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Sotheby’s, Fanatics team up to offer rare sports trading card auctions

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Fanatics wants to expand the sports trading card industry. Now it’s aiming to meet high-end collectors through a new partnership with Sotheby’s that will create a collection of auctions for trading cards valued at more than $100,000.

The first live auction, scheduled to be held in September in New York, will include a 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson card, which is the only true rookie card of the sports icon. The card is estimated to be sold for between $275,000 and $350,000.

Fanatics has quickly moved into the trading card space, acquiring Topps in 2022 and signing several exclusive card licensing deals across professional leagues, including the NBA, NFL and MLB. Fanatics is also launching a new collectibles marketplace later this summer that will help to connect buyers and sellers of cards and memorabilia, as well as authenticate those items.

Sotheby’s has increasingly leaned into sports, something that Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of Modern Collectables, said is one of the auction house’s fastest-growing categories.

Earlier this year, Sotheby’s had its first “Sports Week,” six live and online auctions with items from many of the biggest names in sports including a pair of Muhammad Ali’s shorts from his legendary “Thrilla in Manila” match from 1975 and a Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers jersey from Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Muhammad Ali’s trunks worn during the 1975 legendary match against Joe Frazier, ‘The Thrilla in Manila’ are on display during ‘Sports Week’ auctions at Sotheby’s in New York City on April 4, 2024. The shorts worn by Muhammad Ali in his legendary “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match are up for grabs at Sotheby’s in New York, part of a growing sports memorabilia market eyed by auction houses. 

Timothy A. Clary | Afp | Getty Images

It is also now the official game-worn source of the NBA, offering a collection of auctions and purchasable jerseys and other memorabilia from some of the league’s biggest names and events like the All-Star Game.

Wachter said that while sports items have helped bring in a new kind of client — a group that generally ranges between 20 and 40 years of age with roughly 50% new to Sotheby’s —  there are plenty of fine art collectors who also love Michael Jordan.

“Those two things may seem on opposite sides of the planet, but if you love sports, it doesn’t really matter,” Wachter said. “So many people grew up collecting cards, and now they’re later in life and they never lost that interest.”

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