A Future in Fractional: Breaking Down the Top Sports Ticket Auction Sales on Record
While few in the fractional world are strangers to the meteoric rise in popularity for sports cards over the last year, another category has experienced a stealthier growth, drawing on many of the same tailwinds. It’s not an asset that you would pull from a pack, but instead might just be a byproduct of a sports fan being in the right place at the right time and treating the evidence of that happy circumstance with dutiful care. Yes, we’re talking about that bastion of fast-approaching obsolescence, the paper ticket; I hope you embraced your inner hoarder, because collectible tickets and ticket stubs offer collectors the valuable opportunity to own a piece of history linked to iconic moments, victories, defeats, and oddities.
Unlike the deliberate manufacturing choices for print runs of cards, ticket populations are restricted by the naturally occurring scarcity resulting from arena capacities, trips to the garbage bin, and the passage of time. Moreover, these assets aren’t conceived as collectible in nature, to be traded, graded, and preserved – rather, at least before the collecting practice and commensurate value for tickets became more apparent, it was the gravity of the event and associated sentimentality that led an attendee to clutch those keepsakes tightly.
For the right tickets in the right condition, it’s not uncommon for windfalls in 2021 to crack five figures. The criteria required to achieve those sizable windfalls will not be particularly foreign to card enthusiasts. The focus here, though, is not directly on the player necessarily, but on the moment – which, of course, can be inextricably linked to a certain iconic athlete. It’s not sufficient, though, for a ticket to correspond to a good or even great game. There has to be clear historical ramification. Was it a debut, the beginning of a wonderful journey, or a finale, the end to a memorable career? Were records broken, legacies sealed, or history made?
The momentous nature of the occasion is not enough on its own. To reach the upper echelons of ticket values, there must be a very low population and/or the ticket must be in exceedingly good, relative condition. If the population is low for an iconic game, typically those taking place many decades ago, an “Authentic” grade is more than sufficient to draw large values. Conversely, if the population is higher, approaching triple digits, having an example in superior condition as graded by PSA will make a substantial difference. PSA/DNA certified signatures similarly add to value, existing in lower relative populations than their unsigned counterparts. There are also nuances to the types of tickets for a certain game – was it printed at the box office or at a Ticketmaster location? Is it a season ticket holder’s ticket? These seemingly trivial details do matter, some versions being rarer than others.
As ticket auction prices more frequently amounted to tens of thousands of dollars in 2021, it became increasingly clear that the fractionalization of such assets was a question of when, not if. Cards have unquestionably been a boon to fractional growth over the past year, but in the future, there may not always be limitless demand for an unrelenting parade of card IPOs, and so a greater diversity of offerings to a sports-centric investor may have merit. Tickets are a particularly interesting offering in this regard, sharing many attributes with the card market while being an entity of its own, and possessing differentiated drivers of scarcity and value.
A recent update to Otis’s offering circular notes the upcoming launch of a signed ticket from Kobe Bryant’s last game. And so the exploration of the ticket space begins for the fractional world. To begin this exploration, the Altan team has examined and detailed the top sports ticket auction sales on record to date. It's time to get to know the high end of the market!
Where possible, we’ve sought to provide context on prior sales and subsequent increases in value, in an effort to illustrate the trajectory of the ticket collecting practice. What’s become clear in our research is that, versus cards and memorabilia, the high end of the ticket market is more nascent in nature, and while returns are eye-opening, the market at large has yet to catch the significant tailwinds afforded to cards. A spillover from those more populous fields into the ticket space would provide meaningful new demand and upward price pressure to the ticket space, and as such, it would come as little surprise if fractional providers offer certain ticket assets with greater regularity.
On to the top sales!
Note: We excluded baskets of tickets, including only sales of a single ticket/stub (even if accompanied by some other piece of memorabilia, assuming the other piece’s value is comparatively small).
2016 Kobe Bryant Final Game Signed Ticket (PSA/DNA Authentic)
April 13, 2016
Sold for $40,590
3/7/2021 with Goldin Auctions
Taking his final bow as an NBA player, Kobe Bryant gave the Staples Center crowd, Lakers faithful, and basketball fans worldwide one last night of magic. Bryant scored 60 points, an unnecessary reminder of the dizzying heights of his prolific, hall-of-fame career, wiping away the scourge of injury-plagued and less successful final seasons. It was a night that won’t soon be forgotten, particularly by those in attendance to witness the legend cap his career with two indelible words: “Mamba out.”
Though the sale doesn’t crack our top ten, it merits mention, as it is far and away the most recent event of any of the tickets featured (the next most recent is in 1984, 32 years earlier), and is also from the same game as the upcoming Otis offering. While there have recently been sales for PSA 5 ($17,220) and PSA 6 ($19,680) examples that make the 2016 sale of this Authentic graded ticket look lofty, it is emblematic of the exploding appetite for tickets in spring 2021 and the subsequent search for assets from the right moments. Despite the recency of the game, there are only 24 PSA/DNA certified examples of this ticket, as compared to 205 unsigned, PSA-gradedtickets.
By comparison, there are 63 PSA 10 examples of a grail Kobe card, the 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor. One of these recently sold for $295k.
Other Kobe tickets in demand include his debut game (a PSA/DNA Authentic stub recently sold for $34,440) and his 81 point game (PSA/DNA Authentic stub recently sold for $9,840).
Lou Gehrig Day Ticket (PSA Authentic)
July 4, 1939
Sold for $40,800
8/19/2019 with Heritage Auctions
This ticket will appear once again further down our list, and this, its second highest sale, just barely misses out on the top 10. During his Hall of Fame career, Lou Gehrig compiled an unfathomable list of achievements, including a Triple Crown, two MVPs, six All Star Game appearances, and six World Series Championships. When it became clear that Gehrig wasn’t physically right in the early stages of the 1939 season, he was forced to bench himself, and ultimately received the dreaded diagnosis of ALS in June of that year. The Yankees quickly organized a Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day in the wake of his retirement, scheduled between the two legs of a July 4th doubleheader with the Washington Senators.
Gehrig’s number 4 was retired during the ceremony, the first such instance of a player’s number retirement in MLB history. Gehrig was celebrated with outpourings of gratitude and awe from various parties, including teammates, politicians, and others. These presentations of gifts and praise soon made way for a speech from the man himself. In one of the most memorable and poignant speeches from an athletic figure in history, Gehrig noted that, despite his “bad break”, he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth”, a line which will echo for decades, or even centuries, to come.
Selling just under two years ago from Heritage Auctions was a PSA Authentic version of a stub from that day, showing moderate signs of wear. The sale represented a significant improvement on a $26,290 sale of a PSA Authentic stub in slightly lesser condition in February of 2015. Such an improvement would represent a 55% return, or 11% annualized over that period.
Eight tickets are known to have been slabbed by PSA, and the highest graded example, a 4 VG-EX, sold for $32,400 in February of 2020, nearly surpassed by a VG 3 just one seat over, which sold for $30,000 three months later.
Contrast the stub population with the two Gehrig cards from the 1933 Goudey set. Between the two, 1,888 cards have been slabbed.
Jackie Robinson Debut Ticket (PSA Authentic)
April 15, 1947
Sold for $40,800
2/27/2021 with Heritage Auctions
Like the prior ticket, this ticket features more than once on the list. The home opener for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in 1947 is an event which will live on in not just sports history, but world history for eons to come. On that day, Jackie Robinson, aged 28, made his official Major League Baseball debut, breaking the color barrier in the process. Despite being the subject of persistent and venomous derision, Robinson quickly came into his own on the diamond, finishing the year with a .297 batting average and earning the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year award.
Robinson would later add MVP, batting champion, World Series champion, and six-time All-Star to his resume. His number 42 was retired across all MLB teams in 1997, the first such instance in any professional sport. For his incredible achievements in challenging segregation and advancing the Civil Rights Movement, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
While Robinson made his first Dodgers appearance at Ebbets four days earlier for a pre-season game, it’s this stub that is most sought-after. This particular version is missing the entire top left-hand corner, and yet, it still surpassed a 2018 sale of a SGC authentic stub in better condition for $28,800, and the 2017 sale of a well-preserved PSA authentic stub for $20,400. The 2021 sale represents a 42% return on the 2018 sale, and a 100% return on the 2017 close, or 14% and 22% annualized returns respectively. Two PSA Authentic examples additionally sold in May and February of 2015, each for $16,730. The 2021 sale is a 16-17% annualized improvement on that figure.
There are just 6 PSA certified stubs from the debut, while Robinson’s 1948 Leaf card has a population of 1,217.
1927 World Series Game 4 Ticket (PSA VG-EX 4)
October 8, 1927
Sold for $41,825
2/23/14 with Heritage Auctions
The earliest sale on our list, back in February of 2014, is also our first full ticket (rather than stub). The 1927 World Series represented the culmination of a fearsome season near the peak of the “Murderers Row” era for the Yankees. Their record finished at an absurd 110-44, with some equally absurd underlying individual performances. Babe Ruth batted .356, with 164 RBIs and a record 60 home runs, while Lou Gehrig chipped in with a .373 average, 47 home runs, and 175 RBIs. Those are just the headliners. And worthy headliners they are, my goodness.
The Yankees swept the Pirates in four swift games, ultimately clinching the title in a walk off, as Earle Combs (.356 average as leadoff hitter) scored on a wild pitch. The victory was the first at Yankee Stadium and the second for the club.
It was noted at the time of sale for this ticket that it was only one of two known full tickets to the clinching game (it’s now three via PSA), the other being Authentic, while this was a superior example in VG-EX 4 condition. Just six months later, an SGC Authentic example sold for $8,962.50. Full ticket comps are, unsurprisingly, few and far between, and a full ticket to game 2 in VG-EX 4 condition sold for $5,040 in February 2019. Another relevant full ticket comp would be the $24,000 sale in May 2018 of an EX-5 1932 World Series Game 3 ticket (Babe calls his shot), though the PSA population of that game was 6 at the time and is now 7.
1962 Wilt Chamberlain 100 Point Game (PSA Authentic)
March 2, 1962
Sold for $44,400 (with piece of Hershey Arena Floor)
5/7/2021 with Heritage Auctions
The single most mythological event in NBA history, headlined by arguably the most mythological player in NBA history. In front of just over 4,000 fans (scarcity!) in Hershey, PA, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a 169-147 Warriors victory over the Knicks. The crazy part is that it wasn’t even that flukey. A little flukey, sure, but consider this: in the same season, benefitting from the directive of Sixers coach Frank McGuire to relentlessly feed the center, Wilt had already dropped 78 (triple overtime), 67, 65, and 61 points. His personal record for a regulation game was 73 points.
Through the first quarter against a Knicks team missing their starting center, Wilt had amassed 23 points, going 9-for-9 from the free throw line, despite that being a weakness of his game. By halftime, he had 41, impressive for sure, but not wildly out of the ordinary. The Warriors redoubled their efforts to find their 7’1 star, and he responded, scoring 28 points in the third quarter to lift his total to 69, unperturbed by New York’s efforts to triple or even quadruple team him.
The frenzy in the arena built, the crowd anticipating the generational greatness unfolding before them. With five minutes to play, Wilt took his tally to 89 points. The last few minutes became a parade of intentional fouling – the Knicks fouling anybody but Wilt, the Warriors fouling to stop the clock and get the ball back. With 46 seconds to play, Wilt scored his 99th and 100th points, finishing a lob pass to break the century mark. The performance is owed in large part to Chamberlain’s success at the stripe, where he went 28-for-32, well above his career average. If any part of the performance was flukey, it was probably that.
The example sold in May of this year was a PSA Authentic. Another PSA Authentic stub from the game sold for $10,755 in February of 2013. This sale, while not perfectly apples-to-apples due to the inclusion of an arena floor piece, represents a 313% increase, or 19% annualized. An SGC Authentic version sold for $14,340 in October 2012, a few months earlier. A raw stub sold for $12,600 in August of 2019.
Just 14 stubs from the game have been certified by PSA. Wilt’s 1961 Fleer rookie has a population of 1,273, and a PSA 9 (pop 31) sold this year for $450,000, more than 10x this stub’s sale price.
1969 Super Bowl III Yellow Variation Full Ticket (PSA EX 5)
January 12, 1969
Sold for $44,401
3/24/2018 with SCP Auctions
There isn’t a more famous and celebrated prediction in sports. Set to meet the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, the AFL representative New York Jets were an underdog, scorned by the stigma that AFL teams were broadly inferior to their NFL rivals. In fact, the Colts were favored by 18 (!) points in the game. So when twenty-five year old quarterback Joe Namath appeared at the Miami Touchdown Club three days before the game and declared. “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it,” it raised more than a few eyebrows. Whether provoked by a Colts fan or not, whether Broadway Joe was intoxicated or not, this was a hugely bold claim to make, even in 1969. If it was 2021, Get Up and First Take would combine to talk about this for four straight hours for days on end. You can hear Stephen A. Smith: “I admire Joe’s confidence, Max, I really do. I've met him, he's a cool cat, we're cool. HOWEVA, there is NO WAY that the Jets are beating the Colts on Sunday.”
Namath didn’t score a touchdown personally, but he did go 17 for 28 passing for 206 yards, earning the MVP honors in a 16-7 Jets victory. The score was 16-0 in the fourth quarter, before Colt’s backup Johnny Unitas, who was still recovering from a shoulder injury, led a garbage time touchdown drive. The game is still considered one of the biggest upsets in American sports history.
This 2018 sale of a PSA EX 5 came on the heels of a larger 2017 sale of a PSA EX-MT 6 (stay tuned). At the time, it was just one of 10 yellow variant full tickets, with only three graded higher. Today, there are 13 yellow variant full tickets, and 16 full tickets in total, compared to 158 stubs. Last May, a PSA 5 stub sold for $2,100, which provides useful context on full vs. stub and their corresponding populations.
Jackie Robinson Debut Ticket
April 15, 1947
Sold for $50,000 (included with signatures from Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Stanky, and Spider Jorgenson)
9/13/20 with Hunt Auctions
We covered the momentous day and the momentous career of Robinson earlier in our list, and it comes as no surprise to see this ticket appear at a higher rank. However, it does come with a caveat, as the stub was housed with signatures of Robinson and his teammates, as well as photographs. Still, Hunt noted the stub to display in EX-MT – NM condition, though the technical grade may be lower due to evidence of mounting on the back.
Still, as Robinson signatures on checks (as is the case with this one) typically don’t go for more than $2,000, it seems reasonable to confirm that this asset is deserving of its place on the list.
1967 Super Bowl Ticket (PSA NM-MT 8)
January 15th, 1967
Sold for $54,000
10/29/2017 with Robert Edward Auctions
The very first Super Bowl. We take it for granted – our nation’s unofficial national holiday. Eat as many different fried finger foods as you want, no judgment. Alternate wings and nachos without remorse. If a slice of pizza finds its way in the mix, so be it. Yeah, suffice it to say, 1967 wasn’t like that. In fact, the Coliseum didn’t even sell out for the game. The football, to some, was meaningless – an exhibition, but it was a rare meeting of AFL and NFL teams on the gridiron, each eager to prove their superiority. Not different conferences, but different leagues altogether. Though their merger had already been announced, it wouldn’t become official until 1970, and as mentioned in the context of the Jets upset, the widespread belief was that the upstart AFL was inferior to the NFL.
Ultimately, the Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, confirmed this notion, at least for the day, dismissing the Chiefs 35-10. Result aside, it was the beginning of a wonderful tradition, and consequently, it’s a sought-after ticket.
There are 49 PSA slabbed, full ticket examples in total, 35 of which are the same Gold variant as this sale. This example is in NM-MT 8 condition, sharing the distinction of the highest graded copy with just one other, which we’ll get better acquainted with in a moment. That other 8 also sold in May 2015 for $26,290, and this fall 2017 result represents a 35% annualized increase.
1984 Michael Jordan Debut Ticket (PSA EX 5)
October 26, 1984
Sold for $56,400
5/8/2021 with Heritage Auctions
The start of the most illustrious professional basketball career in history. The launching pad for an icon in every sense of the word. Michael Jordan was a highly anticipated prospect, a cut above most number 3 picks and college players of the year, but few could imagine what was to come when he stepped onto the floor for his NBA debut in October 1984. The performance was modest by his own standards: 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in a 109-93 win over the Bullets.
Consider this: there are 19,519 PSA slabbed Michael Jordan Fleer rookie cards. Those cards are from 1986, when Jordan’s stardom and significance was already increasingly apparent. There are just 19 slabbed Michael Jordan debut tickets. The population is literally 0.1% the size of his rookie card population; it’s even just 6% of the PSA 10 population. And yet, the record sale for Jordan’s debut ticket is $56,400, less than a tenth of the record for one of his rookie cards.
The record stub is a PSA EX 5 example, the only 5 in the population, with just one stub, a 6, graded higher. This being the case, direct comps are few and far between, but we can gain context from the trajectory of PSA Authentic stubs. For much of 2020, stubs of the same print as the PSA 5, but in Authentic grade, were range-bound in the $12-15k range. A sale in February of this year via Heritage brought in $24,000, and it’s noted that the owner would sell at 33% gain for $32,000. Cards, as we know, were not range-bound in 2020 or to start 2021, and even a doubling for the Authentic graded stub does not begin to approximate the trajectory of many sports cards during this period.
1969 Super Bowl III Yellow Variation Full Ticket (PSA EX-MT 6)
January 12, 1969
Sold for $59,098
1/21/2017 with SCP Auctions
We discussed Broadway Joe’s theatrics and the historic upset managed by the Jets, and this result is fairly jaw-dropping as well. This sale was for a PSA EX-MT 6, with only two others graded at that level and none higher. The example is very well-preserved, with excellent color and eye appeal. Another PSA 6 example sold with Heritage Auctions in November of 2014 for $15,000.84. Offers were tabled for that example later that very month at $19,501 and in May 2015 for $31,000. The $59,098 sale represents a 294% return on the November 2014 sale, or 88% annualized.
Another PSA 6 full ticket sold with Goldin Auctions in August 2019 for $28,800, which is a dramatic drop from the January 2017 level, suggesting that there may have been a temporary and unsustainable spike in demand a few years prior. Still, even then, the 2019 result represents a 15% annualized return over the 2014 sale.
A PSA 6 stub sold in May 2020 for $3,120, a $1k improvement on the previously mentioned PSA 5 stub that sold in the same auction.
1967 Super Bowl Ticket (PSA NM-MT 8)
January 15th, 1967
Sold for $66,000
2/24/2019 with Heritage Auctions
It’s clear that Super Bowl I is a grail ticket, appearing for the second time on our list. This PSA NM-MT 8 is the only other example graded this highly aside from the #7 entry. This ticket is the very same one that sold in May of 2015 for $26,290 with Heritage. That buyer would have achieved a 151% return, or 28% annualized, on this record sale. This result is also a 16% annualized improvement over the $54,000 2017 sale.
PSA VG 3 and PSA VG-EX 4 versions of this ticket are currently up for auction with Lelands, with starting bids of $5,000 and $10,000 respectively.
1923 World Series Game 6 Ticket Stub Signed by Babe Ruth (PSA/DNA 9)
October 15, 1923
Sold for $71,700
8/1/2014 with Heritage Auctions
Items like these don’t come along particularly often, which is why it sits third on our list despite being a 7-year-old sale. In 1923, Babe Ruth helped the Yankees clinch their first ever World Series Championship, his fourth, in a victory over the cross-town New York Giants. The series was the third straight “Subway Series”, with the Yankees able to avenge two prior losses. Both prior bouts took place entirely at the Polo Grounds, where the Yankees were tenants of the Giants, but 1923 marked the opening of Yankee Stadium, or “the House that Ruth Built”. Nonetheless, the clincher was decided at the Polo Grounds, with Ruth hitting a two-run homer in the first inning to set the tone. It was his third of the series.
Only 16 PSA slabbed stubs remain from the contest, and this example’s Ruth autograph received a Mint 9 grade. In that regard, it stands alone, and it is, in fact, the only PSA/DNA certified copy. It is worth noting that a 1927 World Series Game 1 ticket stub signed by Ruth, Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Lloyd Waner sold for $30,810 that year. Ruth’s signature on that specimen was described as an 8/10, and that game, of course, was not a clincher.
1982 NCAA Finals Ticket Signed by Michael Jordan (PSA/DNA 10)
March 29th, 1982
Sold for $90,000
5/8/2021 with Heritage Auctions
This was the night Michael Jordan became Michael Jordan. Until then, he was just Mike: a promising and talented freshman that was not yet the superstar he would soon become, and a sidekick to Most Outstanding Player James Worthy. Yet, when the time came to put the game away against a strong Georgetown Hoyas team headlined by Patrick Ewing, it was the freshman that rose to hit a fifteen foot baseline jumper in a one point victory.
It’s often forgotten that 15 seconds remained in the game following Jordan’s shot. Fortunately for the legend of His Airness, as Georgetown sought rebuttal, guard Fred Brown mistakenly passed the ball to a trailing Worthy, effectively sealing the outcome in UNC’s favor. Brown and the Hoyas got their title two years later, and well, we know what was to come for Jordan.
The $90,000 sale was a stub signed by Jordan himself, the signature graded a 10 and authenticated by Upper Deck. There are 36 PSA encapsulated stubs from the event and 51 slabbed full tickets. Just three stubs are PSA/DNA certified. To provide some context on the meteoric rise of these assets, a PSA 7 full ticket (blue variant) sold in a set with a semifinal ticket in May of 2015 with Heritage for $657.25. A lower-graded PSA 4 full ticket, of the slightly more rare purple variant, sold with Goldin this March for $13,200. Obviously not a perfect like-for-like comparison – it is, in fact, unfavorable given the lower grade - but even still, that equates to a 67% annualized increase. A PSA 5 gold variant full ticket sold in a set with a semi-final ticket in November of 2010 with Heritage for $384.79. Goldin sold a set of gold tickets, the final ticket a PSA Authentic stub, for $4,920 in March of this year. It’s another, even more unfavorable apples-and-oranges comparison for the recent sale, but just for context, it’s still a 13x result – a 1179% return, or 28% annualized.
1939 Lou Gehrig Day Ticket Stub Signed by Lou Gehrig(PSA/DNA Authentic)
July 4, 1939
Sold for $95,600
8/1/2014 with Heritage Auctions
We covered the crushing gravity of this moment earlier in our countdown. There are just 5 PSA encapsulated copies of this ticket, and this is not just the only known copy signed by Gehrig himself but also the only Gehrig signature definitively dated to July 4, 1939. It’s a stub without peer, for the most devastating reasons. There’s nothing left to say on this topic, so I’ll step aside to let Gehrig do the talking. Strike out ALS.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them for even one day?
Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert - also the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow - to have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow Miller Huggins - then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology - the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy.
Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something.
When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter, that's something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break - but I have an awful lot to live for.
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