eBay's 2021 "State of Trading Cards” Report Spotlights Collecting Trends and Industry Predictions

eBay News Team

eBay sees record 142% domestic trading card growth; Pokémon tops list as most popular category

Interest in trading cards is hitting new heights. After crunching the numbers for our first-ever State of Trading Cards report, we’re excited to announce a 142% surge in domestic sales — selling more than four million more sports, collectible card games and non-sport trading cards in 2020 than in the year before — illustrating just how much the enthusiasm for this category has grown and the cultural foothold the category has taken.

To kick off this year’s annual report, we enlisted sports business analyst Darren Rovell to forecast the future of the industry based on current trends. “Never have I seen trading cards show such a steep increase in popularity and value. Gross sales inbasketball cards have exploded in the past year, increasing by more than 300%. And in just the past couple of weeks, there have been cards selling for more than $500,000 in the collectible card game and sports cards industry on the marketplace.” 

Darren is a senior executive producer at The Action Network and is an avid collector of trading cards himself. He added: “Whether I’m looking for the unique, unexpected, vintage, off-the-cuff or nontraditional collectibles, eBay not only provides the breadth of what I’m looking for, but also provides me with months of sales data that allows me to gauge how much I want to pay for my next investment.”

eBay is one of the world’s top destinations for buying and selling trading cards among passionate collectors, flippers and investors looking for everything from the ultra-rare to everyday cards. The latest trends show that not only are sports cards a top pick but collectible card games like Pokémon also saw sales increase by more than 500% last year.

“Last year saw an industry-wide surge in collecting and flipping trading cards due in large part to people staying home and finding new ways to spend their time, turning to cards while there was a lack of sports on TV. In addition, new collectors are entering the trading cards space as another avenue of investment to diversify their portfolios,” said Nicole Colombo, general manager of Collectibles & Trading Cards at ‎eBay. “We anticipate that this trajectory will keep pace in 2021, and to meet this demand, we’re continuing to build on new ways to enhance the eBay experience for buyers and sellers, especially in the collectibles space.”

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2021 Industry Predictions

eBay asked Darren about the next evolution of the trading card industry. Here are his thoughts and predictions about how interest across all collectibles will continue to grow in 2021, ranging from nontraditional trading cards, sports memorabilia and video games to vintage basketball cards and more. 

Nontraditional Cards Will Continue to Rule
Cards that are a bit more off the beaten path, but make sense in terms of past popularity and low population, will continue to rule. There will be a focus on mainstream cards — like the 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer — but Entenmann’s Jordan and Interlake Jordan cards, as well as cards like the Bumblebee Tuna “The Rock” card, will continue to shine. And don’t forget the rise of collectible card games like Pokémon, which will see continued growth, especially with the franchise’s 25th anniversary later this month.

Invest in Vintage Basketball Cards
Basketball cards grew by 373% in 2020 with new stars like Luka Dončić and Zion Williamson reaching remarkable numbers, but those who took profits in ultra-modern basketball cards will seek to put their money into older, more iconic stars. As population reports are released and card grader backlogs clear, vintage ‘80s and ‘90s basketball cards will be a more obvious, rational investment.

Collecting Kobe
In the past few weeks, multiple cards have sold on eBay for over $500,000, including a 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor Kobe Bryant Rookie PSA 10 card. Investment in Kobe Bryant will level up to that of Michael Jordan and LeBron James with his upcoming Hall of Fame induction in  May. Celebrations of his birthday (Aug. 23) and Mamba Day (Aug. 24) provide annual reminders of how much he is beloved.

Sports Memorabilia Spotlight
Sports memorabilia, which took a back seat in 2020 to cards, will flourish again as unique one-of-a-kind game-used pieces will see higher prices. 

Game Tickets Will Break Records
As physical tickets disappear from virtually every event post-pandemic, a new appreciation for tickets as collectibles will emerge. Tickets to the biggest, most famous games are anticipated to break the six-figure barrier for the first time. 

Purchasing Lower Grades
Buyers will trade down on greatest cards just to be able to have them. As cards graded 8-10 become unattainable for many, expect cards graded 1-3 to have a higher growth percentage as it’s the only way to obtain the “art” despite the condition. Early 2021 has already proven this to be true. Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer PSA 1 Rookies, which saw prices up to $1,600 in November, are currently selling in the $4,000 range. 

New or seasoned collectors who want to get in on the action can head to to find that next great addition to their collection.