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The Hawkeye Finds New Heights: Rare Territory for Caitlin Clark Sports Cards

The Hawkeye Finds New Heights: Rare Territory for Caitlin Clark Sports Cards
February 1, 2024
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: PWCC

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In June of 2021, with the sports card market on a meteoric rise, Goldin dropped jaws with the $34,440 sale of Mia Hamm's 1992 Sports Illustrated for Kids rookie card. The result more than doubled the prior record for a women's sports card. In mere months, it would look like a paltry sum. As collectors consumed headlines celebrating the Hamm sale, they quickly turned their attention to the historically overlooked female portion of the market.

If that market's relative anonymity was about to end, then there was one athlete who stood to benefit immensely from the rising tide: Serena Williams.

Look, we don't study hydrodynamics, but as it pertains to markets of things, a rising tide does not always lift all boats. Sometimes, it lifts only the most impressive ones. From the absurdly lengthy list of on-court achievements to cultural impact, Williams exhibits many of the same qualities collectors look for among male icons. Following that logic, collectors focused their attention on her cards to close 2021 and begin 2022.

  • August 2021 - Serena's 2003 Glossy NetPro Elite card supplanted Hamm, selling for $36,000 at PWCC.
  • November 2021 - Her 2003 NetPro International Apparel Autograph sold for a "Buy Now" price of $100,000 at Alt, becoming the first six-figure women's sports card.  
  • January 2022 - Her 1999 SI for Kids card became the first women's sports card sold for six-figures at auction, reaching $117,000 at PWCC.
  • February 2022 - The escalation continued, this time with her 2003 NetPro International Apparel Autograph selling for $163,200 at Heritage.
  • May 2022 - A slightly higher-graded version of the same card notched the still-standing record of $263,200 at Goldin

Where those cards went, no other female athlete's followed. Those most enthusiastic about the women's sports card thesis piled into Serena - and Serena alone - at the high end. When the market sputtered, there was no safety net below, no sturdy foundation of collector demand to fall back on. The market had endured a rapid and steep climb to the top of the roller coaster track, and the hellish descent was about to hurl lunch onto spectators below.  

The very same card that set the $263,200 record in May sold again for $39,600 in November, a mere six months later.

There hasn't been a sale higher than $150,000 for a women's sports card since the record sale, and there's only been one higher than $100,000 (achieved just a month after the record). There were no confirmation sales of the record level achieved in May of 2022, especially outside of Serena. The market hadn't truly reset to those heights; it had just delivered a handful of hype-induced bidding wars in a frothy moment. That Mia Hamm rookie receded to $6,300. The value of Naomi Osaka collections vanished.

The top 2023 public sale of a Serena Williams card - and any female sports card - was $26,400. Appetite for cards of other female superstars was dormant, with only Sabrina Ionescu and Coco Gauff becoming new visitors to five-figure territory (and just barely in both cases). It was a year to forget for a trend that burned so bright a year earlier, a trend that appeared to be built to unsustainable heights on a mostly rational thesis married with market hysteria.

All of that makes what happened last week at PWCC more remarkable: Caitlin Clark's 1-of-1 Superfractor Auto from 2022 Bowman University, graded PSA 10, sold for $78,000.

That's the highest result for a women's sports card since June of 2022, a price that would have more than doubled the record from mid-2021. And it comes for a college card of an athlete still in college. Those factors, however, may work in Clark's favor - some speculate that her commercial value is higher now, at Iowa in the NIL era, than it will be in the WNBA. Whether that's true or not, sports fans are near universal in this assertion: Clark is absolutely box office. Her clutch, cerebral, and confident play has universal appeal, and that appeal may be revealing itself in card markets in ways we haven't seen over the last year and a half.

While the $78k result is somewhat of an outlier, there's evidence of growing demand further down the chain. For instance, another Clark Superfractor Auto from the set sold for $13,433 on eBay last week. Meanwhile, many of her refractors can be found among the set's top results after the cascade of Wembanyama cards and the much less frequent smattering of Caleb Williams.

It was never realistic to expect the market for women's sports cards to reach parity with men's in a few months time. What is realistic is the expectation that box-office stars with broad appeal can command box-office prices. It hasn't happened in awhile, but in Caitlin Clark, the women's card market might have found a new foundational building block.

After all, Serena could use a little help.

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