Sotheby’s Bets Big on the Sports Memorabilia Market with New Fanatics Partnership

The deal follows another sports memorabilia partnership struck between Sotheby's and the NBA earlier this year.

Baseball card sealed in plastic case
The partnership will kick off with the auction of a 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson card. Courtesy Sotheby's

A powerhouse duo is betting big on the market for high-end trading cards. With a new multi-year partnership, auction house Sotheby's and sports merchandise giant Fanatics are teaming up to sell the world’s most valuable trading cards across all sports—those estimated to fetch $100,000 or more.

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Both Fanatics, which announced plans to launch a new collectibles marketplace known as Fanatics Collect, and Sotheby’s have increasingly leaned into sports collectibles through recent deals with U.S. sports leagues. Their partnership will reflect “the elevated status and cultural impact” of the trading card market, said Nick Bell, CEO of Fanatics Collect, in a statement. “We’re truly excited to be able to pair our knowledge in fine-end sports cards with Sotheby’s unrivaled expertise in storytelling across exceptional fine art and objects.”

Cards will be sold through a combination of live and online auctions hosted by Sotheby’s, with the first scheduled for September in New York City. The live sale will offer a sought-after 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson rookie card with an estimate of between $275,000 and $350,000. Graded by PSA, it is in nearly pristine collection. More information on the upcoming auction and a subsequent online sale scheduled for December will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

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Fanatics is additionally set to offer trading cards through Fanatics Connect with fixed-price listings and weekly and monthly auctions. The new marketplace, which will launch later this month and will eventually feature peer-to-peer trading, concierge services powered by artificial intelligence, card scanning and digital collectibles, will replace the company’s PWCC brand, a memorabilia reseller it acquired in 2023. Fanatics also purchased the cardmaker Topps in 2022 and has entered a range of licensing deals across the NBA, NFL and MLB.

Sotheby’s goes all in on the sports memorabilia market

Sotheby’s partnership with Fanatics comes on the heels of its inaugural Sports Week series, which earlier this year offered up jerseys worn by the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and a pair of sneakers donned by Michael Jordan. The auction house has increasingly dipped its toe into the world of sports memorabilia, a market that is expected to grow to $227 billion by 2032, as evidenced by a deal it struck with the NBA last November to become the official auction source of game-worn items.

Sotheby’s sports and modern collectibles department, which launched in 2022, has already set numerous world records for game-worn memorabilia. The $10.1 million it fetched for Michael Jordan’s “Last Dance” NBA Finals jersey established the most expensive game-worn jersey to come to auction, while Sotheby’s $9.3 million sale of Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” shirt and $1.47 million auction of Michael Jordan’s Rookie Year Air Ships set records for the most expensive soccer shirt and game-worn sneakers respectively.

The auction house’s deal with Fanatics, meanwhile, will support high-end auctions, exhibitions and events and mark “a significant milestone within the ever-growing and engaging trading card community,” said Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of modern collectibles, in a statement. “We eagerly anticipate ushering promising collectors into an exciting new era of innovation and possibility.”

Sotheby’s Bets Big on the Sports Memorabilia Market with New Fanatics Partnership