ROSEMONT, Ill. — Karina Alekseev proudly held up a 1953 Topps PSA 6 Mickey Mantle.
The 12-year-old just had her dad, Victor, purchase the five-figure card for her collection on the fourth day of the National Sports Collectors Convention.
“It is pretty cool,” Karina said.
Did she pick out this big purchase on her own?
“I had help from Dad,” Karina said. “But I picked out some of the Bowman Draft cards.”
Karina and her 9-year-old sister, Victoria, were walking the robust showroom floor with their dad in search of vintage cards, but also some modern packs. Victor brought his daughters to northeastern Illinois from Denver to experience the scene at the second largest show of all time.
“I bring my girls here because they are very interested in sports cards,” Victor said. “Just try to take them here, so they can learn the hobby a little better, so they can kind of continue with the hobby, with the tradition.”
The girls are really into sports card collecting, following the passion from their father.
“This is a great hobby for both boys and girls,” Victor said. “For the younger generation, it’s good that they continue the hobby, that they’re actually carrying those traditions. Collecting has really been going on since the late 1800s, early 1900s; it’s interesting that for over a century the hobby has been strong. Obviously, there’s been some dips, downfalls over time. But it still comes back strong and it’s nice to see that the young generation always just wants to continue that tradition in the hobby.”
The Alekseevs were just one of many father-daughter and father-son combinations walking around at The National. To many, it was a sight for sore eyes.
If the activity at the show is reflective of how many young people are collecting cards and memorabilia, the hobby seems to be in healthy shape for the future.
“What is really amazing about the show [is] if I go to the 2018 National and today’s, the average age has been reduced between 15 to 20 years per person, which means a lot of new people coming into the hobby,” said Goldin Auctions founder and chairman Ken Goldin.
Dealers and corporate sponsors at this year’s National were very cognizant of the fact that young collectors are the next wave in the industry. Without a youth movement, the hobby could slowly die away.
“I got into [collecting] as a 6-year-old. A lot of people got into it as kids,” Robert Edwards Auction President Brian Dwyer said. “To see these young people and their excitement and how active they are on social media and box breaking and YouTube channels, it’s very special. It really means they are very passionate about it.”
Mark Kula brought his two sons, Andrew and Malk, to the show.
“I’m trying to break these guys into the hobby a little bit better,” said Mark, who has been collecting for 40-plus years.
Andrew, 16, was attending his second National with his dad. The two came to the 2017 show in Rosemont, which is just a couple hours down the road from their home in Joliet, Ill.
Mark was sharing his wealth about cards and Andrew was trying to teach his 7-year-old brother a few tricks of the trade as well.
“Him teaching me about all the vintage stuff and these guys paved the way,” Andrew said. “All the great players now are because of what they did. It’s really cool getting to have the experience with my brother and my dad and usually getting to do this every year. It’s a pretty cool experience.”
While the two older Kulas are into collecting vintage cards, young Malk enjoys modern players such as Javier Baez.
Malk was happy walking around looking at cards.
“Spending time with dad and open some packs,” he said.
Fitz Suey and his 12-year-old son, Mason, attended The National primarily to obtain autographs of wrestling legends Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. But Dad also wanted to check out dealer booths to bring back the nostalgia of his youth.
“I had tons of cards growing up and it’s actually priced out for him being able to do it anymore,” Fitz said. “It’s overwhelming. Too many cards. We’re more into the autograph part of it.”
But Mason has become interested in his dad’s old card collection. He’s heard stories about how good players were back when his dad was growing up.
Fitz has always nudged Mason to consider getting into the hobby.
“I loved it growing up as a kid and I had good memories,” Fitz said. “I’ve still got all my cards. Him looking at them, I showed him what I had. I’d tell him about the old players I’d watch. He’d watch videos of old players that none of the other kids his age has any clue who they are.”
Fitz knows the importance of getting the younger generation into collecting and hopefully staying in it.
“I think it’s really important to keep them off of computers and get them out doing things,” Fitz said. “I’ve always liked collecting things, so it’s just something I kind of wanted to pass onto him if he was interested, and he seems to be. He seems to like it.”
A YOUNG CARD COLLECTING CELEBRITY
As he walked around the showroom floor at The National, it didn’t take long for Brody The Kid to get recognized by some of his fans.
The 13-year-old signed some autographs and took pics with collectors both young and old.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “The National was just so crazy this year.”
Brody has become a hobby celebrity over the past couple years. He has quite the following on Twitter (@BrodyTk) with over 2,100 followers and on Instagram (brodythekid1) with over 1,400 followers. Brody conducts The Daily Riiip and is also the host of the Hobby Life Show, which airs online every two weeks.
Brody’s mission with being the face of the younger generation in card collecting is to get more kids into the hobby.
“When I first started collecting, none of my friends really collected, so I had no one to trade with or anything like that,” Brody said. “We kind of just moved from there. Then our goal was to get more kids in this hobby, because, we all know that eventually the adults aren’t going to be here anymore, so we need the kids to take their place.”
Brody, who has been collecting since he was 5 years old, was encouraged with what he saw at The National with all the fathers and sons and daughters in attendance.
“That’s awesome,” Brody said. “That’s just kind of how it was for me when I started before I built my brand. It was me and my dad collecting and opening packs. We still do that; we rip packs together.”
Brody, who lives in Illinois, holds The Daily Riiip usually around 5-6 p.m. It can be watched live or is recorded and posted on his social media pages.
Brody is a big Chicago White Sox fan and also a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bulls and Las Vegas Raiders. His favorite player to collect is Toronto Blue Jays phenom Bo Bichette.
Brody The Kid has a little collecting advice for youngsters in the hobby.
“Just collect what you collect — it doesn’t matter what other people think,” he said. “Just love what you love and keep doing it.”
PANINI CATERING TO KIDS
Panini has devised a plan to get kids interested in the hobby. At The National, it introduced the Kid’s Crate, a program that offers young collectors a more affordable collecting option.
With packs and boxes becoming more and more out of reach for young collectors, either because of the price or availability when adults clear the shelves at big-box retailers, Panini now offers a solution.
“Kid’s Crate Series 1 will do exactly that with a cereal box of 2020-21 Prizm Premier League Soccer, a blaster box of 2021 Contenders Draft Picks Football and a hanger box of 2020 Chronicles Football,” Panini said in a press release. Also included in each Kid’s Crate is a goodie bag of items.
The product went live at The National and was scheduled to be available nationwide in August.
Getting kids into the hobby because they are the future is extremely important to Panini.
“I think most of us who work in the industry, certainly in the product development side, started collecting cards when we were kids,” said D.J. Kazmierczak, the VP of Sales/Product Development for Panini. “At any point in your life, if you’re going to be a collector, it extends from the original passion point, and it usually comes from youth.
“We noticed years ago when the show had become very much a vintage show — it was almost primarily a vintage show. So, as we started to embrace the case breaking community and some of the other elements that have obviously changed and revolutionized the industry for the better, that was a big part of our process was involving kids.”
Kazmierczak was encouraged to see so many fathers with their kids coming up to the Panini booth at The National.
“They have to be the future, because we don’t all live forever,” Kazmierczak said. “That’s why I think some of the challenges right now, availability of retail product or lack of the availability of retail product — you can go down the line — that’s really what’s critical is you want younger collectors to have access. And, let’s face it, they don’t have the economic means yet to buy $800, $900, $1,000 boxes, so there has to be some sort of ally.
“That’s really why we did the Kid’s Crate project was we wanted to make sure that there was something we could manage in terms of distribution and pricing and that’s why we did that, bundled a couple box blasters and some marketing materials. But we can enforce the pricing on it, that’s why we sold it in the hobby and not in retail. Retail, I don’t have the same level of control, but in the hobby, I do.”
From what he witnessed first-hand at The National, Goldin is encouraged by the number of kids who are ready to get the collecting torch passed to them.
“It’s incredibly critical,” Goldin said. “It is what we have been missing forever. Every time I used to go to a show, I saw the same faces, saw the same stuff on the tables, saw the same T206 cards, Old Judges, Goudeys, Play Balls. Now you see different faces, you see different tables and you see different cards. Vintage is hot, modern is hot, new sports are hot, so new blood into the hobby and worldwide growth is incredibly important for long-term growth, and we have it all right now.”
— SCD editor Jeff Owens contributed to this story.