Sports Cards and the NFL Lockout: A Rapidly Declining Situation

Brent Schultz@rotoscholarsContributor IJuly 14, 2011

AJ Green signs autographs for Topps, Inc.
AJ Green signs autographs for Topps, Inc.

Here is an effect not too often discussed by media pundits: Rookie cards are the largest and most profitable part of the sports-card business for the NFL, production companies, and collectors alike.

Every year after the draft is completed, a week or two passes, and the major production companies with NFL licenses hold a photo shoot for a selected crop of rookies called the "Rookie Premiere."

Topps and Panini, the only card companies currently licensed by the NFL, have the rookies sign boatloads of cards and stickers to put on cards for future releases and do all kinds of fun action shots and goofy poses for the masses of photographers.

From that point the first releases by each company are usually about two months away from collectors' grubby little fingers.

People are so excited to get their hands on the first card picturing their teams' new-found hopes.

Add an autograph or a piece of memorabilia to the card, and you have a feeding frenzy on your hands.

While we haven't seen the first products with Rookie Premiere photos and memorabilia yet this summer, you can count on a bit of dampened excitement when they do finally release later this month.

True collectors may not be all that bothered by the thought of picking up the cards of their teams' new faces—despite the fact that they may not be so for another year—simply because it is still "their" team.

Should those collectors be concerned?

A little further examination of the situation says there is already damage done.

Rookies aren't getting playbooks, aren't in camps (although many are working out with teammates), and aren't receiving the counseling rookies typically receive in their first years.

So, even if the season goes off without a hitch, these rookies are severely disadvantaged when it comes to making a big splash in their first seasons with their teams.

If their progression is hampered any more than it already has been, collectors should be thinking twice, possibly three times, before dropping their hard-earned cash on the cardboard mementos of what they can only hope will be their future favorite players.

Further to that point, every year there are a few breakout players who nobody saw coming, and the values of their cards go absolutely bonkers as collectors and investors scramble to snatch up whatever they can of said player.

Every week of the season lost gives the card market one less chance at that type of excitement, which really does fuel sales for companies from both fans and investors.

Investors? Yes, investors.

Sports cards are not what they were in the 80s or even the 90s. Companies are producing cards that range anywhere from $1 per pack to $500 per pack.

It's no longer a child's game.

If you want the autograph of the top draft pick, be prepared to shell out $100 or more, with extreme cases for rarer cards in the thousands.

What's going to happen to rookie cards that expensive if the season is locked out? Who is going to pay $500 for a pack of cards of out of work athletes?

"Who would want to invest that much money in the first place?" is probably what you're thinking, but people do every day.

Lots of people.

A lockout would put a huge dent into the profitability of these companies if suddenly this entire draft class were basically a wash until next year. Would it put them out of business? Of course not, but the lockout would be bad for them, collectors, and their big-money pack gamblers and investors. 

Hopefully this fall we will be collecting the card of Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers starting quarterback, rather than that of Cam Newton, former Auburn Tiger.

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