Sports cards, collectibles 'crazy hot' during pandemic | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Sports cards, collectibles 'crazy hot' during pandemic

Jason Wobshall, owner of Players Choice Sports in Kelowna, with some of his most prized, and valuable, sports cards. Normally they're kept safely locked away.
February 22, 2021 - 7:00 AM

While thousands of laid off hospitality industry workers struggle to make ends, others are paying tens of thousands of dollars for a single sports card.

“Even a beat up (Wayne) Gretzky rookie card used to be $100 to $200 last year,” Jason Wobshall, owner of Players Choice Sports in Kelowna, told iNFOnews.ca. “Now, a beat up Gretzky is at least $1,000.”

Of course, a pristine rookie Gretzky card is worth a little bit more. One sold for $1.29 million in December. That broke the old record for a hockey card, also a Gretzky rookie card, of $465,000 set in 2016.

READ MORE: Wayne Gretzky rookie card hockey's first to crack US$1-million mark

But, it’s not just hockey cards that are hot.

“Everything in the collectible industry is crazy hot,” Wobshall said.

While buying and selling playing cards has always been popular, it made major headlines last summer when a rare Mike Trout baseball card sold for almost $4 million.

That record was shattered in January for a Mickey Mantle that sold for $5.2 million.

Wobshall, who has been in business for 16 years, was worried about how his business would fare after COVID-19 forced him to close his shop last year.

Now he spends much of his time with investors and brokers, holding online auctions and just trying to keep up with the market.

Last year he was named North American retailer of the year for Upper Deck playing cards and does much of his business online and on eBay. He meets customers face-to-face by appointment only.

He won’t say what’s the most expensive card he’s sold but did say some people have put more money in his till than they paid for the cars they drive away in.


These two Wayne Gretzky rookie cards are each worth thousands of dollars but, if they had had been graded just a bit higher, at 10, they could sell for $1 million or more.
These two Wayne Gretzky rookie cards are each worth thousands of dollars but, if they had had been graded just a bit higher, at 10, they could sell for $1 million or more.

He does have cards worth ten of thousands of dollars – locked in an off-site safe.

Cards of all sorts, whether they be Pokemon, hockey or Marvel, have become big in the investment world, especially with interest rates so low and even stock market returns lagging behind.

He gave the example of an investment company in the U.S. that put $500 million into a card-buying fund.

It can buy a Michael Jordan basketball card for $750,000 then lock it in a vault and sell shares.

“The average person is not going to be able to buy a $750,000 card but they sure can afford a $50 share or $100 share in that card,” Wobshall said.

It's hard to see any difference between these two Michael Jordan cards but the value of an 8.5 grading versus a 5.5 can be thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars.
It's hard to see any difference between these two Michael Jordan cards but the value of an 8.5 grading versus a 5.5 can be thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars.

“For me, I’d rather invest in Gretzky and (Patrick) Roy and (Mario) Lemieux. I know who those guys are, what they did and I know how many of those cards are out there, rather than some stock that I don’t have a clue about.”

Last year Montreal Canadiens rookie Nick Suzuki’s card sold for $20. Now it’s worth $150.

Not up in the big leagues like a Gretzky but “that sure beats any seven per cent gain on stocks,” Wobshall said.

In order to get that kind of return, a buyer needs to be both knowledgeable and lucky.

Cards that used be sold with bubble gum now come in packs of six and can sell anywhere from $3 a pack to $1,500. Paying a higher price doesn't guarantee the pack will hold a treasure.

“Buying singles and rookies is the way to go,” Wobshall said.

The other way to get lucky is to buy a box of random cards cheap and find a treasure. Wobshall sold such a box last summer for $40. The buyer was able to sell one card out of the box for $7,000.

The biggest change in the trading card world is that cards are now graded on a scale of one to 10 for quality. That can cost $50 to hundreds of dollars per card and can take up to a year to get a result. The cards are locked in plastic cases, along with their grades.

Wobshall doesn't want to broadcast what this small collection of cards is worth. Normally they're locked safely away.
Wobshall doesn't want to broadcast what this small collection of cards is worth. Normally they're locked safely away.

“Patrick Roy can be $300 if it’s not in a case or $10,000 if it’s graded a 10,” Wobshall said.

Rookie cards are, by far, the most valuable.

Given the cost and time it takes to get cards graded means only the best are sent off to grading companies.

It’s not just whether the edges are ragged or the surface is rough. Even mint condition cards constantly kept carefully wrapped for years may not score a perfect 10.

One key factor is ‘centering.’ That deals with the way the colours are overlaid and how even the borders are when they're printed.

Wobshall has a good eye for grading cards but he’s been surprised by getting a 6.5 ranking on one of his own cards that he figured was an eight.

That difference can add, or cut, thousands in value.

The other difficulty with the hot market is that even a dealer of Wobshall’s stature can’t get everything he orders from his suppliers.

He ordered 40 cases of a golf card coming out in March for a relatively cheap $3,000 per case. But he’s only getting one case from the supplier.

That’s the same for all products as the suppliers limit quantities so as not to devalue their product like they did in the 1990s.

They flooded the market by overprinting. That means boxes of cards from the 1990 to 2004 seasons sell for as little as one-quarter of a cent per card.

One of the hardest decisions to make is knowing when, or if, to sell in a market where values are constantly growing.

“Every day for the last six months I’ve turned down ridiculous offers... 20 times more than you ever thought it would be worth and you’re still turning it down because the market is setting new records every day,” Wobshall said. “We had a basketball card that sold for $12,000 three or four months ago. That’s worth $30,000 or $40,000 today.”

This means that anyone wanting to get into the game needs to educate themselves.

That can start by buying a $15 magazine from the Beckett rating agency. While the prices listed there are quickly out of date, it does give an idea of what’s attracting buyers. Beckett can also be viewed online here.

There are also YouTube videos, lots of chat groups and things like Wobshall's Wednesday and Friday evening online auctions.

Or, go to Players Choice Sports’ web page, Facebook page, playerschoicekelowna on eBay or playerschoicesports on Instagram or YouTube.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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