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The Secret Behind Sports Memorabilia: How Data Drives the $227.2 Billion Industry
It isn’t just kids who trade sports cards – adult sports fans are known to chase after trading cards and other collectibles associated with their favorite sports and sports stars. The sports memorabilia industry is expected to be worth $227.2 billion by 2032.
Baseball cards have been sold for millions at auction! Everything about this industry from assessing the value of a sports card to picking which card to buy or sell, comes down to data. There are 4 key aspects to consider. Let’s take a closer look.
The first sports cards were printed back in the 1800s. Since then, there have been over 950 million sports cards introduced in the market. While the major baseball card producers maintain centralized repositories for their cards where collectors can source information, finding data for cards connected to lesser-known sports can be harder. This becomes even harder for cards that are 50+ years older. As with currency, cards that have errors of any kind or misprints are also considered highly collectible. These variables make it difficult to define master data for trading cards.
As more data becomes available about cards in circulation, understanding their value becomes easier. The data categories required include who the card was manufactured by, the year it was released, the physical condition of the card and the price at which other cards for the same player have been traded.
There’s also customer master data to consider. Ideally, buyers and sellers need to know who the other party is, the cards they have traded in the past, their reputation for honest transactions and so on. For this, they need to gather information from the platform as well as other sources to create a holistic 360-degree customer profile.
Customer lists can be a major advantage to card sellers and hence there is little incentive to share these details. It is rare that a buyer broadcasts their acquisition of a new card and many auctioneers cite data privacy as a reason not to share information on buyers. It is more likely that they don’t want their buyers and sellers negotiating a sale outside their platform. Some buyers and sellers themselves may not want everyone to know what cards they own. Hence, customer master data stays opaque to most other individuals and companies.
To fight this and get a better understanding of customer profiles some authentication, registry and grading companies like Beckett9, PSA7, CGC10 and SGC8 have introduced a gamified system of card registries. Buyers can create ‘registry’ lists for their sports cards and get points or virtual medals from the authentication company. This helps understand the type of cards owned by a person and allows companies and other individuals to infer a profile based on the information available to them.
Data governance is critical to analyzing the value of sports memorabilia. When sales are misattributed to the wrong buyer or a ‘0’ is omitted from the sale price, the analytics can be severely skewed. This could affect the value of other cards and cause buyers to make unwise purchases.
In this case, the responsibility for data governance falls not only on the card manufacturers but also on information aggregators, blog channels, resellers and authentication companies. It’s more than just checking the numbering sequence and title of a card. Data about every aspect of the card, the people involved and the transaction must be entered accurately.
Authentication companies have a major role to play as they can identify cards that have been doctored and hence distinguish between real and fake merchandise. They also grade cards according to the condition they are available in. A folded corner can bring down the value of a card dramatically. That said, it must be noted that there is no universal grading system that can distinguish between a good, excellent and near-mint condition card. Given that the manufacturing processes too have evolved over the years, the characteristics of cards have changed. A card from 1955 would be very different from one manufactured in 2015.
When it comes to trading in merchandise valued in the millions price range, knowing that you’re buying an authentic card at the right price is critical. This is where data quality comes in. Platforms with visual scanning and recognition capabilities that help assess graded cards and understand their specific quality measurements are becoming more popular.
AI has made inroads in the industry as well. eBay introduced an AI scanning tool earlier in 2021 to identify cards submitted for sale, auto-populate a listing with all the card details and propose a value based on its condition
Along with information about cards and their value, data quality about customers too must meet high standards. Identities must be verified before transactions are made. There are many known instances of fraudsters misrepresenting card value and authenticity to cheat buyers of their money. The only way to keep this from happening is to insist on identity verification.
With modern data verification tools, buyer and seller identities can be easily verified by comparing the data they share about themselves against third-party databases. While ensuring that the person is who he/she claims to be, these verification tools also screen against known databases for scammers and fraudsters.
In the year 2020 alone, a unique Mike Trout rookie card sold for $3.9 million, a Mickey Mantle card sold for $5.2 million and A Honus Wagner Rookie card sold for $6.6 million. It definitely isn’t child’s play. If you’re interested in trading sports cards and other forms of sports memorabilia, you need to be vigilant and careful about the merchandise being traded. With a lack of clarity and uniform systems for grading cards, it is easy to be tricked into a fraudulent deal. The only way to trade with confidence is to use platforms that understand the need for high data quality standards with respect to the cards themselves and the people trading in them.