In the past week, two huge pieces of news came out, each of which will have a tremendous impact on the sports card hobby.
On June 30, the NCAA announced that college athletes, long unpaid and unable to profit off of their popularity due to their amateur status, would “have the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness,” according to the official press release. The rules, known as NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness), went into effect on Thursday, July 1. While students will still not be paid to play their sports, they are now free to sign endorsement deals, get paid for autographs, and so on.
Of course, this has a tremendous effect on the sports card industry. Where collegiate cards have been made, they have been produced using the NCAA license to show team logos, and they generally involve players who were just drafted or veterans who appear in their college uniforms. Since 2015, Panini has held the exclusive rights to the collegiate license for over 400 colleges, a deal that was renewed in July of 2020.
But other companies have endeavored to find ways around producing cards of collegiate athletes and using team logos. Leaf frequently makes airbrushed cards of fresh-out-of-college athletes. This year, Topps produced an entire product line of Trevor Lawrence cards immediately after he became the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, with artistic renderings and photographs of the quarterback rather than in-game action shots that would require the removal of logos. Now, those companies could produce similar cards of players while they’re still in college, a huge boon to an industry that is always hyper-focused on the next best prospect. Companies other than Panini still will not be able to use collegiate logos, but they will be able to use the players’ names and photos on the cards, meaning we could see team sets for championships, or player-specific sets for the best players out there.
The day the NIL rules went into effect, more big news broke. Collectors Holdings, the parent company of card grading titan PSA, announced that it had purchased Goldin Auctions. Goldin has made headlines in the past year with many record-breaking sales, a $40 million investment by a group headed up by Mark Cuban and Kevin Durant, and a TV show in development by the folks behind Pawn Stars.
The acquisition — not a merger — allows PSA and Goldin to continue operating as separate companies. That said, it still has major implications for the hobby, which still remain to be seen. The possibilities are endless, however. Submitters to PSA could potentially send cards straight to auction at Goldin. More detailed and accurate price guides could be built. Goldin could offer to authenticate and grade raw submissions through PSA at a discount (or free for high dollar items).
The sports card industry spent more than two decades stuck in neutral with little innovation or growth until 2020 came around. Both of these pieces of news serve as additional opportunities for the market to expand and bring more people into the hobby. I do not think this is the last big news we’ll see this year, either. It’s certainly an exciting time to be a collector.