Even if your reasons for collecting sports cards don't include trying to make a buck, there are going to be times when you look to sell off some of your cards. Thanks to the internet and all of the resources available to sellers, finding a buyer isn't too much of a problem for today's collectors. If it's collectible, chances are there's someone out there who wants it.
The real question is when is the best time to sell, and there's no broad answer that applies to all sports cards. Unless you have access to a crystal ball, you'll never know exactly when an athlete's cards are at peak demand, which also means peak prices. Sports, and thus, the sports card market, are fluid and unpredictable.
Fortunately, there are some events in an athlete's career (or life) that lend themselves to increased interest in his or her cards. You can use these milestones to help you determine if you should sell or wait for a more opportune time down the road. Just remember, these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. When in doubt, research sales of similar cards on the internet, ask your local dealer if there's one available, and above all, trust your gut.
Draft Day Hype
Believe it or not, the value of some players' cards will never be higher than they are before they lace up their shoes or skates for the first time as a professional. Players picked at the very top of their drafts - especially in basketball and football, where top picks are usually counted on to contribute immediately - often arrive with expectations that are impossible to fulfill.
With that in mind, you may want to consider moving cards of players you feel are receiving too much hype coming into the pros. This isn’t something you want to do if everyone agrees the athlete really will be the next big thing (like a LeBron James or Sidney Crosby), but in years with weak draft crops, early releases of top picks can be profitable if sold before the season starts. Pay special attention when players are drafted by teams in large media markets, as the hype and subsequent second guessing will be greater.
Football and basketball collectors can also take advantage of players who have large followings from their college days but aren’t likely to make an impact at the next level. Cards of athletes like Eric Crouch, who played quarterback at Nebraska but failed to stick in the NFL, can often find a market with college collectors when they are first released.
Cashing in On Rookie Honors
Since rookie cards are such an important part of the hobby, it stands to reason that first year players who win awards for their performances get a lot of attention from collectors. Take note of athletes who win their sport's Rookie of the Year award, as the beginning of the off-season following their rookie campaign can be a profitable time to sell their cards.
The last two decades of baseball history are full of examples of players whose card values never again saw the levels they achieved before their sophomore seasons. Players who came out of nowhere often fall into this category, but remember that you are still taking a risk when their careers are just beginning. After all, Albert Pujols surprised everyone in 2001, and his cards have definitely been worth keeping.
Titles and Trades
Championships earn the members of the winning team plenty of time in the spotlight, and the hype rubs off on their sports cards. Titles can even make hobby stars out of unlikely candidates, which was the case when the New England Patriots' run of three championships in four seasons turned into hobby love for kicker Adam Vinatieri. It goes without saying that if a kicker's cards get hot, it's probably time to sell.
Trades can also work to a potential seller's advantage, as a change of scenery for a star athlete gets a whole new group of fans excited about their cards. Alex Rodriguez's trade to the New York Yankees in 2004 is a great example of just such a situation, and the deal that sent Allen Iverson from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Denver Nuggets could turn out to be another. The honeymoon period that follows a noteworthy transaction can be a time to take advantage of the interest of collectors in a player's new hometown.
Enshrined in Bronze and Cardboard
Election into a sport's Hall of Fame is the highest honor athletes can earn, and one of the few things that occur after their playing days are over that can stir up interest in their sports cards. Induction ceremonies have increasingly become surrounded by events that cater to sports collectors, and card companies often produce new offerings to commemorate the occasion.
Savvy sellers can cash in on the swell of goodwill that new Hall of Famers experience. The best part is that the inductees are often already extremely popular with collectors, assuring that there will be buyers out there for their best cards. And the enshrinement of the buyers' heroes just might mean they are willing to pay a little bit more.
Gone but Not Forgotten
It might sound morbid, but the final time the market for a player's cards may favor the seller is when he or she passes away. This is especially true for a sport's greatest players as their deaths usually inspire plenty of career retrospectives. Imagine the interest that the passing of, say, a Michael Jordan - hopefully decades from now - will create as generations of fans reflect on his magnificent accomplishments.
Notice that this doesn't include capitalizing on untimely deaths, which is a bit ghoulish and frowned on by many collectors. But if an athlete has lived a full life and finally succumbs to natural causes, there's nothing wrong with satisfying the demand for his or her cards that is likely to arise as a result. The advent of cut signatures and other innovations has ensured that death isn't the end of the story for an athlete's card checklist, but it's quite possible it will be the last peak in their value to sellers.