As the calendar creeps closer to December, a fear for baseball fans looks more likely then not: that the MLB Players Association will not reach an agreement with the league, resulting in a work stoppage. Though any such strike would hopefully be short, a contentious labor dispute always has the possibility of spilling into the season and canceling some games.
There is some concern by members of the hobby that a strike would impact an already depressed sports cards market. After 18 months on fire, the market has begun to contract recently, with sales slowing and volume decreased. Their fear of a strike is that the lack of baseball would cause people to become even less interested in the hobby.
This fear is not unfounded; during the 1994 strike, the baseball card market dipped dramatically, and for many manufacturers, the strike meant the end of their runs as companies. Baseball card shows dramatically decreased following the strike, and the waning interest put many burgeoning card shops out of business. The landscape right now resembles the late 1980s and early 1990s in many ways, with shows seeing a resurgence, shops opening in every city, and a newfound interest in the hobby from former and new collectors alike.
However, I think the concerns are overstated, and that a potential MLB strike would have little to no impact on the card market as a whole. There are two reasons I believe this.
First, the market is a drastically different place now than it was in the early 1990s. Back then, baseball was the main driving force of the sports card industry. While everything revolved around baseball cards in the 90s, that’s hardly the case now. Baseball may in fact be a distant third behind basketball and football as far as what moves the needle for modern cards. While baseball still reigns supreme among vintage cards, high end NBA and NFL cards tend to attract the most attention and money nowadays, and they’d be undisturbed by a baseball strike.
For the second reason, we don’t even need to look back to the 1990s — just to a year and a half ago. During the Covid-19 shutdown, many feared the sports card hobby would die on the vine, with no live sports to drive interest. Instead, the opposite happened, and the industry boomed. While there are many viable theories as to why this happened, including people stuck at home looking for something to do, one possible reason is that sports cards are essentially a form of gambling, and with live sports shut down, there was no sports betting available. I see a repeat of this happening if MLB games are canceled.
Of course, for baseball fans, a strike would be hugely disappointing news. But if you’re worried about a strike as it relates to cards, I think that the market won’t be negatively impacted.