Baseball cards have long been a classic American collectible hobby. For over a century, kids and adults alike have enjoyed trading, organizing, and displaying their baseball card collections. Over the past few decades, the baseball card industry has declined significantly due to a variety of factors. Seeing an opportunity to breathe new life into the hobby, WhatNot, a livestreaming shopping app, launched their baseball card marketplace in 2022. Now collectors can buy, sell, and trade cards via live auctions hosted directly on the app.

History of Baseball Cards

The first modern baseball cards were produced in the late 1880s by companies like Goodwin & Company and Old Judge tobacco brands. These cards featured simple black-and-white images of players on one side with advertising or stats on the reverse. Throughout the early 1900s, the tobacco industry kept the baseball card market alive by including them as incentives in cigarette and chewing tobacco packs. Throughout the 1920s-50s, the Golden Age of baseball cards arrived as manufacturers churned out stars like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Jackie Robinson on multicolored sheets inserted in packs.

The 1950s saw Topps secure the exclusive baseball card license, dominating the market for decades. In the late 1980s, sports card speculation exploded as investors drove up prices of rare rookie cards like a Mint Mike Trout 2009 Bowman Chrome rookie card selling today for over $900,000. By the early 1990s the overproduction of cards caused a price crash known as the “Junk Wax Era”. Combined with declining interest, the baseball card industry shrank significantly from its 1980s height.


New Strategies for the Modern Collector

With fewer kids buying packs at drugstores today, companies launched new strategies to survive. Upper Deck, Press Pass, Leaf, and Panini secured MLBPA licenses to produce modern cards. Trading apps like Blowout Cards and SeatGeek brought the hobby online. Many veteran collectors still enjoy the tradition of in-person card shops and shows to buy, sell, and meet other collectors. WhatNot has provided a new social marketplace that bridges the gap between digital and real-world collecting.

How What Not Works?

WhatNot is a livestreaming shopping platform where hosts broadcast live auctions and product listings. For baseball cards, popular collectors and dealers host shows talking about the items, taking questions from viewers. During shows, auctions are started where viewers can place proxy bids or watch live as bids are placed. Payment and shipping are handled through the app after auctions end.

The platform allows for both regularly scheduled recurring shows as well as impromptu flash auctions. Major card brands, former players, and industry experts frequently host shows to educate viewers on the hobby. WhatNot takes a small percentage of each sale as a fee to the host and company. The platform provides simple software for anyone to become a host and run their own live card sales shows.


Since launching their sports cards category in early 2022, WhatNot has seen explosive growth among collectors. Fans enjoy the social experience of these live auctions compared to traditional online sites. Being able to chat and potentially even meet the consignors hosting adds a fun element. Veterans also appreciate WhatNot providing a modern avenue to pass on their collecting knowledge.

Impact on Baseball Card Investing

Outside of just entertainment and collecting for hobby purposes, WhatNot is also changing how cards are viewed as an alternative investment. By making rare and high-grade vintage cards easily accessible to online buyers, the supply and demand has shifted. Auction results on stars like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays regularly surpass comparable recent sales at traditional auction houses.

Investors have taken note, looking to diversify assets outside stocks and real estate. Buyers perceive WhatNot auctions as a more transparent marketplace than obscure online sales history. Sellers are also reaching a much larger potential buyer pool while paying only standard fees compared to the higher costs of print catalog auction houses. Prices have risen across multiple years and subsets as interest increases.

Is WhatNot a Bubble? Only time will tell if surging demand proves sustainable long-term or a speculative bubble waiting to pop as with past sports card market peaks. Unlike the past, WhatNot has established a modern ongoing marketplace infrastructure versus temporary frenzies. As long as MLB and the hobby remain popular globally, WhatNot appears well positioned to be a vital hub for collectors and investors of all levels going forward.


The Future is Live

With sports, trading cards, collectibles, and more categories added regularly, WhatNot has built an enthusiastic community looking to connect over shared interests. While traditional card shows, shops, and auctions will always have their place, more collectors migrate online daily. For nostalgic hobbies perceived as outdated, WhatNot has proven live streaming provides new life and opportunities. As tech advance further, their platform format could evolve endlessly with augmented/virtual reality show integrations.

Whether enjoying the virtual room ambiance, live interaction or thrill of the bid, collectors can now build relationships nationwide without leaving home. By opening up access to classes of inventory previously inaccessible, WhatNot democratizes a multi-billion dollar industry. With continuous innovation and dedicated hosts/sellers, the future of collecting and investing in sports memorabilia appears brighter than ever before thanks to this pioneering platform. For baseball cards and beyond, the future is live on WhatNot.

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