Hobby Musings: Can 2018 Be A Bigger Hobby Year Than 2017? – With 2017 officially in the books, it’s time to look ahead to what the hobby will bring us in 2018. By most accounts, 2017 was a good year for the sports card world. Fueled in large part by strong rookie classes across the four major sports, the overall feel in the hobby seemed to be the best it had been in years. What that means for this year is uncertain, but 2018 will certainly have a hard time topping last year.
While the rookie class will have a hard time topping 2017, there are some strong contenders to give it a try. Aaron Judge was the hobby’s rookie of the year and MVP in 2017. With the combination long home runs and playing for the Yankees, Judge’s impact in the hobby was the strongest by a baseball rookie in years.
Angels pitcher/hitter Shoehei Otani could have the best chance of being the Aaron Judge of 2018. Ohtani may very well be the biggest wild card in the hobby this year. His decision not to sign with the Yankees had to be disappointing to some of the card manufacturers and sellers alike. Given the boost Judge got from being a Yankee, having a relatively untapped player like Ohtani in the bright lights of New York would have sparked a feeding frenzy for his cards, especially autographs, if he performed well.
That being said, playing alongside Mike Trout in the Los Angeles market won’t hurt. If Ohtani can prove to be a true dual threat on the mound and at the plate, it should create an interesting market for his cards. It could also provide an interesting challenge for companies like Topps and Panini in terms of the stats to put on his card backs. Do they feature pitching or hitting stats, or does Ohtani perhaps get two cards at both positions? Either way, if Ohtani ends up having autographed cards before the season starts, the early sales should be pretty high for a player who previously didn’t have ink available.
Ohtani isn’t the only promising baseball rookie in 2018. Two names familiar to most hobbyists by now are the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres and the Braves’ Ronald Acuna. Torres was primed for a call-up last year before a season-ending injury. Assuming he isn’t traded, Torres makes for an interesting option in the hobby since he’s likely to be the next big Yankees rookie. Between all of his various card options, his autographs are still fairly affordable. Checking eBay, several of them can be had for well under $100. If he can turn in a sensational rookie season, those prices are likely to spike.
Acuna has become more known to collectors since the trade of Matt Kemp, which essentially gives the outfielder a clear path to make the club out of Spring Training. He’s in a similar boat as he has several card and autograph options already available. Like Torres, he has affordable autographs in products like Onyx Platinum Elite and Bowman’s Best. While Acuna doesn’t have the ideal market boost playing in Atlanta, his status as a super prospect is driving up the fervor his cards. If he can have a major power output his rookie season, the Braves outfielder could become a top-10 player in the hobby in 2018.
Football could have an even bigger impact on the hobby this year. While 2017 didn’t quite reach the heights of 2016 with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, it was still a nice year for the football hobby. Rookies like Kareem Hunt made a nice hobby impact, but the year overall got a bit of an incomplete grade because of injuries to promising youngsters like Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook. An up-and-down season from Mitchell Trubisky and scant looks at Patrick Mahomes II didn’t help either. However, 2017’s loss could be 2018’s gain. If Watson and Cook can bounce back for healthy, productive seasons, and players like Hunt keep up their production, their 2007 rookie cardboard should see a large spike for singles and remaining sealed wax.
Looking ahead to 2018, this year’s football rookie class is shaping up to be quarterback-centric, which is great news for the manufacturers and hobbyists. Quarterbacks are the strongest NFL position in the hobby and the position that tends to generate the most sales. With a strong, well-known field of prospects that includes USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, collectors will have plenty of options to choose from. The fact that big-market teams like the Giants and Jets will likely be looking for a quarterback should help as well. Other top prospects like Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, Wyoming QB Josh Allen, Penn State RB Saquon Barkley and Alabama WR Calvin Ridley will only help strengthen the depth and options for rookie football collectors this year.
Basketball is also shaping up to have an interesting draft class in 2018. While there are some college sensations like Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, international star Luka Doncic could be the cream of this year’s draft crop. Though he might not be as well-known as the college stars, Kristaps Porzingis recently showed that international players can make a strong mark in the basketball market. Basketball is always a bit of the wild card in the hobby depending on how well the rookies play, as well as the markets they play in, but the high-end players always tend to draw big money.
Overall though, it’s looking like 2018 will be another rookie-driven year in the hobby. For better or worse, the market’s fortunes each year seem directly tied to the performance of the rookies. When it’s a year like 2017, it’s not such a bad thing. When it’s similar to 2013, it tends to be a little less merry. With all that being said, I’m curious to see what this year brings in the hobby.
Will graded vintage continue to be a dominant category in the hobby? All signs point to yes on that one, despite more and more of it coming each day. Graded cards in general are such an ingrained part of the card world, and that isn’t going away any time soon. Kind of makes you wonder how many people would have taken better care of their cards as kids if they had known.
Will we see a higher-priced product than Topps Transcendent? Topps’ ambitious baseball product of over $20K per box has been an interesting addition. While there have been the usual complaints about the hobby bring priced out of reach, Transcendent has definitely made its mark. High-priced products always seem to beget even higher-priced products, but I keep waiting for one of the other companies to come out with something bigger than Transcendent. While there have been no indications from any of the other manufacturers to come out with something that big, I find it hard to believe that somebody else won’t try something similar.
Will this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland be able to top 2017 in Chicago? This one will be a tall order. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover six straight Nationals and the 2017 edition in Chicago might have been the best of them all. With great attendance figures, last year’s show featured a nice mix of old and young collectors. For a hobby that is eager to draw a younger audience, and often criticized for seemingly not doing so, it was encouraging to see so many youngsters in Chicago for the show.
The last Cleveland show in 2014 was an enjoyable experience that saw a high attendance. As such, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this year could be just as good. That year was a perfect storm for the city as LeBron James had come back to the Cavaliers and the Browns had just drafted Johnny Manziel. If the Cavaliers and Indians have good fortunes this year and the Browns manage to come away with a couple of high-profile rookies in the draft, we could see a similar fervor this year. Throw in a giant ferris wheel at the convention center, and it should be fun.
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