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Trading cards, especially sports, see a spike during the coronavirus pandemic

As people across the nation are spending most of their time at home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many are cleaning out their closets to find some trading cards. Small business owner Richard Budnick of America’s Pastime joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss the state of the trading card industry and much more.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, you may think the stock market is on fire right now, but it's nothing compared to the sports card market. Check out this chart showing the return on investment of the S&P 500 compared to professionally-graded sports cards-- quite the gap right there, for sure. Let's dive in here with small business owner Richard Budnick, who runs the sports card shop America's Pastime. Richard, I didn't tell my team, but I'm probably going to take the day off tomorrow and rummage through my closet and try to find my Barry Bonds rookie card, because the prices here are really spiking. How do you explain what's happening?

RICHARD BUDNICK: Well, I think there's a lot to do with the fact that a lot of people are home right now and they're not working or they're working remotely from their houses. They have some time on their hands. They probably rummaged through their closets and found their rookie cards of Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter.

And this is the story we hear all the time, that these guys, they find their stuff. It gets the bug back in their heads again. And they come in. They kind of sniff around.

We have a lot of guys coming in aged 20 to 35, 40 years old that used to be collectors. And they're coming back in and rediscovering the love of the hobby.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I'd love to get your take on vintage memorabilia versus rookie cards of current players. I know that in July, there was a rookie card of LeBron James sold for $1.8 million at an auction. I think it was a modern-day record. I know you've also got a Babe Ruth card right now. Where do you see most of the interest? Is in that vintage memorabilia or the newer stuff?

RICHARD BUDNICK: It's interesting you ask that question, because the vintage memorabilia market's always been my specialty. And I've dabbed a little bit in the newer stuff. I have to have that stuff in my store, so you've got the kids come in. The vintage market has always been strong. Right now, the-- both of the card markets are on fire.

The newer stuff has really taken off. And it was probably, for me, about a 60-40, to 70-30 split in favor of the vintage sales. It's really about 80-20 now in favor of new card sales.

We're getting a lot of young guys coming in. They want to see and collect the players that they watch on TV, like LeBron James, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant very hot right now. It is starting to spill over into the baseball market as well.

The vintage market has really-- the prices have soared, especially on higher-end cards, like Mantle rookies, Mays rookies, Babe Ruth cards. I can't even come up with-- I can't even keep up with the prices. And I'm selling a lot of stuff at the wrong prices versus the market because I hadn't had a chance to raise my prices. So you're getting it both ways, which is good for me.

BRIAN SOZZI: Richard, I'm a millennial. I was collecting cards in the late '80s to early '90s. What should I be looking for as I absolutely tear apart my closet tomorrow and this weekend? What's hot?

RICHARD BUDNICK: Well, the late '80s and early '90s, there was a lot of production on those cards. The market was so hot back then that the companies just produced enough cards to feed the demand. And they overproduced. They didn't limit anything. So those cards really did not hold their value as well as some of the current cards from today, but they will--

BRIAN SOZZI: You're ruining my day off, I'm just saying.

RICHARD BUDNICK: I'm very sorry. I'm very sorry. You can come in here and probably buy a few things that are more limited if you want to. But anyway, yeah, that's what's happened.

But funny that we are getting some new collectors coming in now, seeing younger guys who want the Roger Clemens and the Barry Bonds and the guys from the '80s that they haven't collected yet. So we are seeing a spike in the '80s cards as well, but they've been a little slow up to this point, but starting to pick up a bit.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I've actually learned a lot about these professional-graded sports cards, because-- for rookies, because my two sons are all about it. They've been buying them up like crazy, telling me how much they're going to increase in value as time goes on. Why are those rookie cards in particular such a big deal for collectors?

RICHARD BUDNICK: It's always been that way in the hobby, where the rookie cards, the first cards of the players have always been the most sought-after cards. It's just the way the market is. They want the first cards of the players.

It adds to the speculation in the hobby. You get the guy's first card. You kind of bet that he's going to be a great player. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

You look at a guy like Zion Williamson, who was-- I can't remember anybody as hot as Zion Williamson coming out into the hobby. The speculation was amazing. It really drove the market in the basketball-- the basketball industry, the basketball card industry.

And he did not have the best couple of months or month when he came out. So now things have slowed down a bit for Zion. But they've really picked up for guys like LeBron James' rookies, guys that are still doing well and still in the playoffs.

As far as getting the cards graded, that's a whole other business. You have raw cards, which are ungraded cards, and graded cards. And the big key companies there are PSA in California, SGC in Florida, and Beckett Grade. And those are the three that I deal with.

The PSA has been around the longest, so they're probably the most popular and the values are probably better when you get it into a PSA holder versus the others. The only problem is now they're so saturated because the market has taken off so much. And they're so inundated with people trying to get their cards graded. You've got like a six to eight month wait just to get your cards back, unless you're willing to pay an overnight charge, a much higher charge to get those cards back quicker. And Sometimes it pays off for a guy like me, who may have a very expensive card and a customer for it, and he wants to get that card back faster so he can sell the card and make the transaction.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: How big of a role are these online sales platforms, like Facebook Marketplace and eBay, contributing to your business?

RICHARD BUDNICK: They get more and more important to me every day. I'm not much of a social media guy, at least I wasn't before. I'm 62 years old. I'm kind of set in my ways. I believe in newspaper advertising, magazine.

But I'll tell you, with all the young guys coming into my store now, they've really helped me learn about social media. I've been using Facebook, Facebook Marketplace, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to really market my business. It's not even as much to market a specific item. I let them know that there were certain items that are new that come in. And I'll put them on Facebook and Facebook Marketplace just about every day.

It's really advertising my store, my business, getting them over here, because there aren't a lot of card stores open anymore. Back in the '80s and '90s, there was almost a card court store on every corner. Now in our entire area in northern Bergen County, it's really like three main card stores, three or four.

So to get them in here, I do a little Facebook advertising. It doesn't even cost me anything unless I post the ad. And it really has helped my business tremendously.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, let's leave it there. Richard Budnick, owner of America's Pastime, have a great weekend. I'm going to write it clean on my closet, for sure. Good to see you.

RICHARD BUDNICK: Sure. We'll see you by 4 o'clock tomorrow.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, fair enough.

RICHARD BUDNICK: Have a great weekend, you guys. Thank you.

BRIAN SOZZI: Fair enough. All right.