The Women’s World Cup is officially underway, and as our US Women’s National Team attempts to secure its third consecutive title, we thought it would be a fitting time to explore the state of the market for USWNT collectibles and memorabilia.
We come into this year’s World Cup on the back of a rising wave of popularity for the women’s game at home and abroad. 2022’s NWSL title game averaged 915,000 viewers on CBS, a 71% increase from the prior year. Halfway through the 2023 season, attendance was up 48%, while CBS viewership was up 21%. Across the pond, attendance for the Women’s Champions League is surging. From the round of 16 onward, the average attendance has more than doubled since the 2018-19 campaign. Along the way, Barcelona set a world record for the highest attended women’s football match, with 91,648 fans in attendance for the 2022 semi-final against Wolfsburg.
The 2023 World Cup is just a few matches old, and already the figures are impressing. The first match of the tournament set a record for the largest ever crowd at a soccer game - men’s or women’s - in New Zealand, with 42,137 fans in attendance. The prior record was just over 37,000, while the prior record for a women’s match was 16,162. At the second match of the tournament, 75,784 fans watched Australia play and beat Ireland in Sydney, smashing the previous record of 50,629.
Put simply: there is a clear rising tide in fan interest in women’s soccer.
What has that meant for the market for women’s soccer collectibles, particularly for the USWNT?
Because of the mercurial nature of the market over the last few years, the answer is it’s complicated. At the height of the market in 2021, the women’s sports thesis perhaps got a little ahead of itself, producing some speculative results that would not soon be replicated. Most notably: Goldin sold a Mia Hamm Sports Illustrated for Kids card graded PSA 10 for $34,440 in June 2021. At the time, that was a record for any women’s sports card, though it was quickly displaced. Fascinatingly, that tied the record for any women’s lot at Goldin, as Michelle Akers’ 1996 Olympic Gold Medal sold for the same price two years prior (we’ll come back to Akers).
In May of this year, another PSA 10 Hamm rookie sold for $6,300.
Outside of Hamm, USWNT players - former and active - haven’t really taken to quitethe same territory. The active player conversation really begins and ends with Alex Morgan, who boasts over 10 million Instagram followers, more than any player on the men’s team, and currently sits 5th on the all-time USWNT scoring list. The high watermark for a Morgan card is $16,000, paid on eBay for a Platinum 1/1 2018 Panini Immaculate Dual Patch Auto. That was the most expensive female sports card before being surpassed by Hamm and then Serena multiple times over. More recently, someone paid $8,650 for a 2020 Goodwin’s Champions ‘03 Exquisite Patch Auto around this time last year on PWCC. Somewhat similarly, another 2018 Immaculate Dual Patch Auto sold for $6,000 last June.
As in other pockets of the market, some of Morgan’s base rookies in high grades have effectively halved or worse since 2021. Still, she’s the most consistent four-figure threat in the bunch.
Some of the younger players are beginning to command significant prices though. Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, and Mallory Swanson (despite her injury) have all seen cards sell for in excess of $1,000 in recent weeks on eBay. In fact, Rodman’s NWSL 2021 Rookie of the Year Auto recently sold for $4,000, and other cards of hers of lower value have been modestly increasing in price in the lead-up to the World Cup. For example, her 2021 Parkside NWSL Blue Auto card (ungraded) sold for $1,000 in April of 2022 but more recently fetched $1,400. Smith’s Promising Prospects card from the 2020 Parkside NWSL set was a $1,900 card in early 2023, but sold for over $2,000, graded or not, multiple times in recent months. Keep in mind this is in the context of a broadly sliding sports card market.
The available selection for these rising stars is perhaps limited or not that appealing in terms of name brand sets, but it’s clear that there is movement to identify the next generation of potential collectible darlings and build a collection.
Outside of cards, activity in game-worn is even more sparse. In fact, it’s near non-existent. Michelle Akers’ photo-matched uniform from the 1996 Olympic Final remains the highest game-worn women’s soccer sale at Goldin, selling for $10,455 in 2019. Given the number of iconic moments in USWNT history, as well as the recent game-worn fervor, it seems from the dearth of high-value sales that relevant, coveted material simply isn’t in circulation.
There is some evidence of a starved appetite. Back in October, an Alex Morgan-worn jersey from a regular season match in which she scored a late winner sold for €8,880 on AC Momento. That was the highest result recorded on the platform at the time, and while not otherworldly, given it wasn’t an incredibly high-profile match, it’s demonstrative of demand that isn’t met by supply.
While the USWNT has auctioned some jerseys in the past, it generally hasn’t been widely-publicized, and it certainly hasn’t come during the recent boom. There haven’t been notable jerseys at sports auction houses of repute, and perhaps those aren’t the places to host such auctions if you want to draw in new collectors from the USWNT fanbase, but data points are few and far between nonetheless.
There have been limited appearances of non-USWNT jerseys at auction. Alexia Putellas has won just about every individual honor and club trophy available to a female player in Europe. With Barcelona, the Spanish midfielder has won the domestic league seven times and the Champions League twice. Individually, she captured the Ballon D’Or Feminin, the Best FIFA Women’s Player, and the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award in consecutive years, something that no woman has ever done. Though she’s been injured of late, during that 2020-2022 stretch, she was considered the best player on earth.
Over the last year, several of her game-worn jerseys have come to auction at Goldin, all signed but not photo-matched, and none from key Barcelona or Spain games. The most expensive sold for $1,740 in March of this year, from a Spain match in which Putellas scored against Germany in a largely inconsequential tournament. As noted earlier, Barcelona set the world record for women’s game attendance, so it’s fair to say that the right Barca jersey, highly visible at auction to that audience, would likely fare better.
Overall, it’s clear that while there is demonstrable growth in fanhood, the collectible market for women’s sports has not matured materially in recent years, and is mostly rediscovering itself after confusing boom and bust years in 2021 and 2022. 2021 seems to have been more of a speculative false dawn than a broad, secular shift, with the exception of the very top athletes. The wait for the entry of those highly-engaged fanbases goes on, as does the wait for a higher quality of asset. Given the surge in game-worn interest, the Federation, FIFA, or the players themselves would be wise to develop a strategy to secure game-worn material for a visible offering to their most dedicated audience.
It’s that audience that will ultimately propel the category forward, not the reshuffling of existing collector funds.
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