As I have mentioned elsewhere on LinguaSportsCards.com, I am not in this hobby to make financial profit. Buying cards only to flip them for monetary gain is simply not something that interests me. For this reason, I’ve never been keen on investing in prospects with the hope that impressive on field performances will lead to commensurate increases in card values (at which point the cards can be sold for profit). Instead, with minor exceptions, the cards that I add to my collection are here for the long run. I always envision myself passing my cards down to my two sons.
That said, I am glad that there are individuals in the hobby whose focus is on making profits in general and on “prospecting” in particular. In my opinion, the sports card hobby is strongest when it features a large variety of stakeholders with a large variety of goals. It is both interesting and rewarding learning from others about different aspects of the hobby market. And even though I do not wish to make financial gain from my cards, I care heavily about the value of my collection and in making informed financial decisions. I keep detailed records of all my card purchases with the hope of becoming a savvier buyer and collector in the larger sports cards marketplace.
For these reasons, I am constantly on the lookout for market deficiencies that can be exploited. I’m sure that we all have our strategies to get good deals. For example, buying cards in lots, submitting unblemished raw cards for grading, and buying cards off-season (i.e., purchasing basketball cards in the middle of August) are all approaches that collectors can use to efficiently increase the value of their collection. And prospecting remains a classic strategy that, if done right, can reap a patient individual an impressive Return on Investment (ROI). Now, as I was saying, prospecting is not for me. There is so much uncertainty with prospects that going down that route would make card collecting feel more like a job. Nor do I have the time to discover market deficiencies related to cards that feature 20-year old kids. There are just too many variables in play when it comes to young prospects.
So when I say that I am on the lookout for market deficiencies, I keep my focus on established veteran players. But which veteran players? It is my sense that focusing on sure-fire Hall of Famers is not necessarily the way to go. Everybody in the marketplace already understands who Mike Trout, Lebron James, and Tom Brady are. Cards featuring these players can rarely be found on the cheap; these players’ greatness is simply too immense and transparent to be unnoticed by the market. Of course, individual great deals can be had, but I am talking more generally here: cards featuring Trout, James, and Brady are not undervalued in the marketplace. Of course, cards featuring these players (in many cases) keep going up in value and are good investments. But the increase in the value of these cards isn’t the result of some marketplace deficiency that is being exploited. But rather, these individual players continue to astound the viewing public – on court greatness creates more and more demand.
But I do think that there is a class of veteran players whose card values, generally speaking, are undervalued: borderline Hall of Fame players. For baseball, retired players like Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen might make good investments. Cards of such players are relatively cheap. But once/if these players reach the Hall of Fame, the value of their cards will likely push upward (not always, but in many cases I have found this to be true). Or for current athletes, think of players such as Carlos Beltran. His long track record of on-field excellence decreases the likelihood of a drop in the value of his cards. But if he makes the Hall of Fame, his cards are likely to bounce up in value. In short, while cards featuring prospects can fluctuate wildly (either increase or decrease in value based on player performance), the cards of near Hall-of-Famers either increase in value or remain steady (often times only negative off-field behavior by a given player or other revelations, like steroid use, cause a drastic drop in card values of near Hall of Famers). For me, this feels like a much safer way to spend money. So I’d say, in the middle of the winter a couple of years after he retires, when the marketplace is not really thinking about Carlos Beltran, that’s where my focus will be.
In other words, instead of focusing on the beginnings of players’ careers (i.e., prospects), doesn’t it make just as much sense to focus on the end of players’ careers? Sports fans in general like to ask “Who is the next great player?” Far fewer ask, “Which players are underappreciated after 15 or 20 years of playing time?” The time to buy Tim Raines cards was in 2007, not 2017. Again, I’m not saying that this strategy is better than focusing on prospects, but it is a great alternative. Indeed, there is much less stress. Regardless of whether Carlos Beltran makes it to the Hall of Fame or not, I want his cards in my collection. So why not be safe rather than sorry and obtain his cards before his potential introduction to Cooperstown?
How about the rest of you? As the sports cards hobby has gotten more expensive over the years, it is now more important than ever for collectors to be efficient with their money. What general strategies do you have for identifying market deficiencies and/or making great deals? Now, you might be thinking that sharing buying strategies is about the least efficient thing a person can do to maintain an edge in the market. I must admit that I had to think twice before writing this article. But at the end of the day, I want people to be successful in this hobby, and I want more collectors in the hobby. Sharing experiences and ideas is a great way to accomplish these goals.
Word of the Day
cavil: to complain about things that are not important; I don’t intend to cavil or compromise; a customer caviled about/over/at the price; the reviewer had only a few cavils [=small criticisms] about the book