Ken Goldin on the Future of the Thriving Collectibles Industry

    • Goldin founder Ken Goldin predicts big things for the collectibles market.
    • Trading cards and other items have become a new alternative asset class.

Nothing stings like making a trade at the wrong time, but Goldin founder and chair Ken Goldin is as upbeat as ever.

“I’m doing fine, and I’m very happy,” Goldin told me, but “I could have waited three or six months before I did my deal on Goldin and I’d have significantly more in the bank today.”

In July, Goldin was sold to Collectors Holdings, a group co-owned by New York Mets owner Steve Cohen. Terms were not disclosed, but one estimate ballparked the price at over $200 million.

The deal followed a $40 million funding round in February from the Chernin Group and a slew of athlete and celebrity investors, including Mark Cuban, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Deshaun Watson, Mark Wahlberg, Logan Paul, Timbaland, and Bill Simmons.

Last summer, Goldin shared the industry consensus that the collectibles boom was going to settle down from the feverish pace it had built up during the pandemic.

“I, like everybody else with a lot of experience in the industry, thought mistakenly that as the lockdowns would be lifted, and there were treatments and vaccines, that some of the interest would wane,” Goldin said. “And to my surprise and delight, nothing has been further from the truth.”

The evidence for that is in deals like Fanatics’ roughly $500 million acquisition of Topps (not to mention Fanatics Trading Cards’ October valuation of $10.4 billion) and Amazon’s investment in collectibles marketplace Dibbs.

Goldin told me that his platform hosted $27 million in transactions in 2019, $100 million in 2020, $330 million in 2021, and projects $500 million this year.

A New Era in Collectibles

But why the sudden explosion of interest?

The collector impulse itself is somewhat mysterious, but we can accept it as one of the many peculiarities of human behavior when it’s mostly in the background. However, when seven-figure sales, such as last June’s Goldin-hosted $3.1 million purchase of a Tom Brady rookie card, become commonplace, we have to look up and ask what exactly is happening here.

Goldin saw something brewing before the pandemic made its landfall in the U.S., both in how much people were spending and what they were spending it on.

“In October of 2016, I sold a LeBron James card for like $312,000, and that I think was the start of the modern trading card era,” he said.

The dollar figure was eye-catching, but so was the player. Prior to that, Goldin, who has been buying and selling cards for decades, had only seen sums like that for retired legends — not someone who, at 31, was still in the middle of his playing career.

“People want to collect players that are meaningful to them,” said Goldin.

Next Generation Investors

Some of the shift, he theorized, has to do with the modern availability of broadcasts and information about every professional team and athlete, but there is another phenomenon at work as well: a new, younger investor class with a love of sports and a thirst for alternative assets.

“My industry has attracted a significant younger core,” he said.

This generation has come of investing age in an era when people can become insta-millionaires for picking the right crypto, jumping on and off the GameStop hype machine at the ideal moment, or scoring a rare Luka Dončić from an NBA Top Shot pack. The Warren Buffett adage of picking companies with strong fundamentals and holding for decades feels as dated as a Honus Wagner card.

As with stocks, crypto, and even NFTs, a collectibles trader can gain an edge by diving deep into the market and industry.

“You also have the aspect to some degree that this is sports betting,” said Goldin. “Instead of betting on a game, where you can’t pick the outcome, let’s say that you live minor league baseball and you live prospects, and you knew that [Tampa Bay Rays phenom] Wander Franco was going to come into the league and be a star, you could buy his card and make 20 to 50 times your money in a year.”

Mix the potential for getting rich quickly with the collector’s mindset that sports has always inspired through its ability to elevate mere mortals to storied legends, and you can start to understand both the short-term hype and the long-term investment potential.

The Big Money Comes In

With more money at stake, bigger players are getting in. Goldin’s message to them: The water’s fine.

“I love it,” said Goldin. “It’s one ecosystem. If Amazon comes into my particular space and is able to do a billion dollars or whatever in [gross merchandise value], it’s only going to raise my business because it’s going to bring more awareness to the people. I have zero concern that one of my customers is going to stop coming to Goldin because Amazon or eBay is out there.”

Forecasts for the global collectibles industry generally project impressive growth, such as Market Decipher’s estimate that the market stood at $412 billion in 2020 and will rise to $628 billion by 2031. (That figure includes stamps, comic books, vintage car parts, etc.)

But predicting the future here seems more fraught than usual. The next surge could come from the metaverse and NFTs, two concepts that have only entered common parlance in the last year. What’s going to happen to the collectibles industry in one year? Five years? Next month? Your guess is as good as mine.

After all, if Ken Goldin can live and breathe collectibles his whole life and still mistime the sale of his own company, who can say what the future holds.