Growing up in Fargo, N.D., Matt Strahm collected trading cards of Minnesota Twins greats Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter as well as North Dakota legend Darin Erstad.
It wasn’t until after the 2018 Major League Baseball season that Strahm, who is a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, started opening hobby boxes with his brother.
“He brought one of those Mega Boxes (Topps Chrome Update) home from Target, and that’s all it took,” Strahm said. “I felt 12 years old again. I’ve been opening cards probably every three days since.”
Strahm never imagined his love for collecting would turn into a side job.
With his passion for cards, Strahm was chosen as the host of the new broadcast television show “The Card Life,” which will run on Sinclair Regional Sports Networks (mostly consisting of Bally Sports stations) around the country. The first episode will air June 24.
“The Card Life” producer/director Brandon Verzal reached out to Strahm in February on Twitter to ask him if he was interested in hosting the show.
“It was literally, ‘Hey, do you want to get paid to travel around the country and look at cards?’” Strahm said. “Who wouldn’t want that?”
“The Card Life” is the brainchild of Verzal, who has produced and directed similar television shows in the past for regional sports networks. Verzal, the co-founder of V2 Content with his wife, Tiffany, concocted the idea for the show about two years ago. He waited until the optimal time to pitch it to executives at Sinclair Regional Sports Networks.
“I felt like there was momentum even before the pandemic in the hobby,” said Verzal, a longtime collector who got back into the hobby in 2010 after some time away. “I felt like it was coming back, so I thought that [the show] could happen. But I didn’t think I could go to Sinclair at that time and say, ‘Let’s do a sports cards show.’ It just wasn’t mainstream enough. There wasn’t enough buzz about it for the high-ups to think that it’s even possible to do a show about sports cards.
“When that buzz happened, especially at the beginning of this year — I think it was in February when I first pitched it to them — and there were enough stories nationally that they knew what was happening in the hobby and it was literally a response in two minutes saying, ‘Yes. Let’s do it. That’s a great idea.’”
And so, card collecting is going to get air time on the national stage. That speaks volumes to the impact of the card industry right now.
“It’s understanding that the investment is worth it,” said Eric Doty, the CEO of Loupe, the premier sponsor for the show. “If the hobby is going to grow, it needs to be on a national scale and it needs to be talked about on bigger platforms. We’re excited to do that. The market is obviously in a place right now where there’s so much interest that there’s an audience now. If you had done this five years ago, I don’t think the reception would have been as big as it is right now.”
Verzal’s vision for “The Card Life” is to bring alive great stories in the hobby. It will feature interviews with unique collectors, stories on interesting card shops around the country, and serve as an educational piece for the industry. Verzal wants to keep the show positive and lighthearted, which means topics such as using cards as an alternative asset and the retail fiasco with Target and Walmart aren’t on the priority list.
“What we really connected with them on is that they’re trying to bring something positive to the hobby and focus on others — what are others doing to bring change and growth to the hobby,” said Doty, whose Loupe app allows collectors to take part in breaks, buy products and connect with fellow collectors. “That message really resonated with us, because we’re all about that.”
What does Strahm hope viewers take away after viewing each episode?
“I just hope they fall more in love with the hobby,” Strahm said. “Obviously, on my YouTube channel, people are watching me there that are already in the hobby and like the hobby. Bally’s Sports does a great job of, after a game, they might intrigue you to stay around and watch. Just expand the hobby, and that’s kind of what I want to do.”
TAKING THE SHOW ON THE ROAD
Verzal, who shoots and edits all the show’s material, is currently traveling around the country taping content for episodes. Generally, every episode of “The Card Life” will be themed around a city or state.
“We’re going to try and find cool stories in each city,” Verzal said. “For sure we’re going to have Matt visit a local card shop, because I think that’s just a big part of the hobby. We’re going to have Matt break cards — he has a YouTube channel called Strahm’s Stadium Pulls — and he’s been breaking packs for almost two years on that channel, so we’re going to kind of carry that into the show.”
Once Strahm — who is currently on the injured reserve list and rehabbing his right knee — is back with the Padres and traveling for road series, Verzal will be meeting up with him.
“It’s just a combination of telling those sports card stories and also Matt, who’s extremely passionate about the hobby and he’s solely a hobby guy,” Verzal said. “He said to me from Day 1, ‘I’m not a flipper. I’ve never sold a card in my entire life. It’s all about collecting. It’s all about the hobby.’
“It’s great seeing that through his eyes. He’s experiencing these things and you’re seeing that cool side of it, not necessarily the investment side. We’ll talk about that because it’s relevant, but it’s much more hobby focused then buy this card, wait 60 days and then flip it and sell it for more.”
In mid-May, Verzal met Strahm in Arizona to record the first episode of “The Card Life.”
In that premier episode, Strahm hangs out at AZ Sports Cards in Phoenix. He opens packs and shuffles through some collections where rare cards are discovered. Without giving away too many of the show’s secrets, it is a nice batch of blackless cards from 1990 Topps baseball. A Frank Thomas card with no name on the front is the most famous of the blackless cards, but there are others that had the printing error.
“That was really cool,” Strahm said. “It gave me chills going through cards that weren’t even mine.”
Said Verzal: “We were thinking about that era of our audience and there’s a lot of people that collected in the ’80s and early ’90s and you’re told that it’s junk wax, it’s junk wax, it’s junk wax. We want people to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I collected. I’m going to go back and go through my 1990 Topps, because maybe I have one of these blackless cards.’ People that have been told that their collection is junk are going to learn about something on this show that will make them go back and say, ‘Hey, maybe I do have something of value back in there.”
Strahm had a great time hosting his first episode. He can’t wait for fellow collectors to check it out.
“You’re going to get to see some really cool cards,” Strahm said. “I think at one point I had like two cards in my hand that were worth combined like $80,000. You’re going to get an unbelievable look into some of the amazing cards that these guys have that we come across.”
The first week in June, Verzal was in Wisconsin shooting a break with Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon for the Loupe app. Verzal also tracked down a couple of unique card collectors in the Badger State.
“We were shooting with the One Million Cubs guys, who’s trying to collect one million Cubs cards with a guy named Rippin’ One Handed, who was born with only one hand and has a YouTube channel,” Verzal said. “He is not only into collecting, but he’s written a book about his experience and speaks to schools.
“That’s not tied to sports cards, but it’s a really cool story [about] somebody that’s in the hobby [and] also has a speaking engagement where he’s teaching about how people with differences are cool, and that’s awesome that we all have differences. There’s stories in just all aspects and some of them are directly about the hobby and some of them are kind of an offshoot.”
Speaking of education, one big component of the show is to offer Collecting 101 advice.
“People that don’t realize that now there aren’t just three cards and the same set is the same 720 cards of every player — there’s parallel cards, there’s numbered cards. It’s totally different,” Verzal said. “So, we’re going to educate what parallel cards are, what a break is. People that have no idea how you get in a break and how that works. We’re going to do that education piece on the show so that people aren’t overwhelmed right away.
“I even was when I first came back. I was so confused. I’ll go back to cards I bought in 2010 and I had no idea I was pulling parallel cards, because I didn’t know what they were.”
In future “The Card Life” episodes, Verzal will be shooting with Strahm in San Diego and they will visit Loupe headquarters in Miami. The sports cards app just launched last year.
Beyond those first three to four episodes, the show is quite fluid. Verzal is constantly figuring out storylines and tracking down content.
“Just digging and finding out what’s good,” Verzal said. “A lot of it’s talking to people, too. The hobby’s so good communication-wise on Twitter and stuff that it’s pretty easy to reach out to somebody that’s in that area and say, ‘Hey, do you know any good stories in that area?’ That’s really what it’s been so far.”
If anyone has any ideas, they can email Verzal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone associated with the show has heard nothing but positive feedback from collectors and dealers and those outside of the hobby.
“The people that are entrenched in the hobby think it’s a really cool idea,” Verzal said. “I think the biggest thing we also hear is they think that it will bring more people into the hobby. I think there are people that have heard those stories and know there’s kind of a buzz behind collecting, but still haven’t gone downstairs and upped up their collection from 20 or 30 years ago to go through it again.”
“A couple teammates saw what I was doing and said it looked pretty cool,” Strahm said. “Every day it seems like I’m getting more and more questions at the clubhouse about cards. It’s already pulling more people towards the hobby.”
KEY TO A GREAT HOST
When Verzal reached out to Strahm to ask him if he’d like to host “The Card Life,” Strahm wasn’t going to pass up a great opportunity.
The 29-year-old relief pitcher has a passion for cards, and that really shines through when he’s discussing the hobby.
“It was just the perfect fit,” Verzal said. “He has just a perfect personality. And he loves cards and he gets excited about cards. It’s not the hunt to find a card that’s worth $6,000. He talks about it on the first show; I have a segment in the beginning just talking about his love for the hobby.
“He talks about one when he pulled a Pete Alonso Superfractor; you can literally see his hands shaking when he pulls it on his YouTube channel. And you’re like, this is a guy that he’s got to go out and strike out [batters] in a little bit, but it means so much to him that he pulled this really cool card that he’s shaking on camera. He bought a ‘Slam Diego’ card when they hit the grand slams in four consecutive games and got his teammates to sign that card.”
Doty, who runs Loupe, said it was important to get a host for the show who has interest in the hobby. Lining up an MLB player as a host is much more impactful than a career TV host who doesn’t know the first thing about collecting.
“To be able to give someone like him, who’s an authentic collector and fan and gets really excited about even the smallest of things in the hobby, it’s great and organic,” Doty said. “It would not have worked as well if we had just brought in a general host who didn’t know anything about cards. If you’re in the hobby, you can tell right away when somebody’s faking it. Matt definitely is not.”
When Strahm is hosting, he wants to show that passion he has for cards. That’s a big thing for him.
“Each card tells a story, and I think that’s what’s so cool,” Strahm said. “I know a lot of people now are getting wrapped up in the value of all these cards, but to me, the story of the card is what really matters to me.
“I enjoy collecting my teammates and guys I’ve played with more so than all the rookies in all the sets. Although, I do collect rookie cards — try to get at least a rookie card of everyone that year.”
READY TO DEBUT
Sinclair Regional Sports Networks, which has a distribution network of 82 million homes, signed on for 12 episodes for the first season of “The Card Life.” It will be a traditional 22-minute show.
According to Verzal, the regional stations will air the show whenever and how many times they like, depending on their programming schedule. New episodes will air once a month. Episodes where a certain city or state are featured might get more air time on reruns in those areas.
Verzal isn’t quite sure what to expect for viewership of the show. However, when he produced the show “Power of Sports,” which aired on FOX Sports, it averaged 10,000-12,000 viewers nationwide per airing. Over the span of one year, that equates to nine to 10 million viewers.
“If we ended up in that area, I think that’s fantastic,” Verzal said.
Verzal believes most regional stations will air “The Card Life” after a Major League Baseball game and postgame show.
“Whether they watch it on broadcast or clips online later, I think it’s going to drive a lot of interest,” Doty said. “It’s rare to see the amount of effort and traditional TV broadcast quality put toward this hobby. You look at a lot of the video content today and its internet quality — it’s for quick consumption. What you see on broadcast television is very different, it’s much more polished. The fact that they’re doing on location for every episode is huge. Going to where the hobby is definitely an advantage of the show.”
Verzal doesn’t think “The Card Life” would have been picked up by Sinclair if it wasn’t for the pandemic and the card industry shooting into overdrive. The hobby is still hot — even though it is starting to have its ups and downs in certain areas. Those involved with “The Card Life” believe it’s a sustainable show that has a good shot at lasting for longer than one season.
“I think this is something very different and if you align it against sports content, I think there’s a lot of people who are currently in the hobby that are going to be super interested in something at this caliber and audience size,” Doty said. “But, also, you’re going to get a lot of people who are watching baseball games and they haven’t collected since the ’80s or ’90s and they’re going to be interested in that nostalgia of seeing these card shops and it might even get them back into the hobby.”
Verzal said: “Everybody’s talking about the dip in the card market right now, but for us, that doesn’t really affect anything with our show. It’s just about promoting the hobby side of it. And if we are able to bring people back to the hobby, I think it’s just going to make it more healthy and sustainable. I think even for the hobby as a whole, it’s healthy for a show that’s televised nationally for the first time ever. It just brings attention to what’s happening.”