(CBSNewYork)- Cards, autographs, game worn jerseys or game used balls have always been a part of the thrill for sports fans through the years. But, many times, the most sought after sports memorabilia, items like the Honus Wagner T-206 card or Michael Jordan rookie card have been out of reach for the every day fan, priced well above the casual collector's means. That style of collecting as well as sports collectibles as we know them are rapidly changing.
One new avenue for passionate fans to collect is through fractional shares of ownership of some of these items. Collectable, an app based out of New York, offers that opportunity. Featuring items like a 1953 Mickey Mantle card and Michael Jordan game worn jerseys from his rookie season, the app allows fans to buy shares of these items in the way you would buy a share of a stock.
"You're talking about some of the most rare, the most cultural significant items that there ever has been. Our view and our mission is to democratize access to ownership of these items," said Levine in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "If you look historically there has been lots of money made and lots of pride had in ownership of these items, but the catch has been they have never been affordable or accessible to sports fans of all income brackets. As we all know, everybody loves sports, has some of their best associations and memories with sports and our mission is to open the playing field for anyone that wants to participate."
Collectable offers IPOs for the items in the same way that you would see from a company in the stock market. Fans can buy shares through the app and see within their portfolio the equity they have in that item.
"That's a very easy way to look at this. People are familiar with fractional shares of stocks. When you own shares in Facebook you are a fractional owner of Facebook the company. It is the exact same concept that we've taken and applied to the high value sports collectibles market," said Levine. "When you own shares in the Babe Ruth rookie card, you're an equity owner, you own shares and stock in that item just as you would on the stock market."
While Collectable is offering fans shares of ownership of physical sports collectible items, this year has also seen an explosion of discussion around non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the sports space with NBA Top Shot offering users the opportunity to own "moments" or highlights from NBA games that have their own unique serial number with the blockchain they're built on ensuring the authenticity. The owners of these "moments" can't reproduce or profit from the highlights, instead it's seen as a collectible which, like baseball cards, have varying values depending on the rareity of that particular moment.
For Levine, he sees NFTs and the new ways of bringing sports collectibles to a younger generation as an energizing time for an industry that has in previous years been more sleepy.
"This has been one of the more exciting times in our industry's history. Our industry had a reputation for a long time of being this sleepy, fragmented category. Kind of that third stepsister, if you will, to sports gambling and fantasy sports. What you're seeing now is sports collectibles are top of mind," said Levine. "People are talking about sports collectibles in a way they've never talked about them before. We are now the third-headed monster instead of the stepsister. I think this is really just the tip of the iceberg of what you're going to see from the collectibles space."
'There is a case to be made that this should be part of everyone's portfolio'
Levine's view is that the industry is experiencing this surge in interest for a few reasons. One, is that sports fans are passionate about their teams and favorite players and owning a piece of that, be it through highlights in token form or shares of sports history, is a fun way to include that passion in their portfolio.
"Younger generations have proven that they may not want to invest the way previous generations do and they're looking for alternative assets. When you look at the historical performance of sports collectibles as an asset class, there is a case to be made that this should be part of everyone's portfolio," said Levine. "I think what you're seeing right now is a combination of widespread consumer adoption, more excitement, technology and innovation coming into the collectibles category and this being looked at as a legitimate alternative asset class."
In the past, owning the physical card or piece of memorabilia was part of the experience and thrill. But, Levine sees the younger generation as different in that respect, caring more about having the financial interest in the item, whether or not they wholly own it.
"This new generation of investors have proven that they don't really care about owning these things physically. They care about having a real emotional interest and financial interest, digitally in these items. People know that they are true equity owners in these items, they can see it in their portfolios and see the values, hopefully going up although that's not a guarantee," said Levine. "And, we try to educate them, try to provide opportunities for them to learn as much as they can to experience what we like to call a tangible asset that has real passion behind it. People are really passionate about these things."
And Levine sees that passion only continuing to grow into the future. While he acknowledges that people being at home and looking for hobbies over this past year due to the COVID pandemic has likely increased interest, he doesn't see it as the sole reason for the re-ignition of that passion.
"There has been no question that the interest in sports collectibles has picked up during COVID. I think that the thought that COVID really sparked this rejuvenation in interest in collectibles really is not correct from an industry viewpoints. If you look back before COVID happened in 2019 you were seeing record-breaking prices, you were seeing increased interest in the category well before COVID. I do think COVID sparked it a little further. That interest, I think what we're seeing is once people experience it, they love it, they get hooked. I do think COVID was a sparkplug for it but I really think it set an incredibly powerful foundation for this industry to continue to grow to heights I don't think people dreamed possible even a couple of years ago."
The Collectable app is available on both Apple and Android app stores and Levine says that a desktop version is coming soon.
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