In the Philippines, basketball is the nation’s favorite pastime. As such, NBA saw the Philippines as a lucrative market for its merchandise. The NBA opened its flagship retail outlet in Glorietta last 2014, and rapidly expanded to Trinoma, Megamall and Ayala Cebu. The first NBA Café in Southeast Asia was opened at SM Aura. However, all operations ceased by 2018.
While the Philippines is a market for the NBA, its stores failed because it did not understand the global dynamics of cultural differences. The Philippines is different from China in terms of the viability of merchandising. The NBA stores focused on apparel. However, the market in the Philippines is unique. Most of the NBA products (t-shirts, shoes, jerseys, caps and bags) targeted the adult segment, those aged 20 to 50. However, I feel that children and teens aged 13 to 19 should have been their focus because they did not consider the vital role that hobbyists, those collecting basketball cards, played in this market.
During the 90s, children or teens aged 13 to 19 would go to a hobby store to buy basketball cards. On average, they spent P200 (conversion to USD in the 90s were P25 to $1) per week on basketball cards. This occurred during Michael Jordan’s golden years, but it was also a time when a slew of other NBA superstars, like Shaquille O’Neal (1992), Jason Kidd (1994), Kevin Garnett (1995), Kobe Bryant (1996), Tim Duncan (1997), Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki (1998) entered the league. The trading and sales of these cards made this hobby viable. This generation of consumers grew up and some are still collectors until today.
These collectors can be clustered into four main segments: base collectors, rookie card collectors, autograph collectors and personal collectors (usually termed PC or personal collection of specific players). Since these collectors are the lifeblood of this hobby, understanding their needs would provide the continuity of this business.
Over the years, collecting basketball cards evolved from being a mere hobby to a business-type investment. There is now a stock exchange-like environment for collectors. Research indicated that prices have surged tremendously over the past twenty years, with two notable spikes in 2003 and 2018. The first spike, 2003, is the year Lebron James came into the league for the Cleveland Cavaliers while the second spike was in 2018, the year Luka Dončic entered his rookie year for the Dallas Mavericks.
Most collectors have invested heavily on Luka. His autograph rookie card went for $200 to $300. These investments have paid off, since one year later, the prices increased from 125 percent to 200 percent. Many NBA fans wondered if Luka drew parallel to the success of Lebron, but like any investments, most collectors are banking heavily that he does. A spillover effect has occurred that drew interest to other players from 2018 notably, Trae Young and Jaren Jackson Jr., whose cards saw slight increases in value as well. Here in the Philippines, a collector is selling his Luka rookie autograph card from National Treasures for P400k, and another collector offered his own car in exchange for that single basketball card.
Can anyone start collecting now and make it as a potential investment? Yes, but most local collectors sell online by using eBay as a platform for high value cards. They prefer to sell internationally due to higher returns, even if risks may be higher. The dichotomy of high risk-high return and low risk-low return still applies on these investments.
If you want to start this hobby, there are several ways to get the cards. The best way to buy is still online, if you are looking for specific cards. But the fun part of this hobby rests on opening boxes and hoping you would land a golden egg. You can obtain boxes from the US if you have relatives (it is available in Target or Walmart) or locally from hobby shops in Greenhills or Galleria.
Keep in mind that collecting cards is hobby that you should enjoy and have fun with, and that experience (especially if you now share it with your son) is worth more than any potential money you can make in the future.
The author is a full-time faculty member of the Decision Sciences and Innovation Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. He can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.