Fanatics, Sotheby’s announce partnership to sell ‘most coveted’ sports cards

Fanatics announced on Tuesday that it’s partnering with Sotheby’s to auction the rarest and “most coveted” sports trading cards, with values of $100,000-plus. Fanatics also announced a new entity, Fanatics Collect, to connect buyers and sellers of lower-priced cards. Fanatics Collect will replace the PWCC brand later this summer. Fanatics purchased PWCC, one of the largest sports collectibles auction houses, in May of 2023.

The first card that Sotheby’s has consigned for the initial auction in New York City in September is a 1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson rookie card graded in PSA 8 (Near Mint-Mint) condition. It’s estimated to sell in the $275,000 to $350,000 range. According to Fanatics, there are only eight of these Robinson rookie cards that surpass this grade.

Sotheby’s takes possession of cards like the Robinson well before the auction. “We plan to invest heavily in the marketing and exhibition of these cards and thus will require them to be in-hand,” Sotheby’s Head of Modern Collectables Brahm Wachter said. “We feel there is a vacuum in the market when it comes to cards and high-level museum quality exhibitions and events, which is something we look forward to collaborating with Fanatics on.”

Jackie Robinson 1948 Leaf Card scaled

Fanatics is also the owner of Topps, which has manufactured sports cards since 1951. Sotheby’s sports and modern collectables department launched in 2022 and has since “achieved numerous world records at auction, particularly for game-worn memorabilia,” Sotheby’s said.

Fanatics Collect CEO Nick Bell said, “This unique partnership (with Sotheby’s) is a reflection of the elevated status and cultural impact of the hobby and gives these highly sought-after cards incredible reach and visibility to potential collectors around the world.”

Wachter adds that the Fanatics/Sotheby’s partnership “marks a significant milestone within the ever-growing and engaged trading card community. We eagerly anticipate ushering promising collectors into an exciting new era of innovation and accessibility.”

Lower-valued cards will be sold through Fanatics Collect, often at fixed prices instead of auctions. “All services previously provided by PWCC – including auctions, marketplace listing, vaulting and authentication – will now be provided under the Fanatics Collect brand,” Fanatics said Tuesday.

Bell said, “We want Fanatics Collect to be the best place to buy and sell cards. Our fixed-price marketplace naturally lends itself to lower to mid-tier price points.”

Bell said the key at those price points is a high volume of cards at competitive prices. He added that the goal is “to take the stress out of selling, both for individual collectors and larger consignors and dealers.”

The Fanatics Collect platform launches “with a reimagined fixed-price marketplace experience, in addition to weekly and monthly auctions,” the company said. Later this year, the company announced, Fanatics Collect “will introduce a range of new updates, including peer-to-peer trading, AI-powered concierge services, card scanning and digital collectibles.” Details on the exact nature of these services and their value to buyers and sellers will be announced closer to launch, Fanatics said.

What’s “reimagined” for now is fixed-price sales. “We had to look at every aspect: ease of signing up for the platform, time to list a card for sale, fees, pricing of the cards when they hit the marketplace, browsing and searching for cards, and ultimately buying something you love,” Bell said. “We’re improving each of those aspects for collectors with Fanatics Collect.”

Bell added that he’s eager to receive feedback from buyers and sellers in the coming months.

The partnership with Sotheby’s will involve both vintage and more modern cards produced in the last 10 years, Sotheby’s Wachter said. Some newer cards are highly valued in the marketplace because they had limited print runs, even as few as a single card produced. Wachter says Sotheby’s will assess the cards in the same way they do other “luxury categories.”

The $100,000 cutoff isn’t a hard line. Auction values can be difficult to precisely forecast. Wachter added, “We are also taking a curatorial lens when it comes to consigning cards. We’ll take on a select number of cards below the threshold if we feel they have an interesting story to tell.”

(Top photo: Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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