Ken Goldin: making a million from a child’s hobby

Ken Goldin’s career began when, aged 12, he swapped his toy cars for a baseball-card collection. He turned the hobby into a multimillion-dollar business – and now the market is going wild.

Ken Goldin has been selling sports trading cards and other memorabilia for four decades and his company, Goldin Auctions, is known by some as “the Sotheby’s of sports”. But even he has been taken aback by the sector’s red-hot boom this year. “There’s never been a time like this in the history of the business,” he told CNN Business in February, shortly after a card of basketball star Michael Jordan, as a rookie player, sold for a record $738,000, having more than tripled in price in a matter of weeks. Since then, things have become even crazier. Goldin reckons his “little company running on 2002 software” is on course to make $500m in sales this year. “I would bet that for every person who wanted a Jordan rookie card in 2019, there’s 100 [now].”

Rummaging around in the loft

The trading-card renaissance has its roots in the pandemic. “Stuck at home without live sports games, people began raiding their attics and basements and digging up old cards,” says CNN. Many had been children during the last big craze in the 1980s. Celebrities got in on the act and then things just mushroomed. The same “speculative forces” that sent prices of cryptocurrencies, meme stocks, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), music rights and other alternatives assets through the roof homed in on cards. “For the first time in his career, Goldin has been fielding calls from hedge funds.” In February, he sold a majority stake in his firm to LA-based investment firm Chernin.

A new career beckons, says Bloomberg. Goldin, 55, is already one of the most recognisable faces of the sports collectables industry – a regular on news shows  and the like. Now, having been approached by a well-known producer in the field, the New York-born impresario is “getting the reality-TV treatment”. Goldin, an “outsized personality”, seems tailor-made for the role. 

The “Babe Ruth of sports memorabilia” got into card-collecting early, says NJ.com. Goldin can trace his empire back to 1978 when, as a 12-year-old, he “fleeced a buddy out of his baseball-card collection” by swapping it for $50 worth of miniature racing cars. He insists neither of them knew the value of what they were trading. Goldin’s father, an executive in a medical equipment company, caught the bug and together they went to a flea market and bought “six or seven trash bags filled with cards – 70,000 in all”, says Bloomberg. Goldin spent months sorting them, keeping the best to sell on. 

Floating on Nasdaq

By the mid-1980s, the hobby had evolved into a business, Score Board, says fundinguniverse.com. Riding the coat-tails of the 1980s memorabilia boom, it enjoyed an extraordinary trajectory – becoming the first of its kind to float on Nasdaq in 1987. The Goldins branched out into “exclusive autograph contracts” – getting baseball legends such as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio on their roster – and later moved into entertainment memorabilia, signing contracts with Elvis Presley Enterprises and Paramount. At its peak in 1994, Score Board made $100m in sales. But the death of Goldin’s father that year coincided with an industry downturn. Goldin left the company in 1997; the following year it went bankrupt.

Is he concerned that history will repeat itself? Not a bit of it, says CNN. Prices might fluctuate, but, however wild the market, Goldin reckons something has shifted. “The difference between cards and stock [is] nobody loves a stock,” he says. Asking an avid card collector to sell “is like getting them to take off an arm”.

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