An unexpected pandemic side effect: A surge in trading card popularity

One of the unexpected effects of the pandemic? A surge in demand for trading cards.

The 2.5 inch by 3.5 inch paperboard collectibles became all the rage during the pandemic. So much so that big box stores couldn’t keep them on the shelves. Last month, Target announced it was pulling all trading cards from its store shelves after fights broke out over the collectibles.

But why? Trading cards aren’t a new, hot item.

For some, the answer was simply pandemic boredom.

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“At some point, you kind of run out of stuff on Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch,” card collector Matt Lenz said. “I was looking for something to do that was different.”

Lenz said he is one of the many collectors who found a renewed love for his old collection after pulling it out during the pandemic. The extra time at home during the pandemic has also given him the opportunity to catalog his collection. He has a spreadsheet with a photo of each card and the amount he spent to purchase.

But it’s not just nostalgia that’s pushing card collectors to continue the hobby as adults.

“Some of the demand is tied behind reallocation of dispensable income,” Ted Schwerzler, a contributor at Twins blog Twins Daily said. “For the last year, you weren't going out to restaurants or movies or things like that as often, so people were putting money into different avenues.”

baseball cards on a shelf
Some of the baseball cards in Ted Schwerzler's collection
Courtesy Ted Schwerzler

Schwerzler, who is also a card collector and seller himself, said a lot of the rush for collectors comes from the unknown — buying a box for $200 that might contain a card that’s worth $2,000 or more.

baseball cards on display
Ted Schwerzler collected baseball cards as a child and picked up the hobby again a few years ago.
Courtesy of Ted Schwerzler

Lenz agrees.

“The odds that you actually get a card that's going to be worth anything more than, you know, maybe a buck or two is pretty low,” Lenz said. “But it's that possibility that drives people back — that they could find a card that's going to be worth hundreds or thousands.

The internet is also playing a role in driving up demand for cards. For years, card collectors had to attend events to see products. Now they can scroll through collections from around the world to find their chase card, Schwerzler said.

Listen to the full conversation by using the audio player above.