The U.S. sports card market was worth $4.7 billion in 2019 according to data found on various specialized business sites. By 2027, these same experts predict an increase of $58 billion as the circulation and distribution of cards intensify.
Quebec is also participating in the growth of the market, particularly through hockey cards. Moreover, several amateurs began to take an interest in it during the pandemic, when the industry was experiencing extraordinary expansion.
To try to understand the madness surrounding what remains photos of athletes on pieces of cardboard, La Presse brought together three collectors. Alex Ruest, Greg Lanctôt and Antoine Carrier are all real enthusiasts, on different scales.
The first is a sales representative and collects hockey cards in his free time. The second is a radio host and producer and devotes himself to hockey cards part-time, notably through his podcast show Card Show. The third works in the industry full-time with his company CF31, which unboxes, collects and sells hockey cards on different platforms. His subscribers number in the tens of thousands on social networks.
Alex Ruest, Greg Lanctôt and Antoine Carrier have two things in common: they started their collecting careers without any intention and they are relatively new to the industry.
The most experienced is Antoine Carrier, who started in 2020.
In fact, the story of the majority of collectors is the same. While entering a specialty store with a friend and purchasing a box of more or less considerable value, they came across a valuable card. And like a researcher finding a nugget in a mine, they began to dig deeper.
“My friend told me we were going to buy cards,” remembers Alex Ruest. I opened eight packages at Stakk in Saint-Eustache. And I found a Cale Makar Canvas card and a Jack Hughes Young Guns. My boyfriend loved it! I said what ?” And he said it was a damn good card! »
Every collector remembers their first find. For Antoine Carrier, it was Elias Pettersson. For Greg Lanctôt, it was Serena Williams.
Today, these seasoned connoisseurs can boast of generating tens of thousands of dollars in profits annually thanks to hockey cards.
And hearing them exchange ideas with each other about new products, trends and their best moves is a form of poetry. For a neophyte, it is both intriguing, impressive and a little confusing.
Nevertheless, the three attest that everyone can dive into the sports card market, because anyone can find what they are looking for, without necessarily being a great connoisseur or the heir of a European monarch.
The market is booming and you have to be careful. It’s possible to make a lot of money by opening and exchanging cards, a bit like with a stock portfolio, but you still have to be careful, warns Greg Lanctôt.
“Of course, at the beginning, spending $1,500 on a card is difficult, because you start to think and it’s the equivalent of a trip or a membership to a club. golf. »
But as Alex Ruest keeps saying, “everyone started with nothing.” Now, less than four years after investing time and money, these three enthusiasts have become references.
As in finance, the language specific to the world of hockey cards is very specific and above all niche.
The vast majority of cards are produced by the Upper Deck company. Then, the company owning the license holds different collections. The goal of every collector is to find a player’s rookie card, because that is what is most valuable. Then, the goal is to have the perfect triad in your possession. The podium. The infinity stones of the rookie cards, i.e. Young Guns, Future Watch and The Cup. Three special cards from three different collections that represent the collector’s holy grail.
For reference, one of Connor McDavid’s 97 new The Cup cards is currently worth nearly $250,000, according to the experts we met.
Then, three elements prevail to increase the value of a card. The player’s signature affixed to the card, a piece of a jersey worn by the athlete during a match inserted into the card and the rarity of the item. For example, only 99 copies of each The Cup card are produced worldwide.
Currently, one of the most anticipated cards is the Connor Bedard rookie card detailed in a single copy. It is estimated to be worth US$3.5 million on the market.
Finding it would be the equivalent of winning the lottery.
Most Ramdam generation hockey fans collected McDonald’s and Tim Hortons staples. However, the card market is now much more serious.
However, almost everyone has the same background. A pack of hockey cards accompanying a happy feast or his father’s coffee on game morning. Even today, these fast food chains promote trading cards.
Like collectors, the market has grown. And he became mature. Not like basketball, baseball and football in the United States, but it’s close.
“There is a buzz around the performances. It reassures me that the market is now based on that, explains the host of Card Show. [Quinton] Byfield hadn’t ridden for two years. There, its performance improves and so does its value. At the start of the season, the market for Jack Hughes exploded, because he was the leading scorer in the NHL. I made money with a Hughes card. I didn’t want to sell it, but the market got so high that I had no choice. »
Like many sectors, the pandemic has been profitable for the card industry. Examples of this include cross-country skiing, cycling and board games. “There is a lot of money that came out of nowhere during the pandemic,” says Antoine Carrier. People had money, they were stuck at home, everything was closed and they started investing in hockey cards. »
Today, “it’s a market that is more focused on investment,” he adds.
Moreover, the arrival of influencers in the world of cards during this period, such as GaryVee in the United States and Olivier Primeau in Quebec, certainly served the cause of the industry.
At large conventions, millions of dollars are distributed, exchanged and negotiated over the course of a day. Like bankers on Wall Street when a stock jumps or plummets.
The fact remains that demand is so strong that the purchase price has also followed an upward trend, collectors report.
There will always be packs or boxes of inexpensive cards offered, but putting a few dozen dollars into them is like throwing them in the trash, because a card from these basic collections will never have a value greater than the initial investment .
So you have to dig. Go to specialized stores or serious events and don’t be afraid to leave part of your pay there in the hope of making a profit in the short, medium and long term.
However, there is always a way to limit your losses, Alex Ruest would like to point out. “When you open boxes, they’re often expensive. So buying a $100 box instead of paying for a $1000 box is less risky, but you can still get a big card. There are plenty of options. And if you lose, you cut your losses a little. »
For Antoine Carrier, who makes his living with hockey cards, it’s almost mathematical. “The box is $1000. As soon as you pay it, you are -1000. So afterward, you want to make your purchase profitable with what’s in your box. But sometimes you can get a box with just $200 worth of it. »
You have to be at the center of a discussion between three enthusiasts to understand that this type of bet, or risk, is not taken with a purely financial intention.
The notion of pleasure is at the center of all purchases made by these enthusiasts.
The pleasure of chatting, exchanging and debating about cards is practically worth the price of a box alone.
Antoine Carrier is madly in love with Carey Price. Almost his entire personal collection is centered around the former Montreal Canadiens goalie. This is why he keeps it in a maximum security safe.
You have to see Alex Ruest’s eyes when he presents his Cale Makar collection to his classmates as he takes it out of its cushioned box.
Or the astonishment in the faces of Alex Ruest and Antoine Carrier when Greg Lanctôt presents a card of Brandt Clarke, young defender of the Los Angeles Kings, and he stacks seven variations of the same card on the table. drink.
For them, they are much more than just pieces of cardboard.
What is a hockey card? We could define this object as a piece of cardboard on which the image of a hockey player is printed, part of a collection and whose value is variable and defined by a market.
For collectors, however, it represents first and foremost an investment.
They know to what extent, seen from the outside, their passion can seem completely absurd. But they are able to afford transatlantic trips only thanks to the profits generated by their collection.
“Precisely, it’s concrete,” maintains Greg Lanctôt. He’s an athlete that you see evolving. It’s not cryptocurrency, NFTs or stocks. I don’t get excited when I see my actions, but when I have the card in my hand, it’s real. But it’s managed like an investment portfolio. »
Antoine Carrier draws the same parallel. In the world of cards, there is risk, investment and cycles. You just need to be on the lookout to limit the damage.
“Sometimes you pay more, but you ensure a good return,” explains Antoine Carrier, watching his comrades nod their heads in approval.
His journey began with “little cards” like Connor McDavid’s autographed ones. His first budget was $1,000.
“It wasn’t worth a ton, but slowly my investment grew to $10,000. I bought myself a [Alexander] Ovechkin Future Watch and traded it for $15,000 worth. I put the profit elsewhere and started targeting my [Carey] Prices. You can’t just go everywhere. And you need to know your finances too. Like investments. »
Alex Ruest compares hockey cards to poker. In both cases, risk is part of the game and a good part of the investment is based on chance. “If you show up to your party with $300, there’s a chance you’ll lose it all or make a profit. If I buy a box for $250, it’s going to happen that I don’t have any players. But I had fun, I took a risk. »
Moreover, beyond the profits, their knowledge and their passion for sport, the three collectors obtain cards mainly because they are looking for the ecstasy and adrenaline provided by the fact to come across a card with the potential to enhance their collection.
This feeling, somewhere between commotion and hysteria, is incomprehensible to those who shy away from their pleasure.
“When it happens you get excited, it’s like you’ve hit the jackpot! This is an exceptional opportunity. Depending on the market, you have a good idea that it’s a big card, depending on the player, the box, the year of the box…” explains Alex Ruest, almost in a state of grace just thinking about it.
The small world of sports cards in La Belle Province is booming. It involves Facebook groups, conferences, live meetings on TikTok or in the kitchen with friends opening packs of cards on a Friday evening with pizza and cold drinks.
This is also why our three collectors are also involved. Because they have found, in a way, a new family whose majority of members are as intense, involved and enthusiastic as they are.
“Everyone is having a blast,” exclaims Alex Ruest. You meet people, you create relationships, these are people who are not even in the same field. It’s like a hockey room. You play with a police officer, I’m a sales representative, the other is a doctor, but we all have the same passion: pushing the puck into the goal and having a beer after the game. It’s the same thing. »
Currently, the most sought-after athlete on the global market is baseball player Shohei Ohtani.
“Othani is not buyable,” emphasizes Lanctôt. Especially with his new signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’s going to a tetramart! »
As the $700 million man is unanimous, his value is gigantic. “To play in the big leagues, you pretty much have to be a millionaire,” Carrier explains.
Like any enthusiast, our three collectors are also dreamers.
“My dream card is an autographed Lewis Hamilton,” says Greg Lanctôt without thinking, when the three men are asked which card they would be willing to go out of their way to acquire. “The Topps Chrome Auto on 65. If you tell me I can get it, I’ll sell 80% of my collection to get it, I don’t mind. »
Antoine Carrier, the lucky guy, already owns his dream card: “It’s Carey Price’s one-of-one Shield rookie card. I think Price’s card is worth the most. »
“Do you have it? Can we see it? », asks Alex Ruest, curious and impressed.
While Antoine Carrier takes it out of his briefcase, Alex Ruest shows a rookie card of Cale Makar. “I traded to get it. I did a million deals and I finally got it and I’m not getting rid of it. I keep it. »
But his dream card? “A Makar The Cup. » Its value on the market? Almost $10,000.
Welcome to the world of trading cards.