Imagine you’re at a local big-box retailer bright and early to shop for some groceries, when suddenly, you come across an insanely huge line of people congregating around the toys and game section or near the front of the store.
You ask yourself, What could this line be for? Is there a new video game release? Super hot toy all the kids and parents are after? Early birds after PPE? There might be lines for those products in their own right. But those people might also be in line for a new drop of trading cards.
Trading cards are cool again, in large part because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic first started closing stores and people started working from home, a lot of people were craving sports, as there were no live sports on TV anymore and that’s such a huge part of our lives,” said William Chong, owner of Dolly’s Toys and Games in Scarborough.
“A lot of people started shifting to sports cards and they were dusting off the old binders and boxes, and started selling some of the old things online … selling items on Kijiji or eBay, realizing there was this big demand for sports cards again.”
A report published by the website Sports Collectors Daily outlines data released by eBay on trading card sales for 2020, where it showed significant increases compared to the prior year. Sales of Pokemon cards jumped 578 per cent.
In the United States, eBay trading card sales jumped 142 per cent from 2019 to 2020. In Canada, the increase is slightly larger as trading card sales on the platform jumped 149 per cent from 2019 to 2020.
“Passion for trading cards is thriving,” Nicole Colombo, eBay’s general manager of collectibles, said in a statement late last year.
Watch how trading cards became popular during the pandemic:
“Before COVID, Pokemon cards were still sitting on the shelves. A lot of people don’t even play the cards like they’re supposed to. They just collect them and resell them,” said Erwin Picardal, an avid Pokemon and occasional sports card collector from the Facebook group Canada Cardz and Collectiblez.
“Pokemon came out with these nostalgic Kanto Power boxes not too long ago. Thankfully I got one here at retail, but a lot of people are after these. I see offers and postings on eBay, Kijiji, and Facebook market all the way up to $300 dollars, and we’re talking about a $75 price at retail.”
These card groups across social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit allow members to interact virtually or arrange in-person meetups, display personal collections and conduct business. They vary in size and typically integrate members within a certain geographic location. Canada Cardz and Collectiblez, which started a few months ago, already has more than 1,000 members.
“I have to say, since the pandemic, the community has become even stronger. When you get to interact with other fellow card collectors and get to know them on a personal level; that means a lot. Especially in these difficult times, it’s an added benefit to collecting cards when you have someone to talk to,” said Shaq Khan, an active member of multiple Facebook trading card groups.
“But aside from being a shared hobby, it is almost about making ends meet and finding ways to make money when times are tough.”
Another communal aspect to these groups that intertwines with the business side of trading cards is the rise of ‘group breaks’.
Collectors in it for nostalgia
Though some are in the hobby for its enticing business and monetary benefits, there is a common theme seen in many card collectors and hobby shop owners alike – nostalgia. They enjoy that feeling of being a kid and the excitement of opening packages of cards. Many hardcore collector’s have already felt this way about trading cards prior to the pandemic, but for those returning to the hobby or taking upon it in these COVID times; the pandemic’s initial effects helped magnify the importance of embracing the little things in life for some.
“You have new kids joining the hobby… world-famous celebrities like Steve Aoki, Post Malone, Chris Brown taking on the hobby during the pandemic… life-long collector’s like myself being able to own the shop I use to visit as a child; the hobby really transcends past a simple piece of cardboard,” Chong said.
“There are so many great things that go on, aside from just pulling a cool card or valuable card. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime, and we met because we have this shared passion… you never know what to expect in the trading card world,” said Chong.