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Fanatics and Sotheby’s Partner to Auction Rare Sports Trading Cards, Including Jackie Robinson Rookie Card

Fanatics and Sotheby’s to auction sports cards valued over $100,000, starting with a $275,000-$350,000 Jackie Robinson card.

By Max Weldon

6/11, 10:43 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • Fanatics and Sotheby’s announce a multiyear partnership to auction rare sports trading cards, starting with a 1948 Jackie Robinson card valued at $275,000-$350,000.
  • Fanatics expands its trading card industry presence by acquiring Topps and securing exclusive licensing deals with NBA, NFL, and MLB.
  • Sotheby’s sees rapid growth in sports memorabilia auctions, attracting younger bidders aged 20 to 40 and fine art collectors.

Fanatics and Sotheby's Partnership

Fanatics Inc. and Sotheby’s have announced a multiyear partnership to create a series of live and online auctions featuring some of the rarest and most valuable sports trading cards. The collaboration aims to attract high-end collectors, with trading cards valued at over $100,000. The first live auction is scheduled for September in New York and will feature a 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson card, the only true rookie card of the baseball legend, estimated to sell for between $275,000 and $350,000.

Fanatics has been rapidly expanding its presence in the trading card industry. In 2022, the company acquired Topps and secured exclusive card licensing deals with major professional leagues, including the NBA, NFL, and MLB. This summer, Fanatics plans to launch a new collectibles marketplace, Fanatics Collect, which will connect buyers and sellers of cards and memorabilia and provide authentication services. Nick Bell, who will head Fanatics Collect, noted, “What we are seeing from collectors is the high end of the market is growing. There’s greater interest.”

Sotheby's Sports Memorabilia Focus

Sotheby’s has been increasingly focusing on sports memorabilia, a category that Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of Modern Collectables, described as one of the auction house’s fastest-growing segments. Earlier this year, Sotheby’s hosted its first “Sports Week,” featuring six live and online auctions with items from prominent sports figures. Notable items included Muhammad Ali’s shorts from the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” match and a Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers jersey from Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Sotheby’s has also become the official game-worn source of the NBA, offering auctions and purchasable jerseys and memorabilia from significant league events like the All-Star Game. Wachter highlighted the broad appeal of sports memorabilia, stating, “Those two things may seem on opposite sides of the planet, but if you love sports, it doesn’t really matter. So many people grew up collecting cards, and now they’re later in life and they never lost that interest.”

Expanding Collector Base

The partnership between Fanatics and Sotheby’s aims to leverage both companies’ extensive collector networks to source products and share fees. Wachter emphasized the goal of elevating the presentation of trading cards, saying, “What we’re really trying to do — and I think there’s a void in the market — is bring these cards into a museum-quality setting. So they’re not lost in a vast catalog or obscure website, but seen alongside jewelry, luxury watches, and fine art.”

Sotheby’s has successfully attracted a new, younger set of bidders through its unique sports items. The auction house has reported that sports memorabilia has brought in clients aged 20 to 40, with roughly 50% being new to Sotheby’s. This demographic shift is complemented by the interest of fine art collectors who also have a passion for sports figures like Michael Jordan.

Street Views

  • Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s (Bullish on the sports collectibles market):

    "Sports items have helped bring in a new kind of client — a group that generally ranges between 20 and 40 years of age with roughly 50% new to Sotheby’s... So many people grew up collecting cards, and now they’re later in life and they never lost that interest."