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Sotheby's Invictus Part I & II: All Game-Worn is Not Equal

Sotheby's Invictus Part I & II: All Game-Worn is Not Equal
September 19, 2022
Dylan Dittrich

In case you somehow missed it, and - truly - it would be hard to, Sotheby's sold Michael Jordan's jersey from Game 1 of the 1998 NBA Finals for $10,090,000. The incredible result towers over the estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000, and spectators were awestruck to watch the bidding quickly ascend into record territory.

This is now the single most expensive piece of sports memorabilia (cards excluded as a separate category under the banner of "sports collectibles") ever sold and the first eight-figure piece of sports memorabilia, swiftly joining the first eight-figure sports card in that territory. Once again, the buying power for the most esteemed sports collectibles proved to be entering a realm previously reserved only for the finest of art.

As has been the case for much of 2022 though, the gap between the "best of the best" and the rest of the market grows wider. Grails continue to charge higher against a backdrop of more challenged market trends. The enthusiasm for the next tier of sports memorabilia is surely more robust than it was last year, but not as robust as the headlines in the highest tier might suggest.

As illustration of this reality, we applied metrics common in art auctions to the Invictus sales as Sotheby's. The Jordan jersey was not the only asset on offer Thursday, and the field was veritable: worn items from the likes of Kobe, Manning, Federer, Nadal, Ali, Prefontaine, and more. Against the auction house's estimates, though, most of those items fell short. Estimate-setting is both science and art (and often reflective of consignment negotiations), so judging performance against those estimates should be taken with a grain of salt as a judge of market health. Still, it can provide some insight.

We compare the estimates to the hammer price, rather than sold price with buyer's premium - estimate ranges issued by major auction houses are typically not inclusive of BP.

As illustrated, the majority of lots in the auction hammered below the low estimate or went entirely unsold. Just two items exceeded the high estimate. If you were to include premium, 7 of those lots would be in range, albeit at the low end.

The hammer ratio is the ratio of the hammer price to the low estimate. On average, the events produced a 1.06 hammer ratio, which would be considered healthy, but that was driven largely by stellar results for the Jordan jersey and Rafael Nadal's sneakers from the US Open. 11 of 14 lots delivered a hammer ratio below 1.

Again, examining performance versus estimates is a highly imperfect way to judge market health. Still, these results do tell us that the memorabilia appetite isn't so broad and so ravenous that it'll engage at any level, even when guided by estimates. With the result achieved for the marquee item, though, it's difficult to call the event anything but a success.

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