Kevin Durant and Logan Paul Agree: Sports Trading Cards Are the Future

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Ken Goldin has made millions selling the sports trading cards of Mike Trout, Michael Jordan and Patrick Mahomes. Now he’s lined up an even bigger score: his company.

The sports-memorabilia mogul is selling a majority stake in Goldin Auctions, an eight-year-old shop dedicated to auctioning off collectibles — and trading cards in particular — to the Chernin Group, a Los Angeles-based investment firm. Chernin leads a blockbuster group of investors, including basketball star Kevin Durant, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, YouTube star Logan Paul and podcaster Bill Simmons.

The group is investing $40 million in Goldin Auctions to help the company become the dominant player in the booming market for sports-trading cards. Sales of such items have soared to new heights in the past couple of years, and Goldin’s firm has emerged as the leading auction house — the Sotheby’s of sports, if you will.

It generated more auction sales in January — $36 million — than it did in all of 2019, when it made $27 million. For the full year, Goldin is on pace for more than $200 million in sales, doubling its record take from a year earlier.

“We have something the hobby has never had before,” Goldin said an interview. “All of a sudden, we’re cool. We’re part of pop culture.”

A flood of wealthy people seeking alternate investments, ranging from Bitcoin to song catalogs, has descended on sports collectibles. Many of these people were raised during the first trading card boom in the 1980s. Only this time, the market has benefited from growing interest in contemporary players and new sports.

Baseball used to dominate the industry, but now basketball has outstripped it as the most popular sport for cards. Football and tennis are growing as well. In a recent auction, Goldin set new highs for Kobe Bryant, Luka Doncic, Lou Gehrig, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis. He sold a Jordan rookie card for $738,000, and got $861,000 for a signed Mahomes rookie — the most expensive football card ever sold. Many of these athletes now call Goldin for advice on how to collect cards.

Right now, Goldin is just an auction house. But Goldin and the Chernin Group have plans to make it a one-stop shop for collectors and hobbyists. The company can compile a database for potential buyers to look up recent transactions, record podcasts to offer insight into the market, and stage the biggest and best auctions around.

“If I gave someone $1,000 to invest in the stock market, they’d read some analyst reports and invest by the end of the day,” said Ross Hoffman, a veteran of Twitter Inc. and Headpsace Inc. who is poised to become Goldin’s chief executive officer. “I don’t know where they’d start on collectibles.”

As CEO, Hoffman will build out the company’s technology and operations. Ken Goldin will be executive chairman, letting him seek out top cards for the company to auction and serve as the industry’s biggest cheerleader.

 “The younger generation doesn’t want to invest like the previous one,” Hoffman said. “They don’t want to just diversify across mutual funds. They are looking for alternate investments they can touch, feel and understand.”

The Chernin Group has made a killing investing in niche media businesses. It previously bet on Crunchyroll, an anime video service that was sold to AT&T Inc. It was also an early investor in Barstool Sports, a podcast network that was sold to Penn National Gaming Inc., a casino company.

Jesse Jacobs, president of the Chernin Group, started looking into sports trading cards a year ago. The more Jacobs learned about the industry, the more he saw parallels between what Goldin was doing and Chernin’s past successes. 

“One of the big reasons we did this deal was Ken,” Jacobs said. “He’s an icon in the space, and no one has more respect or credibility.”

Goldin has been selling trading cards since 1978, when he was 12 and started collecting them from his local pharmacy. In 1986, Goldin and his father started a company called Scoreboard that bought trading cards from manufacturers, and then sold the best cards to individuals. They eventually signed exclusive deals for athletes such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Wayne Gretzky and Shaquille O’Neal.

Trading card sales climbed throughout the 1980s. And by 1991, Gretzky and former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall spent a then-record $451,000 for the T206 Honus Wagner — one of a just a few cards featuring the Pittsburgh Pirates great manufactured by the American Tobacco Co.

But the industry contracted after the top trading card companies flooded the market with new products, producing more cards than anyone could ever want. Sales and interest waned.

Spending on sports cards began to increase again after the 2008 financial crisis, as people looked for alternative places to invest their money. Goldin founded his new auction house in 2012.

The surge in valuations has led to talk of a bubble. There are concerns that the market is hot because everyone is stuck at home getting nostalgic about their card collections — something that may not last after the pandemic eases.

But Goldin and the Chernin Group expect the market to thrive for years to come. An influx of new buyers from all around the world means interest is only primed to grow.

“Outside of the U.S., it is impossible to buy cards,” Goldin said. “When that problem is solved, and people in Australia, Korea, Japan, China and Denmark — all these hot beds — can have easy access to buying and selling cards, you’ll see an explosion in the marketplace.”

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