The Blockchain Is Coming for Your Baseball Cards


Actually, it’s already here, and it’s not stopping at America’s pastime. Major League Baseball has joined the NBA and NFL in launching official NFT marketplaces, where fans can purchase highlight clips, digitized jerseys, and even personalized experiences like throwing out the first pitch in your favorite team’s stadium.

In the world of hockey, however, teams seem to be getting into the NFT space one at a time, suggesting there is not yet a commissioner-led push toward the blockchain, but who knows? Maybe the powers that be are quietly doubling down on fan loyalty to drive the market. (Note: hockey fans are insane.)

Yep, that’s an octopus.

A Brief History of Trading Cards

Sports memorabilia has existed for pretty much as long as there have been organized sports. Going way back in the way back machine, the first promotional efforts came in 1865 from the Yum Yum Tobacco Company, which printed the first trading cards in support of the Brooklyn Atlantics, an amateur baseball team (with honestly a pretty great and timeless logo).

While New York’s most populous borough no longer has a baseball team, these cards remain valuable and exceedingly rare, with one selling in 2013 for $92,000.

Listen for the Boom…

Of course, that sounds kind of quaint when set against the memorabilia industrial complex writ large. In 2018, the growth of the sports collectibles market outpaced the S&P 500 by a whopping 232%. Recent estimates put the current size of the market somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 billion, with projections of a compound annual growth rate of 9.7% over the next ten years.

An enormous piece of that growth is expected to come from the NFT space, as Web3 and internet-native Gen Z continue their collective charge into the mainstream economy. Sure, it seems a little sad that today’s youth will probably never be interested in giant foam fingers, miniature helmets that also hold your ice cream, or T shirts fired out of a cannon, but the train has very much left the station, as many prominent athletes from every corner of the sports world have also taken strong NFT positions.

(So: league-wide buy-in is all well and good, but basically moot.)

The Legend of Honus Wagner

If that all seems a bit much for collectibles you can’t hold in your hand, consider the case of Honus Wagner, aka the preferred shortstop of Charles Montgomery Burns. Perhaps even more impressive than his 3,430 career hits and eight batting titles (still a National League record) is the fact that a T206 Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold at auction for $1.5 million.

Is that the record? No — that would be $6.6 million for another T206 Wagner, but the one that went for $1.5 million was damaged, and the buyer knew it.

Wagnermania doesn’t end there — back in February another edition of the Wagner card sold for nearly half a million. Why the bargain? Well, in that instance there was only half a card.

All this to say: the sports collectibles market was a big bowl of crazy long before NFTs entered the picture. You may not get a free stick of gum with digital trading cards (yet), but they probably won’t end up torn in half either.

Now Invest (in Your Knowledge)

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