Bull Case Bear Case: The Week of February 7th (Pro Edition)
February 8, 2022
Bradley Calleja, Dylan Dittrich
Welcome to the latest edition of Bull Case Bear Case, with a full slate of offering analysis for our Pro subscribers. As always, the goal is to give investors a clear, balanced view of both sides of the coin. Prepare to tackle the week with confidence!
1933-2019 MLB All Star Game Ticket Set
2/8 @ 2:30PM ET
Complete, highly ranked set. The All Star Game Ticket set is one of the most pursued ticket sets on the PSA Registry, with the 22 sets registered trailing only the 33 sets of the World Series Basic set. Of those 22 sets, only three have ever been 100% complete, with this being one of them. In fact, in reality, it’s one of two, as another set is really one in the same with this one, just under a different label. Its rating ranks 6th among all-time sets and fourth among currently active sets (Note: all-time sets include those that were assembled at one point but have since been broken up and retired), and it is the only current set standing at 100% completion.
Track record of collectability. While the heavy pursuit of most tickets is a relatively nascent trend, tickets from key baseball moments is one area of the market that has been dearly-coveted for many years. Since the mid 2010s, long before this even became remotely possible for most tickets, key All Star Game tickets have sold for tens of thousands of dollars. For example, a full ticket to the 1933 debut game, graded PSA Authentic, sold for $28,860 at Heritage in 2016. One year later, a set of All Star Tickets spanning from 1933-2016 sold for $144,000. That set was the #1 all time set and crucially included the same full ticket that sold in 2016. The point is not to offer that as a comp - it isn’t (for reasons covered later), but to note that high-end demand for these types of tickets has existed for many years. There have been numerous examples of 1933 full tickets selling for $25-35k in the mid 2010s. One might also point to the $42k sale of a 1908-2018 World Series Set at Heritage in February of 2020. That retired set is #3 all time - but only when the 1907 ticket is included, which was withheld from the auction. While it would remain higher rated and likely more desirable based on subject matter, the point stands: there has been a well documented appetite in the low-to-mid five figures for key baseball sets. That provides some comfort that populations have been well-developed already in response to the values garnered, minimizing supply risk, as well as perhaps reduced risk of volatility relative to other portions of the ticket market.
Rising tide for tickets. Those following the Hobby are well acquainted with the meteoric rise of ticket values in 2021, with eight of the top ten most expensive sales of all time taking place over the course of the year. While vintage baseball wasn’t the category that benefited most from that trend, there was evidence of similarly improving values. For example, a Jackie Robinson Debut Stub (graded PSA Authentic) sold for 2.5x mid 2010s levels. Two Mickey Mantle Debut stubs, both graded PSA 3, hurdled $100k. Prior to 2021, the high sale was just over $3k at Leland’s for an Authentic stub, lasting until one sold for $17k at Heritage in June. And then, this weekend at Goldin, a PSA 1.5 copy sold for $115k. To the extent that tide continues to rise or if vintage baseball momentum should be further reignited relative to the rest of the market, a set like this could stand to benefit.
Declining Popularity of the Mid-Summer Classic. The MLB All Star Game used to be a fixture of the summer with broad, nationwide appeal - a moment of celebration of our national pastime and the icons who make it go. All Star Games - generally speaking beyond just baseball - have waned in popularity, as players (perhaps wisely) reduce effort expended and competitive spirit in the midst of very long seasons. The numbers, unfortunately, back this up. From a peak of 36.3mm viewers way back in 1976, viewership has consistently declined over decades to 8.24mm viewers in 2021, according to Baseball Almanac. That’s the second lowest viewership ever, ahead of only 2019. While the set is no doubt impressive, it’s unclear whether a rising collecting generation that grew up in an era of less popular, less important All Star Games will pursue such an asset with vigor, and that may reduce its ability to appreciate alongside the rapidly appreciating ticket market.
Unsold in 2020. This particular set, at the time dating through 2017, came to auction at Heritage in May of 2020. It was ranked #3 in the set registry. With a reserve price of $19,000, it did not sell. While the ticket market has certainly developed since then, many of the tickets that have soared in recent years were starting from a markedly low basis or without a track record. As noted prior, demand for All Star Game tickets (and vintage baseball) has existed prior to the market run-up, so that there wasn’t an appetite at $19,000 in 2020 raises concerns, as would the 2.5x jump in value to $47,500. It’s very much unclear that this type of ticket asset would have experienced the same appreciation as the high-flyers of 2021.
Other sets challenged. The most recent sale of a set came in November of 2021 at Hunt Auctions. Now, this is not a comp - the set featured tickets and stubs from 1933-2019 (with the odd exception of 2013), many of which were not graded & encapsulated. Still, the result of $9,000 came in short of the $10,000 - $15,000 estimate, indicating that interest in this type of asset has not necessarily charged up in recent years. At Goldin in 2018, a full set inferior in grade in key areas (it does not appear in the Set Registry) sold for $7,800. Finally, in 2016, a set three slots below this one sold at Robert Edward Auctions for $12,000 with just one bid at the minimum. That there was a decline from 2016 to 2018, assuming the Goldin set was in fact stronger or at least comparable in rating, introduces questions about the intensity of interest. Also, that the Goldin set has seemingly not been logged in the set registry may mean there is another current 100% completed set out there, which of course would imperil the status of this one as the lone existing set. The $144,000 sale from Heritage in 2017 is largely inapplicable, as that set was the highest rated of all time, with a rating more than 3x higher than this one. It additionally included the full ticket from the 1933 game, which consistently sold for $25-35k in the mid 2010s. This set features a stub (graded a 3), which has mostly sold in the low four figures, though there hasn’t been a sale in recent months. If you wanted to look to a recent, cross-sport comparison, a full set of PSA graded tickets to the Super Bowl (I through LV) sold at Goldin this weekend for $13,200. The Super Bowl has also experienced declining ratings, but still draws well in excess of 30 million viewers annually. Granted, that set spans a far shorter period of time, but a bearish investor may see it as perhaps demonstrative of interest in ticket sets at the present moment.
1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 7)
2/9 @ 2:30PM ET
Iconic card featuring an iconic player. It’s the ideal recipe for a collector or investor that is trying to limit risk while balancing a history of long-term appreciation. There is no card that better epitomizes those values than the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. In a tier that is shared with the T206 Honus Wagner, the ‘52 Mantle is the most well-known sports card ever produced. This PSA 7 example is one of just 76 to earn a near mint designation and falls within the top 6% of the total graded population. This IPO also gives investors on Collectable the opportunity to add a second 1952 Topps Mantle to their portfolio, as the platform offered a PSA 8 graded example last year. This means that 2% of all near mint through gem mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards are currently available on Collectable.
The Mantle market has momentum. Baseball cards from the 1950s are up 26.47% on Collectable’s secondary market while the total average return for sports cards on the platform is just 6.29% (figures include only assets trading or exited). More specifically, Collectable has offered two Mantle’s from 1952, and both have outperformed the average significantly. The 1952 Bowman Mantle is up 133.3% overall, while the PSA 8 Topps ‘52 Mantle has gained 130%. After auction prices peaked in the spring, they pulled back significantly, in some cases experiencing 60% declines depending on card/grade during the summer. These prices have since shown signs of recovery though and now sell 20-30% below the February-April ranges.
Stability and reliability. If you are looking for 10x returns, the Mickey Mantle market is not where you should be looking. If you are looking for a low volatility asset relative to the rest of the card market, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is the market to explore. While other alternative assets such as art and wine have extended track records of performance to base investment decisions on, the number of card prices that have been tracked and registered over the last 20+ years is limited. One card that has been followed over the years, even before this most recent card craze, is this 1952 Topps Mantle. Business journals such as Forbes have published articles comparing Mantle appreciation to the S&P 500 and no player is more represented within the PWCC indices than this Yankee legend. As the calendar turns and we step into a period of uncertainty within the card market, certain cards will continue to provide a level of long-term assurance, even if prices shift lower.
Reserve not met. This exact card was featured in the Holiday Auction hosted by Goldin less than a month ago and failed to reach its reserve. The card climbed to $240,000 early in the final week of the auction but did not attract another bid as the final hammer dropped. If there had not been a reserve the $240,000 result would have been the lowest price paid for a PSA 7 since May. The result was part of a larger array of Mantle cards that went unsold during the auction and were highlighted in our Auction Action. Was the lack of a sale due to a high reserve or a broader sign for the overall Mantle market? PWCC’s January sale of a PSA 7 graded Mantle with decent eye appeal for $336,000 provides some comfort that the failed sale was not necessarily emblematic of a weakening broader market.
Eye appeal in question. As with any vintage card where the profile is encased with a thick white border, attributes such as centering play a critical role in the valuation process. Anyone who does not believe eye appeal is important is ignoring sales history - take the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card. On July 11th, Goldin sold a PSA 10 for $270,600. Then, less than a week later on July 17th, PWCC sold a PSA 10 with elite eye appeal for $840,000. While that 3.1x multiple between sales was more significant than usual, it is common to see prices fluctuate by 1.4x - 1.7x based on centering and coloration differences alone. This specific Mantle shifts to the left and sits high on the white canvas. This card is still an exceptional example and rightfully earned its Near Mint designation but this is not the card that will be establishing new price targets for the PSA 7 population.
What will 2022 bring for vintage cards? While it is highly unlikely the vintage Mantle market will collapse due to consistent demand and a reliable track record, it seems just as unlikely the market will continue to display the year-over-year growth realized between 2020 and 2021. While the 2021 spring sports card bull market feels like it was years ago, it can be difficult to remember the card market through the 2010s. The first 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 7 to break six figures was sold in 2016 for $161,100 and there wasn’t a sale that exceeded $200,000 until 2021. Then in 2021, not only did prices consistently close above $200,000, they reached $350,000. Prices for 1952 Mantle cards were range-bound for five years between 2016-2021 and ever since the explosion in prices during the spring, have been range-bound once again through the fall and winter.
1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain Rookie Card (PSA 9)
IPO 2/10 @ 2:30 PM Valuation: $320,000
Legendary pedigree. Has there ever been an athlete that dominated their sport more than Wilt Chamberlain? From his 100-point performance to holding multiple NBA records, Wilt is one of the safest bets for continued long-term appreciation. When examining prices for retired players, one key factor to consider is how at risk their records are. For Wilt, the vast majority of his records are likely untouchable. For starters, the single-game record of 100 points has never had a serious challenge. Kobe Bryant came within 19 points of it in 2006 but outside of that performance, only one player, Devin Booker in 2017, has scored 70 or more points in the 21st century. Some other records that will likely never fall include the number of 50-point games he had during his career: 188. To understand just how insane that number is, Michael Jordan is second on the all-time list with 31. No other player has more than 30 and no active player has more than 25. While there are records that have fallen in recent years, like Steph Curry knocking off Reggie Miller and Ray Allen for most career three-pointers, many of the records that exemplify Wilt’s dominance will never be touched. For collectors and investors, this fact alone provides piece of mind that some other star athletes do not have. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most career points but LeBron James is closing in fast on his total. Or even the ‘Great One’, Wayne Gretzky, who is at risk of losing the all-time goal record to Alexander Ovechkin.
Microscopic Gem Mint market. When collecting or investing in any card that is not a PSA 10 or from a limited print run, there is a level of concern that comes with buying a mint or lower example. Their concerns are valid, just look at the price difference between most PSA 9 and PSA 10 graded cards from nearly every post-1980 production. The 1961 Fleer set predates the mass production of cards though and in return, investors pay gem mint prices of mint quality examples. There are over 1,800 graded examples in PSA’s database (including qualified) and only three have earned a PSA 10. Not only is there such a limited quantity of PSA 10s, but none have appeared at auction in the last 10 years. This gives the 31 cards that are graded PSA 9 an added value boost since they are the highest graded copies on the market.
Strong fractional performance. Across both cards and memorabilia, fractional Wilt offerings have shined on Collectable’s secondary market. The 1959-60 Rookie Uniform is up 94.5% since IPO and has climbed 17% in the last month while Wilt’s High School Uniform is up 120% since IPO and has ballooned 37.5% in the last week. This is the second time one of these 1961 Fleer Wilt Rookie Cards has appeared on Collectable and the first showing resulted in a lucrative quick-flip for investors. Collectable offered the PSA 9 graded Wilt card at a $200,000 market cap and just four days later, investors accepted a $350,000 buyout offer for a 66.5% ROI after fees.
Priced in line with recent sales. At face value, this probably does not seem like a bear case. Is it really a negative if the card is priced in line with recent comps? Not necessarily, but this bear case is primarily tied to the previous PSA 9 offered by Collectable that was bought out in four days for a 66.5% return. That card IPO’d on April 4th for $200,000 with 50.1% of the offering retained. The $200,000 market was well under recent comps at the time though which made the buyout acceptance somewhat questionable. Sales data at that time was limited but there had been a PSA 9 sold via eBay through PWCC for $400,000 on February 28th. Then on April 24th, less than one month after the Collectable buyout, Goldin sold a PSA 9 for $461,250. Unlike the April IPO, this new PSA 9 offering is not opening in at a steep discount to recent valuations. Instead, the market cap falls 8.75% below a sale on January 28th and around 10% above prices realized this summer. There are only 31 examples graded PSA 9 so direct comps are limited. In the spring, this was a card with catalysts due to the rising market. While it is still the same iconic card, there is no longer an immediate opportunity between Collectable’s market cap and auction prices. This can also impact secondary market performance as the upside could be capped until another breakout sale.
Straggling sales. When will we see this card surpass $400,000 again? And when will we see Wilt’s only recognized rookie card reach seven figures? Considering this is considered one of the finest vintage NBA cards in existence, why have sales lagged behind other similar sets? These are all valid questions that can result in a bearish attitude toward the 1961 Fleer Wilt rookie. While other basketball cards such as the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan and 1980 Topps Scoring Leaders have pushed toward $1 million at one point over the last twelve months, this Wilt Chamberlain card has never exceeded $500,000. From Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Luka Doncic, there are plenty of modern NBA players that have had cards sell for seven figures but this vintage example has never come close. There are some potential reasons, such as the overall underperformance of the vintage basketball market and the mystery surrounding the three PSA 10s. Whatever the actual cause for lagging performance is, the 1961 Fleer Wilt market will still be waiting on its banner sale when this offering goes live.
1955 Topps Sandy Koufax (PSA 8)
2/12 @ 3:00PM ET
Recent price recovery. While many cards are still selling for prices well below their early 2021 valuations, the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax has returned to spring prices already. The last three public sales for PSA 8 graded examples (prior to the most recent Goldin Auction) all appreciated off of each other, from $31,200 on October 23rd, to $37,934 on December 4th, and finally to $42,000 on January 28th. The January sale was the highest ever for a PSA 8 Sandy Koufax and marked just the second sale over $40,000. This steady growth and stabilization in prices is a welcome trend at a time when so many vintage cards are still trying to pull within 15-20% of early 2021 prices.
Recognized card from a recognized set. Known for its dual panels, which include a profile and an action shot of the player, the 1955 Topps production is one of the most renowned 1950s baseball sets. The timeless nature of these early post-war baseball sets has offered historical buoyancy for cards from those productions and provides investors with a certain degree of comfort. There are not many catalysts surrounding Sandy Koufax cards, but there are not many factors that could plummet prices either. Koufax was a legendary pitcher who won three Cy Young Awards and is considered one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history. Even though his career was cut short due to arthritis, the Dodgers ace had established his place in history and his sports cards have followed suit. For an investor looking for a high-risk, high-reward option, this is probably not going to be their first choice. For an investor looking for a card with a track record of long-term price appreciation though, the 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax fits the bill.
Mixed secondary market performance. On one hand, there was a $100,000 buyout for a PSA 8.5 graded 1955 Topps that resulted in a 177% ROI in March. On the other hand, though, there is the current performance of Koufax-related assets on Collectable’s secondary market. Collectable has a PSA 9 graded example that has dropped -23% since IPO and is down -9% over the last six months. The other Koufax asset trading on Collectable is a 1964-65 jersey which has dropped -3% since IPO and is down -2% in the last 30 days. The PSA 9 drop though is more concerning in regards to this PSA 8 IPO since the 9 has consistently traded below fair market value. The card is currently trading at a $365,000 market cap which is lower than any PSA 9 sold for in 2021 and sits 5% below the most recent sale price of $384,000. Investors could have some concerns regarding the respect for Koufax on Collectable’s secondary market. Even if prices for PSA 8 examples soar above $50,000, will the card on Collectable keep pace or will it lag like the PSA 9?
Market cap outpaces the most recent comps. Within the bull case of this article, we mentioned the recent price appreciation of PSA 8 graded Koufax rookie cards. The trend mentioned in that section was recently broken though with a disappointing showing at Goldin. There were two direct comps at Goldin this weekend and both settled for prices below $40,000. One example which sold on February 5th struck a hammer price of $35,400 while another which sold on the 6th closed at $32,400. The prices were disappointing although they mirrored many of the mid-range vintage card sales that occurred at the auction. The bear case for this offering stretches beyond the Goldin results though. The $42,500 market cap is the most expensive this card has ever been priced at as no sale has ever surpassed the $42,000 price paid in January.
Potential overpopulation. The two cards that stand out in the 1955 set are the Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente. Both are rookie cards but both have significantly different population reports. There is only one PSA 10 Clemente with 11 PSA 9s. For comparison, there are three PSA 10 Koufax cards and 23 PSA 9s. The real difference comes with PSA 8 cards though as there are 241 PSA 8 graded Koufax cards compared to 123 for Clemente. The overall population for Koufax is the highest of any player from the 1955 Topps set with over 9,000 graded examples compared to the Clemente cards which has less than 7,000 graded cards in the PSA database. Demand has consistently outpaced supply for high-grade Koufax rookies as observed in auction prices, but they are not as scarce as other blue-chip 1950s baseball cards. The bloated number of PSA 8-10 graded Koufax rookie cards is due in large part to the inflated number of cards graded in total from this set, but it still results in stunted valuations.
1984 Air Ship
Fabled model gaining mainstream attention. The Air Ship has become a part of Jordan and Nike mythology over the years. Many now know that it’s the sneaker in which Michael Jordan made his NBA debut, and that the black and red Air Ship was the true sneaker “banned” by the NBA. That ban, of course, became a focal point for marketing of the Air Jordan 1, and the Air Ship faded into the background, becoming a footnote of sorts. Nike seems to have wanted it that way, not alluding to the sneaker’s role in that moment for decades. But, as time passes, more and more that were previously unaware of the model's standing in sneaker history have become aware of its significance. The $1.47mm sale of a Jordan game-worn pair of Air Ships at Sotheby’s last year makes them difficult to ignore. That’s the most expensive auction sale of a pair of sneakers in history, well in excess of double the prior record. The Air Ship has also received retro treatment from Nike in recent years. Back in early 2020, the “New Beginnings” Pack was released, featuring white and red colorways of the Jordan 1 and the Air Ship. The pack retailed for $350 and routinely sells for close to $2,000 today. And when broken out of the pack and sold on its own, the Air Ship often carries its weight, selling most recently for over $900. Later that year, the “Banned” colorway released, which typically fetches around $500 on resale markets. The mainstream recognition of the Air Ship has never been stronger, and it may be growing stronger still.
Less supply relative to Jordan 1. The Air Jordan 1 was an unprecedented commercial success upon its release. In the first month after its launch, Nike had shipped 1.5 million pairs, amassing an incredible $55 million in sales in the process. Of course, we know that first month was a precursor to literal decades of massive consumer demand. The Air Ship, however, would not make the same splash or enjoy the same longevity. It sat at a difficult point in the timeline of Nike basketball sneakers: it followed the iconic Air Force 1 and preceded not only the Jordan 1, but also another renowned non-Jordan Nike flagship, the Nike Dunk. While we do not know the exact figure for sales volume of the Air Ship, we can safely assume it was many multiples less than the Jordan 1. Deadstock or near-deadstock pairs of the 1985 Jordan 1 come to auction or to resale marketplaces with relative regularity, with sales ranging from $10k to above $30k depending on condition. The Air Ship, on the other hand, has come to auction in non game-worn condition just once. On the resale platform, GOAT, there has been just one sale of an OG pair...ever. Should a buyer desire exposure to a piece of sneaker history in strong condition, their options will be limited, and this pair could draw attention.
Favorable data points. The auction sale referenced was for this colorway of the Air Ship, in a size 12. It sold at Sotheby’s way back in December of 2020 for $8,820. That pair was in absolutely pristine, deadstock condition, unlaced with the original box. It sold alongside pairs in similar condition of the Air Jordan 1 in almost every OG colorway. At that level, it was approximately 60% of the value of the Chicago pair and 70-75% of the Banned and Royal colorways. By June of 2021, a Royal pair in significantly worse condition sold for $11,875 at Christie’s (just below the December 2020 price for a much nicer pair), which provides some confidence that the value of this pair might hold up to the December 2020 despite the lesser condition. A Chicago pair without the original box sold for $20,000 at the same auction, a near 33% improvement on the December result. Then, in November of 2021, a deadstock pair of Banned Jordan 1s with their box sold for $32,400 at Heritage Auctions. StockX sales in 2021, in general, illustrated appreciation versus December 2020 levels as well, though the odd lower sale does occur (more in bear case). Still, a bullish investor would believe that the market for key, original 1980s sneakers has improved and improved sufficiently to more than offset the missing box and lesser condition here relative to December 2020 sales. There have been two sales of original Air Ships on eBay in the last three months - both in comparatively poor, used condition - and both drew close to $2,000, which shows the appetite for this sneaker in any condition, colorway, and size. Finally, in the fractional world, the Air Jordan I Collection on Otis has received multiple buyout offers in recent months. The first was rejected by over 60% of shareholders. The most recent, an offer of $72,000, was not even tabled for consideration, though it would have net $14.4k per pair. The Collection now trades at $87,750, or $17.55k per pair, having gained 31% in the last month. This is demonstrative of the possibility for growing fractional interest in sneakers of this era.
High-end sneaker market emerging from volatile 2021. While the general trajectory of the Jordan 1 market ended up being positive in 2021, it wasn’t without its bumps in the road. Generally speaking, auction activity for high-end sneakers was relatively lukewarm at best during the year. At the Christie’s Original Air Takes Flight auction in June, 58 of 73 lots went unsold - though, the 1980s Jordans performed comparatively well. The Games auction at Sotheby’s in August showed similar weakness, with many high-end sneakers either failing to sell or coming in well below estimates. As for Jordan 1s specifically, there was a moment of slumping activity, and there were several eyebrow-raising sales which cast doubt on the consistency of the market. For example, a tremendously strong condition example of unlaced, deadstock Chicagos with the original hangtag sold at Goldin in late June for just $11,070. Or, that same weekend, a pair of Banned Jordan 1s with the original hangtag sold for just $5,850 at Grey Flannel auctions. Just days ago on StockX, a Chicago pair sold for $13,700, down significantly from recent levels. StockX sales figures aren’t incredibly reliable for vintage pairs like these, as we can’t see the actual pair. Still, there has not been a consistency of results, and appreciation of this era of sneaker and the market more broadly has been volatile and unsteady. It’s also worth noting that a Chris Mullin game-worn and signed pair in the same colorway is available on eBay for $9,960. They are not deadstock and Chris Mullin is not the most collectible star of all time, but he is a Hall of Famer. A purist may still prefer the unworn, clean pair, but the data point merits considering. Finally, in fractional, since the inception of the Altan Insights Fractional Sneaker Index in January of 2021, the index is down 22.5%, though it is up moderately (just above a percent) to start 2022, while 8 of 12 other asset classes are flat or down.