Traditionally, baseball memorabilia, anywhere from baseball cards to vintage game worn uniforms, continues to be the strongest category of authenticated sports items. In the late 1880s, the tobacco companies were the first to capture the national enthusiasm for baseball and direct it towards a collectible market by creating baseball cards. Over one hundred and forty years later, the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, one of the rarest early cards, is worth well over a million dollars (depending on condition, one sold recently for $1.2 million and a card sold in 2007 for $2.8 million). The earliest known Babe Ruth pinstripe pants, not including the jersey, from opening day in 1921 sold for $183,500. It is quite common to hear prices of over $100,000 for rare vintage, one of kind, baseball items.
It is very clear, that baseball, our nation's national pastime, is beating football in this category for many reasons. These include longevity of the game and the fact that there is simply more available to the marketplace. Baseball also has a strong connection to our nation's history and there are many common threads including barnstorming, the world wars and the racial barriers. In addition, there is a very strong argument that the investment market for one of a kind rare baseball memorabilia has been extremely profitable for long-term collectors.
But what about football? With the Super Bowl approaching, on-line auctions and memorabilia sites are loading up on football items. Are they as collectible and does this market compare favorably to baseball?
Traditionally, football has not been as strong as a market compared to baseball and basketball. David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions, the official partners with the NFL for game-used Super Bowl memorabilia, attributes this to a variety of factors. Again, Hunt feels the game has not been around as long as baseball. The marketing and advertising dollars directed towards collecting football memorabilia is not as prevalent. Hunt believes strongly that because fans do not repeatedly see many football players faces, due to their helmets, there is less recognition. This, plus the fact that for many years players did not have their names on the back of jerseys and there are more players to a team, decreases a player's marketability. In the past it was easier to sell a team jersey or pennant then a individual player.
Recently, contemporary game worn football memorabilia is exploding on the market. Auctions are realizing record prices for some of the best players. Last year at Hunt's NFL Super Bowl auction, a Tom Brady game worn jersey sold for over $50,000, more the doubling the presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. According to Hunt, a Derek Jeter game used jersey would sell for about $8000 today, emphasizing strong the potential for authenticated football items right now. He also believes there is a huge upside to buying vintage, as the market is just starting to gain strength. Grey Flannel auctions recently sold a Rookie year Joe Namath AFL NY Jets game used road Durene jersey for $18,840. Most appraisers, including me, believe although this is a strong price, that the jersey is still under valued and a great investment.
But how about Ray Lewis? Will he be the MVP to collect for this Super Bowl? My guess is yes. Sure, he has a checkered past, but he has certainly evolved into a philanthropic sports figure as well. People can argue both sides and time will tell, but I would invest in his game worn material. He has become one of the main marketing tools of this Super Bowl and is one of the best players in the NFL.
The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick is on a superstar trajectory all his own these days and if his career continues to escalate so will his collectability. At the moment, his value is still speculative, but so far it has been a great story and chances are he is a winner. I would bet on him.
So what does this all mean? The football market for one of a kind authentic memorabilia is finally about to blow wide open. Given current market trends, collecting now is almost a sure bet. If you are not so sure, just look at the current bid prices for this years Super Bowl XLVII @ www.huntauctions.com and see for yourself.
Go Ravens from this Baltimore born gal!