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Will Fanatics Become the Amazon of the Hobby?

The launch of Fanatics’ FanAuctions collectible auction platform marks another key step toward revolutionizing the trading cards and collectibles hobby — and taking it over.

After completing something close to a clean sweep of all major sports licenses in the trading card space this year, Fanatics isn’t slowing down heading into 2022. The apparel and memorabilia giant is already a power in sports collectibles through its website at fixed prices, but now it has an auction platform to go with it.

The auction platform is known as FanAuctions, which functions similarly to other auction platforms, but is solely focused on sports memorabilia and trading cards. One of the first auctions was for a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card graded in PSA 10 gem mint condition that went for a whopping $300,000.

(According to Sports Card Investor, that same card has sold between $288,000 and $369,000 since August.)

Another key difference built into the FanAuctions platform? In every auction, Fanatics itself is the seller. It’s a major step in Michael Rubin and Co.’s ambitious campaign to grow the company in all directions — stay tuned for sports betting — and further proof that they’re not just doing this thing halfway.

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What’s Next for Fanatics?

All told, this is an intriguing development for the hobby. After obtaining exclusive trading card contracts for the MLB, NBA, and NFL that will go into effect in the coming years, Fanatics could absolutely become the Amazon of the cards and collectibles world.

But if that is truly the desired end result, there are a couple of routes Fanatics can and should consider taking.

Grading

Collectors Universe’s PSA, Beckett’s BGS, and relative newcomer SGC are the big players in the grading space, but a few smaller upstarts have perceived room to burst onto the scene amid both the hobby’s resurgence and PSA and BGS’ heavily backlogged services. Fanatics’ trading card operation has a valuation of upwards of $10 billion; they could acquire one of the smaller names out there to jumpstart a grading business of their own.

Alternatively, they could begin one from scratch and do it bigger than anyone’s ever done it.

If Fanatics provided grading services in-house, a collector could purchase boxes directly from Fanatics, break them, and submit them into grading through a single apparatus.

Or even more conveniently, this manner of vertical integration wouldn’t actually require the consumer to hold a card in their hand at all before it goes in for expert evaluation. A full suite of services under one roof that saves time and conceivably saves money as well.

The appeal to collectors is easy to conceive of. Why wouldn’t you want your cards graded by their manufacturer if such a service was available? Fanatics would know right away what a “perfect” edition of their own card looks like; there would be no need to depend on a third-party company’s individual grader (who could perhaps be having a bad day) giving you an 8 when it deserves no less than a 9.

Live-streaming Rip-and-rate

One app currently carving out a unique place in the hobby is WhatNot, a live-streaming auction platform where collectors can bid on packs, singles, and a wide range of collectibles and rare gadgets. When it comes to packs, the winning bid can choose to have the streamer rip the pack live on the stream.

Fanatics already streams various types of live breaks on YouTube. Why not take things a step further and let more consumers get into the game?

Fanatics could be the only place on earth where collectors would need to go to purchase packs, open them live, have them graded immediately, and even auction them right away through FanAuctions. For collectors and investors who hit valuable cards with no intention of stashing them in their personal collections for the long haul, this possibility presents an enticing level of convenience.

As we move into a new age of collecting, now is the time for Fanatics to stake its claim.

The company has already done an absolute ton in 2021, but there are more forks in the road ahead. And depending on how it chooses to act, the reverberations across the hobby will be powerful.

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