Changing the game: How Alt is building the infrastructure for the sports card asset class
You probably remember exactly where you were when your favorite team won the Super Bowl or when they won that huge game to take them to the playoffs.
Heck, if you were a (long-suffering) Washington Football Team fan like me, you might have even gone to WFT’s practice facility at 3 am to celebrate the Washington Football Team making the playoffs back in 2016 for the first time in years.
Few things in life elicit such emotions as watching your favorite player hit an off balance three pointer at the buzzer to win the NBA Finals or celebrate your favorite quarterback throwing a Super Bowl winning touchdown. More often than not, the memory is so intense that we can recall exactly where we were in that moment when something monumental happens with our team.
Sports betting and fantasy sports have provided people with the opportunity to express their interest in a way that can also make money.
Sports cards have been around since the early days of professional sports leagues. Collecting and trading things is as old as time. But until now, sports cards were not really an investable asset class.
High-net-worth investors could go to high-end auction houses to buy or sell top or rare cards. That market existed. And yes, there are exchange venues, like eBay, which have provided buyers and sellers of sports cards with the ability to transact online.
But unlike traditional asset classes like equities or fixed income, there was little market infrastructure built around sports cards as an asset class.
The current experience of buying and selling sports cards is fraught with issues and a poor user experience.
How do I find the accurate pricing data on a card to know if I’m paying the right price?
How do I manage my portfolio and track real-time value?
How do I know that if the card I purchase on eBay or Instagram, if a raw (ungraded) card, is of the highest quality condition?
How do I know when I will receive my card, which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, in the mail? If I’m buying on eBay or Instagram, it could be weeks or months — and it could get lost or damaged in the process of delivery.
Building the market infrastructure for sports cards
In traditional financial markets like equities or fixed income, investors know what to pay for an asset because they have market data providers like Bloomberg and S&P to understand the value of an asset based on the prices of prior trades.
Investors also have confidence that trades settle quickly, more or less, with trusted counterparties due to technology and a well-developed market infrastructure across the lifecycle of a trade. In recent months, we’ve seen a number of companies emerge to meet the growing demand in the asset class. eBay recently reported that they saw a 142% increase in domestic card sales in 2020, which meant 4 million more cards changed hands over the past year. Not to mention that we’ve witnessed more $500,000+ card sales than ever before and a number of cards selling at over $1M, most notably a Luka Doncic Auto Logoman 1/1 Rookie Card, selling for $4.6M a few weeks ago.
And there is a case to be made for sports cards to be part of an investors’ portfolio. It’s an uncorrelated asset class that has outperformed equities. PWCC’s 500 Index shows that if you’d invested in trading cards in 2008 instead of the stock market, you’d have a 175% return vs 102% with the S&P 500.
Cards are seeing a renaissance as an investable asset because of the cultural relevance and a low interest rate environment where investors are seeking yield with alternative assets. As Jeff Tracy from Axios said in his article in September 2020 about the sports card boom, the “10 year olds who used to collect [cards as a hobby] are now 40 year olds with money in their pockets and nostalgia in their hearts.”
Sports cards as investable assets are here to stay
There are two more nuanced trends that lead us to believe that sports cards as an investable asset are here to stay.
(1) The collision of culture and capital is real. Culture has become an asset class. Whether it’s sneakers, collectibles, cards, or NFTs, investors, particularly younger investors, view culture as something they want to invest into.
Sports cards represent the investment version of a sports bet. It combines the best of fantasy sports and sports betting, where people utilize their knowledge of sports and love of the game or team to make investment decisions.
(2) Fractionalization has unlocked investor access to the asset class. A card that would have been too expensive for many individuals to invest in themselves can be accessed on a fractional investment platform like Rally Rd, Otis, or Collectable.
Fractional platforms unlock liquidity for premium assets. Much like fractional investing into equities unlocked greater retail investor participation, fractional platforms will do the same for the card space.
The next evolution in market structure for the sports card space is the creation of the Coinbase equivalent for cards — that serve investors across the lifecycle of a trade.
Coinbase created the infrastructure — and the on-ramp-to the cryptoeconomy for the mainstream investor.
With Alt, who just announced their $31 million fundraise today, the card space now has that on-ramp.
When I spent time talking with Alt Founder and CEO Leore Avidar and Head of Product & Data Yang Guo, it’s clear that they had the vision, knowledge, and experience in both traditional financial markets and the card space to build the critical infrastructure for the sports card asset class.
Alt, who is on a mission to bring transparency and liquidity to the sports card asset class, enables investors to learn and discover asset values of cards, track the value, invest into, and store their card assets, is the Coinbase of the Card Economy.
Alt is the gateway for individuals and institutions to access cards as an investable asset class. Investors can research, buy/sell, and store their cards.
On-ramps, like Coinbase or Alt, have the power to unlock an asset class for investors.
In the case of sports cards, there is something even more profound here that is hidden in the power of culture and creation of community. Sports card investing combines communities of passionate, engaged fans with the ability to invest into assets that have been financialized. And there is an entirely new generation of investors, younger investors in particular, who have a different view of what an investable asset looks like.
It’s something Leore calls “interest-based investing.” Whether it’s sneakers, sports cards, collectibles, NFT, or crypto, investors want to invest into things they can identify with as their interests.
As a result of “interest-based investing,” it would not be surprising to see entirely new consumer financial services firms emerge.
For younger investors, the first relationship they may have with an investment or financial services firm could be with one of these newer culture assets, like sports cards.
This is why companies that create on-ramps to new asset classes may come to define the future of retail financial services.
Alt has the team to build a trusted financial institution in the sports card space. They combine deep knowledge of traditional financial markets and the sports card investing world with an intense passion for the hobby.
For Leore, Alt is personal. He decided to start Alt after years of being a prolific collector himself. He has invested in many top card assets over the past few years, but found the tools to price, trade, track, and store his card assets to be non-existent at worst or lacking in comparison at best to what he would have trading traditional financial assets. So, along with Yang Guo, who was a trader at Citi and the Head of Pricing Product & Data Science at Opendoor, Leore, Yang, and the Alt team are bringing much needed pricing, transparency, liquidity, and storage to the asset class.
Alt has also brought in some of the best investors in the game to build with them. Alexis Ohanian of Seven Seven Six, who was a Seed investor in Coinbase and has quite a large card collection himself (including a few Serena rookie cards!), is leading Alt’s Series A. Alexis is a leader at investing in community-led companies and the sports card space is no exception. Community is an integral part of investing into culture assets — and the next wave of FinTech companies will be defined by something inherently social: Community x Capital.
The sports card asset class has the opportunity to bring so many different types of people into the space — from fans to institutional investors to the players themselves (and a number of professional athletes have invested in Alt, including Kevin Durant, Larry Fitzgerald, Tobias Harris) — which makes this so incredibly powerful.
Sports cards as an asset class is right at the intersection of the collision of culture and finance. And it’s primed to be institutionalized.
I’m ready to be a kid in the card store again, only this time armed with the tools to invest just as I would invest into Shopify or Zoom stock. I’m excited to see Alt ready to take the mantle so that we can all invest in what we love.