Sports memorabilia is relatively recent industry, with the first collectibles coming in the early 20th century when fans in the U.S. would collect baseballs from games they would attend. When Babe Ruth was playing, many fans would seek him out to obtain his autograph. As the years went by and more unique sporting feats were accomplished, there were more opportunities to gain collectibles.
It wouldn’t be until the 1980s, however, when the 4 major professional leagues in the United States began to sell their jerseys in retail stores. This created a new segment for the industry, featuring game-used jerseys with autographs that would become a popular collectible.
Even soccer has seen its superstars make waves in the memorabilia market, even though the sport isn’t considered a major professional league in the United States. A game-worn shirt from the 1970 World Cup, worn by Pele, once sold for $224,000.
Memorabilia may have some investment-grade items, but what attracts collectors to this industry are the memories that these pieces generate.
Important Sports Memorabilia Industry Statistics
#1. The sports memorability industry is currently part of the collectibles market, which currently has a global value of $370 billion. (Forbes)
#2. There are over 200 million people who are collectors of various types in the world today. About 33% of global collectors have purchased, owned, or previously owned at least one sports memorabilia collectible. (Forbes)
#3. Boxes is one of the fastest growing companies in the sports memorabilia segment, offering over $125 million in collectibles at any given time. (Forbes)
#4. When Michael Jordan played in the “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals, his shoes recently sold at auction for over $100,000. The final game-worn jersey for Jordan recently sold for $173,000 at auction as well. (Forbes)
#5. Trading cards are still a dominant force in the sports memorabilia market. Over 98% of sports collectors have spent time collecting trading cards at some point in their lives. (Forbes)
#6. Eli Manning is the top-selling autograph memorabilia producer for the sports memorabilia industry, responsible for 2.1% of all sales. He is followed by Michael Jordan (1.8%), Peyton Manning (1.5%0, Mickey Mantle (1.2%), and Tom Brady (1.2%). (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#7. 34% of the sports memorabilia sold in the United States is from the National Football League. 26% involves Major League Baseball. Just 10% involves the National Basketball Association. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#8. The top 5 states in the U.S. are responsible for 40% of industry revenues. California leads the way at 11.2%. They are followed by New York (8.9%), Texas (8.8%), Florida (5.8%), and New Jersey (5.3%). (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#9. The New York Yankees are the most popular team in the autographed sports memorabilia industry, responsible for 7.1% of sales. The New York Giants are second at 3.5%. They’re followed by the Dallas Cowboys (3.1%), the Green Bay Packers (3%), and the Chicago Bulls (2.4%). (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#10. The most popular autographed item in the sports memorabilia market involves jerseys, making up 24% of total sales. Autographed photographs hold a 23% market share. These items are followed by autographed helmets (8%), autographed baseballs (8%), and autographed footballs (5%). (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#11. The licensed market share of the sports memorabilia industry is valued at $12 billion, while the autographed market share of the industry is about $2 billion. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#12. 23,000 athletes currently have some type of sports memorabilia in circulation around the world, along with 516 teams. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#13. 93% of sales that occur within the sports memorabilia industry happen in the United States each year. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#14. The most expensive item of sports memorabilia sold at the time of this writing was a 1920 Babe Ruth game-used jersey, valued at $4.4 million. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
#15. Up to 50% of the sports memorabilia products that are available in the United States is considered to be counterfeit. For some products, counterfeit rates could be as high as 90%. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
#16. The average collector only has between 10% to 20% of their items rated as being museum quality. (CNBC)
#17. At the peak of the industry, baseball trading cards generated more than $1 billion in sales each year. Today, the industry has contracted to a value of about $200 million each year. (Harvard Business School)
#18. Topps BUNT 2014 was named the best new app on the iPhone, peaking at the #25 most downloaded app at one point during the year. During the first two years of its existence, the app is believed to have generated $33 million in revenues. (The Motley Fool)
#19. One of the issues involving sports memorabilia is that it has been priced out of the budget of the primary collectors in the 1980s and 90s: kids. Most collectors will buy the box price, which averages $55 for 360 cards. That reduces the $2 packs made available for kids. (Pahrump Valley Times)
#20. The average price for an autographed memorabilia item in the United States is $180. (SportsMemorabilia.com)
Sports Memorabilia Trends and Analysis
Sports memorabilia has been an industry in the United States which has seen slow and steady growth since 2011. Even during the recession and post-recession years, industry revenues were relatively stable, with more than $12 billion in value achieved each year.
By 2021, sports merchandise and memorabilia are expected to top $15 billion for the first time.
Revenues in this industry are able to remain relatively constant because of the constant flow of professional athletes through various teams. All-star players, such as Michael Jordan, provide collectors with long-term, investment-grade sports memorabilia items. At the same time, rare collectibles can be found by the average collector by purchasing trading card packs and similar items.
Even athletes with only a minimal influence on their team see the value of their collectibles often rise over time. An autographed hockey puck from Andrew Shaw, for example, retailed for about $40 in 2015. At the time of writing, the same puck authenticated by PSA DNA retails for over $110.
As long as there are sports, there will be sports memorabilia generated. The market continues to grow as more teams enter the market. With Major League Soccer growing in influence and American demand for international sports memorabilia increasing, there are a number of opportunities available to find great collectibles and interesting deals in this industry.