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|Investing in sports memorabilia offers the chance to own a unique piece of sporting history. The most significant items and memorabilia connected with world champions or players considered amongst the 'all-time greats' of their sport are certain to be sought-after by collectors in years to come.
Size of markets
The worldwide market for sporting memorabilia is worth billions of dollars every year, with the American market alone worth around $5 billion per annum.1
The growing number of collectors investing in the market from emerging economic superpowers such as China, India and Russia mean that the market for sports memorabilia is set to increase. Sports such as football and baseball are actively targeting these markets in the search for new audiences, and as they create a new generation of fans they also build an increasing number of collectors.
Most valuable investments
When investing in sports memorabilia, the most valuable items of sporting memorabilia are unique, historic items with a personal connection to an athlete, sporting team or event. The market is full of replica signed shirts, balls and other mass-produced merchandise which due to their numbers are rarely considered investment-grade, and according to an F.B.I report over 50% (as possibly as much as 90%) of all signed memorabilia on the American market is counterfeit.2
Whereas signed replica shirts are of little value to investors, genuine game-worn signed shirts are hugely popular on the collectors markets. If the shirt was worn during an historic game such as a World Cup final or the baseball World Series, it can be exceptionally valuable and a definite investment opportunity.
And in 2010 the Yankees shirt worn by catcher Yogi Berra during the 1956 World Series was sold for $564,930.4
The biggest market is that of baseball memorabilia; since the mid 1990s prices have risen sharply for items associated with the most famous games and players from all eras. A bat used by Babe Ruth, possibly the sport’s most celebrated player, can sell for over $1 million; his famous ‘Louisville Slugger’ bat which hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium was sold in 2004 by Sotheby’s for $1.26 million.
But the ball from Mark Mcgwire’s record-breaking 70th home run of the season in 1998 sold just one year later for $3 million.5
Although any investment in sports memorabilia should be considered long-term, there are occasions when the most historically important items can be sold for a profit fairly quickly.
Researching the markets
When investing in sports memorabilia it is always important to do some research into your chosen area. For instance, many teams or individual players have a ‘golden period’ when they are particularly successful. Others may have taken part in games considered historic, during which something particularly memorable took place. Items from these periods or games are usually the most sought-after by collectors, and are therefore worthy investments. Knowing these details and the history of the area you’re investing in means knowing what to look out for on the market.
There are a number of organisations, clubs and societies through which to research your investments. Often teams will have their own records and histories by which to check details. There are also a number of specialists in the field of sporting memorabilia who can offer advice to new collectors and first-time investors.
The other important reason for research is the wider issue of fake memorabilia; there is a large amount of fake goods on the market, and any investment-grade memorabilia needs to have a guaranteed authenticity.
Issues of authenticity
The most important factor to consider when investing in sporting memorabilia is the item’s provenance. It can be difficult to spot fake items from genuine ones, and with many counterfeiters employing elaborate techniques to produce ‘game worn’ jerseys and similar goods it is important to do some research.
The two main rules when checking provenance are that it is reasonable and verifiable: by ‘reasonable’, it means that it is reasonable that the seller would have been able to come into possession of the item they are selling. ‘Verifiable’ means that their story can be checked via a third-party source.6
There are a number of companies and experts who specialise in authenticating items of sporting merchandise; many are employed by the larger sport memorabilia auction houses, who offer guarantees on all their sales. As with all types of collectibles, the term ‘buyer beware’ should always be applied; if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. If the item is not being offered by a reputable dealer, then it should be purchased at the collector’s own risk.
Investment-grade sports memorabilia always has an exceptional provenance, with no doubt as to its authenticity. Only with this guarantee will the item appreciate in value over the years.
Where to buy investments
The most important thing to consider when investing in sports memorabilia is to buy from a recognised dealer. Provenance and authentication is key in this market, and this can usually only be guaranteed by reputable companies. If their memorabilia does not come with such a guarantee, then it is important to consider why not?
Sports memorabilia can also be purchased through auctions and internet auction sites. However, if looking for investment-grade items it is important to view them first hand before buying. Relying on a photograph or a written description can often be misleading, and it is impossible to authenticate an item (by simple details such as the material it is made out of and its general appearance) without seeing it up close.
Main article: List of sports memorabilia dealers
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