, depending on the player
and the type of card.
The bottom line: shop around!
Many collectors recommend making friends with your local card dealer. It's
a good way to know what's out there. Dealers like David Chu in Toronto are
casual collectors who turned their hobby into a business.
Chu was a social worker when he discovered card shows. "I finished my weekend
card show and turned as much money as I would have in a month."
The downside of turning your hobby into a business, according to O'Brien,
is that the point of business is to make a buck, and many sport card enthusiasts
like to hang on to their treasures no matter how much they're worth.
It's also very expensive to get into the new sport card market. There are
a lot of manufacturers selling cards at high prices. That means you have to
invest a lot of money in a product that might not be worth as much in six
months. For some dealers, the answer has been to stay in the older card market.
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