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Profit not always in the cards

Collecting sports cards expensive but rarely lucrative

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/1/2014 (1300 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Just keep it a hobby.

That's what Kyle Franklin, co-owner of Superstars Sports, often tells newbie collectors when they come to the sports cards and memorabilia store on Portage Avenue in St. James seeking advice.

Kyle Franklin, co-owner of Superstar Sports, shows off some examples of new premium cards.


Kyle Franklin, co-owner of Superstar Sports, shows off some examples of new premium cards.

"Don't think about it as an investment right away, where you can buy something today and sell it tomorrow at a profit," says Franklin, who has run the store for 24 years with his father Al.

"There are a lot of people who think they're going to make money, but it's not the right way to think about this pastime."

That said, collecting sports cards has become more profitable than ever before. Stumbling across the rarest of the rare can be worth a sizable fortune.

"As the hobby evolves and new buyers enter the market, there becomes an increased awareness of scarcity, which drives the demand for the best of the best collectibles," says sports card authenticator Joe Orlando, president of U.S.-based Professional Sports Authenticator. "There is no doubt that the high-end of the market has experienced a surge in recent years, with numerous record prices being recorded for sports cards, including hockey cards."

The famed Honus Wagner baseball card from the early 1900s, for example, is worth almost $3 million.

But collecting sports cards also has undergone a complete makeover in the last two decades. Not only are rare ones from decades ago exceptionally valuable, but a new generation of collector cards (hockey in particular) have made this hobby a much more costly -- and potentially profitable -- endeavour.

Many of today's collectors are willing to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the hunt for a speculatively valuable rookie card that someday could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

"Things definitely changed," says Franklin, 43, a collector himself. "We were all used to buying cards at the local corner stores for 25 cents."

That changed in the 1990s, when newcomers to the hockey card business like Upper Deck started producing high-quality glossy cards that sold for $1.99 a package or more.

Franklin refers to the '90s as the boom years for collecting hockey cards. At the time, more than 100 stores existed in the city selling a new breed of cards that have become increasingly detailed, ornate and expensive with each passing year.

Yet the boom only lasted a few years, and today, Superstars Sports is one of a handful of remaining stores in the city specializing in selling a wide array of collectors cards -- everything from Justin Bieber and The Walking Dead to the NFL and NBA.

While the old-school collectors are still on the hunt for cards from decades past, many of today's buyers prefer collecting the new generation of sets, which range in price from a few dollars a pack to a couple of week's worth of pay (at least for average folks).

"Prices of cards have certainly gone up," he says. "We sell packs for as high as $2,000 each."

Franklin is referring to a series of basketball cards made by one of the leading new card makers, Panini America. Called the 'Flawless Basketball' collection, the cards feature genuine autographs of star NBA players.

Each pack comes in a briefcase, containing only five cards, and diamonds and other gemstones embed some of the most sought-after cards in the series.

But it's not the glitter collectors are hoping to find when they open a case, Franklin says. The rookie cards for rising superstars are the ultimate reward.

"Those will sell for more than the price that they paid for the pack, but it's a long-shot though."

Not all packs contain such golden cards, so a collector could in theory spend several thousands of dollars hunting for a near-priceless rookie card.

Certain series of hockey cards can also be pricey. Upper Deck's highest priced set -- The Cup -- sells for more than $400 for a pack of five cards that are autographed and include a swatch of the player's jersey.

Most collectors, however, set their sights on the less pricey end of the spectrum -- those costing in the $4-range per pack.

Yet even they can spend hundreds of dollars buying boxes of packs, seeking to put together an entire collection for each passing NHL season.

"Other collectors are only looking for the big hits -- single cards -- and they'll spend tens of thousands of dollars."

This year's editions are especially popular among the collecting community because they include many talented rookies, including the Jets' Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba.

Already, the Trouba card is trading at a higher price than the $3.99 card pack in which it came. Of course, its price is subject to change depending on how his career materializes.

Jets cards in general are hot commodities in the city, Franklin says. The return of the NHL club has reignited interest in collecting in the city. While the majority are middle-aged, younger collectors are coming back into the fold because of their connection to the home team.

Scott Templeton, 17, is among this new breed.

"I started when I was a little kid about eight or nine years old, and I don't know why but I stopped doing it, but when the Jets came back I became interested again."

Since then, Templeton estimates he's accumulated more than 15,000 sports cards, mostly hockey.

The prize card in his collection is an Edmonton Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rookie card, now worth about $500.

"It's just a standard card but it is numbered to his jersey number, which is 93, so there are only 93 of them produced, and it was his rookie year, so it's kind of a pretty big deal," Templeton said.

Templeton says his top 10 cards are probably worth as much as $2,000 collectively, but he figures he probably spent almost as much purchasing countless packs of cards on a regular basis.

"I try to buy something at least once every two weeks -- every paycheque," he says.

Templeton is apt to spend as much as a few hundred dollars per visit -- not unlike other collectors.

"With the way hockey cards are today, if you spend $100 on a box, you're lucky if you make that back," he says. "Usually, you'll pull a big card and think 'Oh man! I'm making money now!' But nope, that's not the case.

"For every five boxes I buy, I find a really good card and it kind of evens things out."

It's an expensive hobby, Templeton admits. But while finding the valuable card undeniably plays a large part in what motivates most collectors, it's the thrill of the hunt that proves to be equally exhilarating.

"Just opening a pack, not knowing what you're going to get is what keeps you coming back because it's something different every time," he says. "Even if you've opened the same product 10 times, every time you open a pack, you're going to get something new."


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