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Sneaker Auctions Leave Pairs on the Shelf

Sneaker Auctions Leave Pairs on the Shelf
December 21, 2022
Dylan Dittrich

As we highlighted a few weeks ago, December was shaping up to be a massive test for the sneaker auction space. With burgeoning efforts to reach younger consumers in the category from Christie's, Heritage, and Sotheby's, the events would represent an intriguing measure of where demand sits for these assets in an auction format.

For the most part, the December events didn't pass the test.

Between the three houses, there were 245 lots up for grabs. While not all of them were deadstock sneakers - some were streetwear, game-worn, luxury, or other items - the vast majority were. Of those 245, a staggering 106 went unsold, or about 43%.

Nearly half of the lots didn't find a home.

Note: Performance vs. Estimates (throughout this analysis) is based on hammer price, rather than price with buyer's premium.

Heritage does not offer estimates, but at Christie's and Sotheby's, 80% of lots either went unsold or hammered below the low estimate, meaning only 20% performed to expectations or above. Given the volume of unsold lots, aggregate hammer ratios don't tell us much (0.45 at Christie's and 0.56 at Sotheby's).

Top Lot Performance

Disappointing for those hoping to see big numbers, results were perhaps most unimpressive for the most anticipated lots. Across houses, the top 10 lots with the highest low estimates or opening bids saw six pairs go unsold, and those that sold were either below estimates or narrowly above with premium. Among the unwanted: the Air Jordan 1 prototype at Heritage which had a $200,000 reserve, the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s at Sotheby's which had a low estimate of $150,000, and three "Friends & Family" Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s at Heritage. The lack of high-end Louis demand comes about 10 months after Sotheby's sold 200 pairs of the Air Force 1 with Pilot Case for an average of $127k. It is worth noting, though, that those pairs had a high estimate of $15,000 at that February event, so the results were quite staggering.

The Sotheby's event was the strongest overall, with a 73% sell-through, much higher than the aggregate. The aggregate hammer ratio was the strongest at 0.56, and among pairs that did actually sell, the average hammer ratio of 1.12 was also the top performance. The latter figure hints at bidding that was somewhat dynamic for select lots. 10% of lots hammered above their estimate range, which for the season, was relatively strong.

Christie's saw lower 42% sell-through, declining to 38% when you only include deadstock sneaker lots. The aggregate hammer ratio lagged at 0.45, but was slightly higher at 0.46 for sneakers only. Just two lots of 43 hammered above their estimate range.

Finally, in the first ever sneaker-specific auction at Heritage, sell-through was 46%. However, of the 20 lots with the highest opening bids or reserves, 17 went unsold, including 8 of the top 10. This meant that the aggregate hammer price was just a 0.2 ratio to the aggregate opening bid or reserve. Of the 99 lots available and the 46 that sold, 11 lots did manage to hammer for 1.5x or greater to their opening bid.

Given the growth of the sneaker resale market and the young audience it engages, the pursuit of the category makes complete, logical sense. While antiques or certain categories in art might suit older audiences, affluent youth are prone to spend differently. Auction houses are indeed seeing surging millennial involvement, but the results in December merit questioning whether the auction format is most conducive to high-end sneaker sales at present. It may not yet be most comfortable for many of these consumers who are perhaps more accustomed to a more high-end, retail-like experience, where purchases are somewhat more spontaneous and impulsive. It would be no surprise, then, to see the houses' "buy now" capabilities flourish despite auction struggles.

Of course, some auction events have fared quite well. There was the massive, aforementioned Sotheby's event featuring 200 pairs of the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 with Pilot Case. And then just last week, amidst the carnage, eBay successfully auctioned off 10 special boxes featuring hyper-limited eBay Nike Dunks. The 10 items totaled $355k in sales, with an average price of $35.5k. The most expensive pair sold for $42,800. Perhaps that format can work really well for the primary, initial release of highly limited product.

While there was much gloom around these events, though, there were also results that delivered excitement at each house. It should be noted as well, that over the course of just over a week at these three events, 37 sneakers sold for five-figure sums. That's a big number for a category still acclimating to high-end sales. Here are the standout pairs relative to expectations.

Standout Performers

Virgil Abloh Signed Nike x Off-White Presto Sneakers


$12,600 (Estimate: $7,000 - 9,000)

Photo: Christie's

As we noted in our preview, Abloh-signed items have become the subject of hot demand, as an Abloh signing is less an autograph and more a signature, aesthetic flourish for Off White sneakers. The 1.4x hammer ratio stood out significantly in a soft event. A similar pair sold at Sotheby's for $11,340.

Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1 Friends & Family Green


$37,800 (Estimate: $9,000 - $10,000)

It wasn't all bad news for Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s. This pair hammered at 3.3x the low estimate while other Friends & Family pairs in other colorways went unsold, albeit with much higher opening bids at Heritage ($90,000). A yellow pair also sold at Sotheby's for $56,400 against a $40,000 - $60,000 estimate.

Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High "Legends of Summer" Glitter


$22,800 (Estimate: $6,000 -$8,000)

This sneaker was never widely released but was made popular by Justin Timberlake on the 2013 Legends of Summer Tour with Jay-Z. Pairs only made it to friends & family of the artists. Previous results back in March of 2021 were in the mid-teens, so there's a sizable jump here.

Nike Hyperdunk Marty McFly


$11,250 (Opening Bid: $800)

This was perhaps the most eyebrow-raising result of the three events. In a size 10, this sneaker last sold on StockX for $2,500 in October 2020. In January 2019, it was less than half that at $1,200. So, the five-figure outcome here is absolutely massive. The Hyperdunk leaves many nostalgic for the late 2000s, and this colorway gives Nike MAG vibes at a lower cost, but the cost is no longer insanely low relative to the mid-five-figure 2016 MAG.

Bonus Non-Sneaker Standouts

1985 Set of Two Original Air Jordan Wristbands


$2,520 (Estimate: $300 - $500)

Original Air Jordan Garment Bag


$2,394 (Estimate: $500 -$1,000)

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