Why Trading Cards Have Become a New Addiction of Sneaker Collectors

Logic caused a stir on social media in October when he revealed a $23,000 purchase of a box of Pokémon cards. Although the rap superstar — who is also known for lacing up rare and expensive sneakers — became the subject of discussion over his hefty purchase, he’s not alone in the card obsession.

For instance, famed DJ Steve Aoki has spent much of his time throughout the pandemic lockdown live-streaming talks with friends who also are card collectors. Aoki — a former Asics footwear ambassador — even started an Instagram account in August to showcase his collection and opened a store in Los Angeles in October called Cards and Coffee alongside DJ Skee and Dan Fleyshman.

Newfound or resurfaced obsessions such as these have given the trading card industry new life.

For example, StockX told FN that sales for its trading card business — which launched in September 2019 — have climbed 1,600% since January. Also, the average price of PSA 10 trading cards rose to $475 in October from $280 in January, which is a 70% increase.

“That is faster than sneakers are currently growing, but when you look at how sneakers were growing early in our our history, it’s a very similar trajectory where you saw this meteoric rise in sales volume early on,” StockX senior economist Jesse Einhorn told FN. “We expect it to continue at this pace for some time as more and more customers enter the market.”

StockX — which is primarily a sneaker marketplace — has discovered that many of its sneaker shoppers are also buying trading cards. For example, the company confirmed with FN that more than half the buyers on StockX who purchased NBA star Luka Doncic cards also purchased sneakers.

“If you look at some of our top-selling trading cards, like Luka Doncic cards, slightly more than half of our card buyers have also purchased sneakers on StockX, demonstrating a high degree of overlap between the two communities,” Einhorn said. 

Although the products themselves are vastly different, Einhorn believes there are more similarities than people would expect. 

“If you think of the mechanism of delivery, which is the raffle model where you buy a pack and you have a chance of getting a really valuable card,” Einhorn said, “that is similar to a SNKRS app drop or some other kind of release where there’s a chance of getting something valuable and people line up for a chance.”

He continued, “Another similarity is the ability to share your collection with the world. Instagram has made it possible to share your sneaker collection, share your favorite sneakers in the same way. The trading card collector can also show off their collection through social media.”

Although data shows a majority of consumers buying one type of product are also buying the other, the reasons for the rise in popularity of trading cards are all speculative. 

Einhorn told FN he believes one of the reasons sneaker-obsessed people are buying cards today is celebrity influence, making mention of the activity of both Logic and Aoki. And the insider’s belief may be correct, as StockX has experienced something similar before in sneakers with Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner influencing the Nike SB Dunk market.

StockX revealed in August that there were 10 sales of the Nike SB Dunk Low “Newcastle” within three hours of Scott sharing a photo on July 30 via Instagram in the look, with prices of the shoe climbing 40%. As for Jenner, StockX said prices of Nike SB Dunks climb anywhere from 30% to 50%.

Also, Einhorn mentioned major sporting events as having an influence on the market. “The value of trading cards is highly correlated with real world events and the real world performance of athletes — probably even more so than sneakers,” he said.

Aside from Pokémon cards, Einhorn stated basketball — which had the attention of the sports world for months from inside the NBA bubble in Florida — has been its biggest sellers.

StockX data revealed the three recent best-selling cards on the platform include the Luka Doncic 2018 Panini Prizm Rookie, the Zion Williamson 2019 Panini Prizm Rookie and the Trae Young 2018 Panini Prizm Rookie.

Also, specific cards for two stars of the bubble — Jamal Murray and Jimmy Butler — had the site’s biggest price increases. (The Jamal Murray 2016 Panini Prizm Rookie had an increase of 900% and the Jimmy Butler 2012 Panini Prizm Rookie climbed 850%.)

From a total category perspective, the average price of a PSA 10 basketball card on StockX increased from $340 to $590 between January and October. Prices peaked in August when the NBA playoffs tipped off, with the average price of PSA 10 basketball hitting $840.

The recent trading card boom has even influenced entrepeneurs to launch businesses.

“I was in the car waiting for my wife, and I came across a tweet from [famed jeweler] Ben Baller about [baseball star] Mike Trout cards that he had created,” longtime sneaker collector James Platt told FN. “I started going deep into the rabbit hole of a Ben Baller tweet and what was going on Topps Project 2020 and I just started buying up cards right there and parking lot on eBay that I missed that I thought were cool.”

He continued, “As I’m buying things up I was like, ‘This feels a lot like sneakers.’ And then in my head I was like, ‘Why the f**k hasn’t anybody built trading cards for sneakers?'”

With the idea fresh in his mind, Platt — who has a following of 11,300 on Instagram under the handle @thesneakersavant — created a sneaker-inspired trading card business under his The Sneaker Savant moniker. The first collection was a nod to the sneakers worn on the court by the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

“What I’m trying to do is just create cohesive stories with storylines where it almost feels like I’m writing a book,” Platt said.

Start to finish, Platt said the set took eight weeks from inception to having the boxes in hand. The cards dropped on his Shopify on Aug. 24 — which is also known as Kobe Bryant Day — and he charged $50 for each box, which featured 12 packs of eight cards.

Kobe Bryant sneaker-inspired trading cards The Sneaker Savant
The Kobe Bryant sneaker-inspired trading cards by The Sneaker Savant.
CREDIT: Courtesy of The Sneaker Savant

“To me, [cards were] a solution because as a sneakerhead, you can never have enough sneakers, but like as a grown man, it’s like, ‘What the hell am I going to do with all these sneakers?'” Platt said. “I thought what a perfect way to encapsulate the love for sneakers without having all these sneakers around that you never actually wear.”

He continued, “Instead of storing a a pair of shoes, I could probably store 10,000 cards in this place. Instead of putting 10 pairs of shoes on my wall in display cases, I can instead put 1,000 cards there. And, these cards are things that I actually create myself and they still represent those same 10 pairs of shoes that I would have put on the wall instead.”

Like Einhorn, Platt also believes the reasons people are gravitating toward trading cards are seemingly endless.

Platt mentioned the resale market for cards is robust, much like with sneakers, with the ability to make significant profits. Also, he noted people may be looking to reclaim the things they loved in their younger days.

However, Platt did mention something Einhorn did not: practicality.

“The physical difference between a pair of shoes and a pack of cards is tangible, cards are so much easier. I’ve got a box of 1,000 cards right here that’s half the size of a shoe box,” Platt explained. “I think people are realizing all the s**t that we’ve accumulated and how it’s so much easier to open a pack of cards than it is a pair of shoes.”

He continued, “The thing about cards that’s also kind of cool is that they don’t deteriorate like shoes. I’ve got shoes that I’m looking at right now that are literally falling apart. My favorite pair of shoes in the world, I can’t wear them because the soles have crumbled completely.”

Aside from practicality, Platt believes trading cards offer diehard sneaker collectors something they love and are familiar with: the thrill of the hunt.

“For sneakerheads, it was all about fashion and sneakers, but now it has turned into this thing that’s all about money. I think they’re looking at the things that made them happy as a collector,” Platt said. “For me with cards, it was always the thrill of the hunt — opening packs, ripping boxes is all about the hunt. Once that went away, sneakerheads had to look for something else, something that would offer that.”

With the success of the Bryant sneaker-inspired box, Platt confirmed with FN that there are more cards in the works — two new sets, to be exact. Although silent on the stories that will be told, Platt said the next box will focus on “the hottest sneaker in the game right now.” It is slated to drop before year’s end.

As for StockX, the company revealed its latest trading card project today.

The company has teamed up with Topps to bring exclusive 2020 Bowman Chrome X trading cards to market. The release will be done via DropX, which is the StockX direct-to-consumer product release method. (This is the first time StockX has done a DropX with trading cards.)

It will be limited to 1,000 boxes (which start at start at $70) and 500 cases (which start at $400). Included in each box is one graded prospect or rookie card that will already be graded and slabbed by PSA, and the cases will have five boxes of cards with one graded prospect or rookie card each, which will also be graded and slabbed by PSA.

The release will go live via StockX.com on Nov. 22 at 12 p.m. ET.

StockX 2020 Bowman Chrome X trading cards
The StockX exclusive 2020 Bowman Chrome X trading cards.
CREDIT: Courtesy of StockX

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