Potential clubs like Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Chelsea will have to decide whether to pay the top price this summer or wait until the end of the season to get involved in one of the biggest transfer battles in recent history.
Haaland’s potential is terrifying, at the age of 20 he has already scored 20 goals in the Champions League, in just 14 games. An unfortunate injury could derail his career, his record could dry up. But if he continues this development, he will become one of the greatest players of the modern era – someone who, along with PSG’s Kylian Mbappé, can capture the imagination of football fans in the way that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo did for almost two decades.
So sports card connoisseurs were not surprised when a Bundesliga rookie card signed by Topps sold at auction in early March for $124,320.
– The Insider’s Notebook: Haaland: €180 million
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David Leiner, global head of sports and entertainment at The Topps Company, talks to ESPN about the many opportunities his job affords him. I think the euphoria I’ve seen here is similar to what we saw in basketball 20 years ago with LeBron James. I remember thinking in 2003, 2004 and 2005: Oh, my God! Those LeBron cards are worth an insane amount of money, and now you look back and say: In fact, they were cheap.
We can talk to that Haaland card in five years, and that card could be worth a million dollars. You don’t know where it will lead.
In all sports on the trading card market, records are broken almost every month. For vintage cards – mostly cards issued before 1980 – the record is $5.2 million, paid by actor Rob Gough for Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card. In terms of modern cards, an unknown buyer spent $4.6 million in February for a 1/1 card signed by NBA star Luka Doncic. But football is ahead of the established markets.
Football is our biggest growth category right now, Ken Goldin, founder of sports card auction house Goldin Auctions, tells ESPN. When I started the business in 2012, there were no people looking for football tickets. It started getting popular in 2019, even more so in 2020, and if you took Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes out of the U.S. soccer market right now, soccer would be the third most popular sport in our country, behind baseball and basketball. This is our largest and fastest growing international market.
Sports trading cards vary in rarity, desirability and condition, and with different categories and variations, it has been a confusing market to understand from the start.
If you look at the auctions of trading cards, you will see the number of letters and numbers next to the player’s name for each card. There are reputable evaluation companies, such as Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), that can assess the status of any card. If they give the card a 10, it is perfect and flawless – the best version of this card you can find. Hence the sliding scale of 1 based on everything from the condition of the card edge to fingerprints or stains.
All trading cards are initially issued in sealed bags and sold at kiosks or specialty stores. Each athlete usually has a base card – the most common in each edition – and then some players are included in the Chrome edition (just a classifier that looks like a premium metal card). Then there are the refractors (same cards but different colors) and the parallels (numbered versions) of the player cards. The fewer numbered versions there are, the rarer they are. The next step will be even rarer cards with autographs or others with pieces of game jerseys embedded in them.
But there is also Superfactor, the Mona Lisa of the sports card market. This is a special fireproof card, of which there is only one copy, and like all other cards it is placed randomly in the decks. It’s like winning the lottery.
I have no doubt that this Haaland 1-in-1 card, when drawn, will be a million-dollar card, Leiner said. You’ll see a million dollar football card in there.
Mbappe and Haaland are the new guys on the block for football collectors, while Goldin says there is a demand for rookie cards for Messi in his early years at Barcelona or Ronaldo of Sporting Lisbon (especially as fewer cards are printed). It’s hard to compare prices here between the card Haaland is selling and these two icons, as there has never been a Ronaldo or Messi autographed rookie card, but a standard 9.5-point Messi rookie card from the 2004-05 Panini edition will get you into the $100,000 region.
Haaland’s map, which sold for more than $120,000, is not exactly the Mona Lisa, but would be similar to one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works. There are only 25, and the seller has the number 1 out of 25: It is considered the most desirable. Part of the 2019 Bundesliga Topps Chrome catalog, it’s a 10-piece PSA-rated orange refractor from Haaland’s first season with Borussia Dortmund – essentially his rookie season in the Bundesliga. Even better, it was also signed by a Norwegian striker (a rarity for a hot signing).
Haaland is a scoring machine, says Aaron Novak, CEO of sports trading card site SlabStox, as reported by ESPN. He’s a great yung, one of the most valuable prospects on the market right now. I’d say Mbappe was the most coveted prospect for the last year and a half, but now Haland has risen to that level.
There are far fewer football cards than basketball cards because the market was smaller. In 2014-2019, demand was much lower than it is now, leading to such huge price increases because there were so few tickets. Some of the easiest beginner cards in Haaland cost $4,000 because there are only 450 PSA-10 quality cards in circulation. Compare that to Doncic, who has 18,000 PSA 10s. This particular Haaland card was auctioned at the right time.
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The record card was sold in early March to Goldin Auctions, one of the most prestigious auction houses for trading cards.
I was shocked when he sold it, Goldin says. I’m a traditional American sportsman and frankly, when my expedition leader brought it to me and said he was thrilled with it, I asked him who it was from. And then I quickly realized… I knew Messi, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Pelé, but I didn’t know who this [Haland] was. I assumed I didn’t know who he was and became his biggest fan and follower, looking for anything I could get my hands on that had to do with him.
Goldin remembers the auction well. The price tripled in the last 24 hours.
This is an annual pass that will be issued in 2019. This puts football on par with baseball and basketball in terms of price, demand and the importance of its superstar players. Interest in the online auction house eBay has also increased: Global trading card sales increased 142% year-on-year in 2020, with more than four million cards sold. At the same time, football cards were at their peak.
This map of Haaland plays an important role in the great history of the trading card industry and its remarkable growth in public interest. According to people in the industry, this was partly accelerated by the blockade of COVID-19 and by time spent at home digging up old hobbies. But there is also a growing demand for soccer memorabilia in the U.S. due to increased coverage of the sport on linear and direct-to-consumer (DTC) platforms, as well as the increasing prominence of U.S. and North American international players who shine in the Champions League, such as Bayern Munich’s Alfonso Davies and Borussia Dortmund’s Joe Reina.
Over the past five years or so, trading cards have experienced double-digit growth. In 2020, that growth accelerated, and we reached the numbers we expected in 2022 or 2023, Leiner said. When it comes to football collectors, this is the most obvious mystery to me. Haaland’s map is sure to arouse interest and fascination: It draws attention to the hobby and the excitement of getting one of those golden Willy Wonka tickets.
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For those dealing in memorabilia and trading cards, this places Haaland in the exploration phase. Investors are betting on its future abilities and buying coveted rarities now, hoping its value will rise as it grows. Haaland and Mbappé are the focus of scouts in the markets, but other players such as Man City’s Phil Foden, Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, Reina, Bayern Munich and Canada defender Alfonso Davies, Man United striker Mason Greenwood, Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix and Barcelona’s Ansu Fati are also in demand. With Goldin: They see [Haland] as a superstar for the next 15 years, and that’s what drives my market, the potential. You’re almost betting on the athlete’s future: Selling the Haaland card] is a very big gamble on his future.
Old familiars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi are also selling like hot cakes, so much so that buyers are buying unopened boxes of the 2002-03 Mega Crack Panini set, which originally sold for $88,000 by Goldin Auctions in Portugal, hoping to turn up Ronaldo’s debutant card. (One was sold in January for $205,000). The odds are better than the lottery, Goldin says. There are also expensive vintage cards like Pele or Maradona that sell for the price of a small watercolor by Vincent Van Gogh: one of five Pele State Mint cards, with a figure 9, from the 1958 Alifabolaget set, sold in November via Goldin Auctions for $288,000.
So the big question for those who want to enter the market or are interested in this Haaland sale is simple: When is the right time to buy and sell, and has this market reached its limits? The tide lifts all ships, Novak said, referring to the case of a Mbappe card that rose from $6,000 to $8,500 after his Champions League hat-trick against Barcelona in February. Goldin said the market is still in its infancy and advised a buyer with a $5 million budget to invest 40 percent of that in football trading cards.
ESPN’s Shaka Hislop says Erling Haaland will be comfortable in any team he ends up playing for, despite his alleged connection to Barcelona.
For Leiner and others in the industry, physical trading cards complement the demand for digital trading cards. The growth and purchase of non-displayable tokens (NFTs) in the digital space – such as the NBA Top Shot phenomenon, where fans buy authentic tokens at six-figure prices – has made digital trading cards a valuable commodity. In mid-March, the Chrome Cristiano Ronaldo digital trading card sold for $289,920 on the Sorare platform.
According to Topps’ managing director Leiner, the company is already actively investing in and developing the digital map market. We think prices will come down a little bit here, but the market will be strong, and that’s what we see as the long-term game; we will definitely be doing more NMT in the near future.
With the European competitions coming up, the World Cup next year and then the 2026 World Cup in the US, we are still in the expansion phase of that growth, Novak said. We saw it this year with Luka [Doncic] and Zion [Williamson], and that really helps drive the market. Topps will release its latest set of Bundesliga cards later this year, updated versions that could include some cards with a set of used decks. They expect the boxes on their website to sell out in three seconds.
The record-breaking Haaland card may be up for auction in the future, but for now, look for it: it’s a 2019 SuperFractor card. As long as Haaland continues this remarkable development and continues to achieve his goals, the price of his cards will increase.
Right now, especially after this sale, [Haaland’s] probably the first thing everyone is looking for, Goldin says.
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