A first-of-its-kind cards and collectibles event last weekend signals exciting paths forward for the hobby. Here’s what Boardroom learned at The MINT Collective.
The MINT Collective just took over Las Vegas, wrapping its inaugural edition Sunday after three days of collectible action. It was many things — but don’t call it a trading card show. And as it relates to the future trajectory of collectibles and memorabilia, what happened in Vegas won’t be staying there.
Founded by IMG and Collectable and hosted at the MGM Grand from March 25-27, the event featured numerous notable figures in the sports trading card hobby engaging in thought leadership sessions on a wide range of topics that will shape the industry in the months and years to come. And Boardroom was there to take it all in.
Here’s what we learned at the first-ever MINT Collective.
The MINT Collection kicked off the weekend with a marketplace preview night featuring two discussions. The house was packed with vendors and the biggest players of the hobby all corners of the country, from Panini, Collectable, and WhatNot to Topps, zerocool, PWCC, and beyond. Showing off upcoming releases and hosting giveaways for attendees were among the recurring themes.
The two Friday night sessions focused on the landscape of LCS (local card shops), local and regional cards shows, and a case study on individuals who became or are looking to become so-called “cardboard millionaires.”
The LCS discussion touched on the challenges and opportunities facing brick and mortar card shop owners; allocations are dwindling — lingering supply chain issues don’t help — but the rise of hobby ecommerce presents intriguing paths forward, as does the use of in-house content creation to help drive sales.
Over at the “Becoming Cardboard Millionaires” session, the panelists didn’t dance around the issue: Like just about get-rich-quick story, you’ve got an awfully slim chance of reaching millionaire status strictly through trading cards, something that similarly applies to the crypto world or traditional options trading. There was a meaningful discussion, however, about the ways in which the hobby’s growth could potentially lead to more individuals building wealth in the industry over the long term.
Look at it like this: Over the last year, two to three million people sold a trading card through online marketplaces like eBay and PWCC. Once Fanatics officially takes over the licenses for the most popular sports, they have a database of over 80 million customers to market to — even if they only bring in 10% of that 80 million into the hobby as active collectors and investors, that’s still 400% growth. The money would be flowing like never before, and based on how we know markets to behave, a number of participants are going to realize serious returns.
The first full day of the MINT Collective started with a bang. The Opening Keynote moderated by Collectable CEO Ezra Levine featured NFL legend Peyton Manning of Omaha Productions, Josh Luber of Fanatics Collectibles and zerocool, Bob Means of eBay, and Brent Montgomery of Wheelhouse Sports. While the keynote was filled with laughs — Peyton reminisced about getting chased by Ray Lewis and expressed hope that his rookie record of 28 interceptions gets broken — the overall message was clear:
How do we not just make sure everyone can get a piece of the collectible hobby pie, but that the pie itself keeps getting bigger?
Luber stated that local card shops are essential to creating easier access to trading cards and collectibles; the remark came in response to an LCS owner who’s wondering if he should extend his store’s lease after his own access to supply narrowed over the past year. The other panelists concurred, and were bullish about allocations growing as companies scale in response to the demand of the past couple of years and further emerge from the worst of the pandemic.
Manning additionally spoke about the Netflix series Omaha Productions is co-producing with Ken Goldin, The Goldin Touch, and how it will contribute to more eyes on collectibles and the hobby. In a perfect world, it becomes the industry’s answer to Formula 1: Drive to Surivive.
(More on F1 in a moment.)
The rest of the day was filled with sessions and moves being made in the marketplace, notables Boardroom was able to attend included “The Power of the Art of Cards,” “Buy & Sell Smarter in 2022,” and “The Rise of the UFC.”
“The Power of the Art of Cards” session spoke to how visually-appealing cards still have a place in the hobby; it’s not just about owning the rookie card of a particular league’s best player. This panel included DJ Skee, Kevin Jairaj, Jean MacLeod, and Karvin Cheung. DJ Skee is known for his Topps Project 70 cards, Jairaj for his photography of iconic sports moments, MacLeod for her work in creating the Fleer Metal series and Precious Metal Gems inserts, and Cheung for his work in creating the Upper Deck Exquisite collection.
Each expert spoke on the special role of art in adding value not only at a monetary level, but on a sentimental level as well.
Darren Rovell of The Action Network, Geoff Wilson of Sports Card Investor, and Eric Shemtov headed the “How to Buy & Sell Smarter in 2022″ panel and spoke to how the market has changed in regards to base cards dropping in value, the rise of streaming ecommerce platforms like WhatNot, and the overall future of the sports trading card hobby.
A tense moment arose during the Q&A session when an audience member asked if Rovell or Wilson should bear responsibility for “suggesting investments” considering their influence and following within the hobby, pointing in particular to the emerging grading and authentication market for VHS tapes. The panelists stood their ground, emphasizing that they’re not financial advisors and that every investment comes with risk.
The final session of the day took place at the Hakkasan restaurant and nightclub at the MGM Grand, “The Rise of the UFC.” It was part of The MINT Collective’s “Collector’s Carnival,” a three-hour event that additionally showcased high-value cards from PWCC, a Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens memorabilia display, and a meet-and-greet with former UFC Flyweight Champion Brandon Moreno.
The panel featured Jason Howarth of Panini, Brittany O’Hagan of Dapper Labs, and Lawrence Epstein of the UFC. The discussion was around the rise of the UFC in the hobby and how Panini and Dapper Labs saw opportunities in not only the physical space, but via digital collectibles, including its UFC Strike NFT platform. After the panel, there was a live UFC Immaculate case break hosted by Jaspy Breaks and Moreno that subsequently sold via WhatNot. Basketball Hall of Famer Paul Piece made an appearance as well.
The final day of the MINT Collective was short, but did not disappoint. While others were trying to recover their losses from the casino tables, there were more “Signature Sessions” discussions to take in. We were able to attend two sessions: “Building Community, the Foundation of the Hobby” and the Closing Keynote.
The “Building Community” panelists touched on how important it is to relate to your audience and build a sincere, authentic relationships with them over time. The panel included Aaron Nowak of Slabstox, Jack Settleman of Snapback Sports, and Hanna Chang and Sam Shuford of Women of the Hobby. Each elaborated on how they built more inclusive communities and the best ways to welcome new individuals into the hobby. There was a huge emphasis on how anyone can become a member of the hobby, and that we need to be as welcoming as possible.
The weekend culminated with the Closing Keynote, which featured Fanatics Collectibles and zerocool’s Luber and Chris McGill, Kristina Thorson, and Josh Johnson of Card Ladder.
The concluding panelists spoke to what we can learn from the growing volume of hobby consumer data and what it tells us about reasonable expectations for the future.
Luber reiterated the importance of establishing and maintaining access to potential new collectors, and the strategies that informed his recent zerocool release in collaboration with Gary Vaynerchuk’s VeeFriends NFT community. He spoke about how boxes that sold via blind dutch auction north of $2,000 ended up reselling for over $15,000 on eBay and other marketplaces. McGill conjectured that the VeeFriends release was fueled in large part by Vaynerchuk’s oversized influence and name recognition, similar to how an athlete dropping 50+ points or winning a Super Bowl could affect their own market’s value.
All told, it was a spirited discussion to close a memorable show, and the MINT Collective proved to be in a class of its own when it comes to meetings of the minds in the hobby. It ultimately suggested some new and exciting directions for the industry and the way it engages with and provides insight directly to fans.
This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Card Show.
Yes, the MINT Collective shared some things in common with vendor- and marketplace-focused hobby conventions like The National and the Dallas Card Show, but it notably provided additional opportunities not typically found at such events. These opportunities included listening in on thought leadership sessions, networking with professionals in the hobby, and a chance to meet NFL legends like Emmitt Smith.
The Signature Sessions that featured the likes of Luber, Manning, and Levine delivered significant value for fans. If you were to seek out someone on the level of Peyton Manning at any other card show, he would be seated behind a table at an autograph signing and you’d wait hours in line to interact with him for a fleeting moment. At the MINT Collective, you were able to hear him speak at length on the hobby and his work with Omaha Productions in a way that felt substantive rather than simply transactional.
But of course, if you did want transactions, they were not in short supply.
The MINT Collective knew that a marketplace where attendees could trade, buy, and sell their assets is the most vital aspect of any trading card show. MINT put on a fantastic display with hundreds of vendors boasting a mixture of the hottest cards in the hobby, from Tom Brady rookies and Ja Morant Prizm parallels to the biggest names in Formula 1.
And speaking of Formula 1, there was a lot of excitement around March 27’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Collectors that were just getting into the world’s biggest racing promotion sought to by cards for the drivers they thought would win, hoping to get a value bump in the process. There was a projector screen at the marketplace carrying the Grand Prix broadcast, with countless eyes fixed on the race as Max Verstappen overtook Charles Lecler to win in the final laps.
It was a moment of hobby heartbreak for those who invested in Leclerc, but the drama only enhanced the community-driven aspect of the weekend. Most trading card shows aren’t known to show live sporting events; it served to give attendees yet another thing to get excited about.
The MINT Collective drew a range of praises from attendees. Kevin Goradia, who flew in from Austin, Texas, called it “the best show I’ve been to.”
“From the fair prices [to the] diversity in the crowd,” he continued, “this was the perfect show. I usually get anxious at big shows, but MINT did a great job of keeping things comfortable from the amount of booths to all the extra attention to detail.”
Nick Telford of Backyard Breaks, one of the most viewed if not the most viewed breakers due to their enthusiasm for big hits, gave his own glowing review:
“Loved the MINT! It wasn’t your typical show because people were way more interested in networking and connecting than making deals. This is the first show I ever remember going to without purchasing any cards myself – which was a good thing! Instead, it gave us [Backyard Breaks] an amazing opportunity to speak with individuals involved in all facets of the industry. The speakers were incredible, very insightful and it’s clear the future of the hobby is in good hands. The best part was meeting our loyal customers. You can never forget there’s a real person behind every username. Being able to connect with fans one on one to hear their feedback, ideas, and reasons why they watch was priceless. We’re more energized than ever to continue to deliver the best streams possible.”
The MINT Collective wasn’t just an event to buy and sell cards. It was an event to help foster a community that’s growing rapidly with the intent of not leaving anyone behind.
As Collectable’s Ezra Levine asked in the opening keynote: “How can we foster an open, welcoming platform to grow the pie together?”
It’s a fine question to ask. And when the MINT Collective’s second iteration rolls around, its hosts may realize they need a bigger oven.