The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Football Memorabilia

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is the country’s greatest passion. Nothing can match a Sunday of thrilling and explosive gridiron action — and the history of both the college and pro game runs deep across this football-crazed nation.

With the sport’s rich heritage, there is no shortage of iconic and valuable memorabilia on sale these days. Most fans have gotten an autograph or visited the Hall of Fame and understand how much emotional weight is wrapped up in all these items. And, even better to some, there are also great financial profits to be earned.

Fortunately, the barrier to entry of becoming a collector of football memorabilia isn’t high. Knowing where to start can seem daunting at first — and there can be some large, upfront costs for major items. But by following a few key tips, you can avoid the pitfalls some beginners make and turn this into an endeavor that’s fulfilling for both your heart and your wallet.

Know Where to Look

These days, there’s a wide range of places where you can find sports memorabilia and collectibles, including:

  • Reputable card dealers
  • Local card retailers
  • Specialty trade shows 
  • Auctions

Your best advice, though, is to conduct some research before buying anything from a card dealer or retail outlet that you can trust. As you get more familiar with the community, secondary sellers will become easier to validate over time, and you can use word of mouth or online networks to seek out less well-known marketplaces that may contain some gems.

Don’t Be Fooled

Many people on eBay, other online marketplaces or even at some less formal trade shows usually aren’t selling genuine memorabilia. Instead, they’re merely selling a bill of goods and looking to get rich quick. Don’t want to be the sucker who gets duped.

Viewers of the reality show Pawn Stars know even a seasoned collector needs to rely on a professional to spot a forgery. In the sports memorabilia world, authenticity verification is critical. Of course, if you want to be 100 percent certain you aren’t getting duped, make sure the item is valid before purchasing it.

Set a Budget

To some degree, every football collector is an investor. So, particularly as you start out, sticking to a set budget is critical. The goal is to buy memorabilia for cheap and sell it for a significant profit down the road as the item appreciates. 

Making a big come up is rewarding both financially and from a professional standpoint — and it can be addictive, creating a hunger for more. There are other factors involved in collecting, but don’t go overboard early on or take a big loss on an item for which you misjudged the market.

Collect with Your Heart

At the same time, most people who collect football memorabilia started because they were a fan first. Never forget that. If you find an item that’s emotionally significant to you, understand that nostalgia has a price. More than seeing this as a negative, try to remember this is why you got the bug in the first place. 

Now, don’t completely go over your budget due to a personal connection, but realize that some items in your collection will never sell, anyway. If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it might be worth paying a little extra to give you something of an emotional showpiece that encourages you to keep looking for more incredible items. Indeed, money is always recoupable, but regret is forever.

Becoming a Collector Requires Skill and Diligence

If you already know a lot about the game, you’re off to a great start. Being a real football fan means you’ll have a good understanding of the context and importance of the various items you come across as you begin your journey as a collector.

Be sure to know where to look, do your due diligence to not get duped by fakes, don’t spend beyond your means and remember your heart is what got you into this in the first place. If you start out following these four core principles, you’ll be well on your way to a Hall of Fame-caliber experience in the world of sports memorabilia.

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About Jared Wade

Jared Wade is a journalist who has been covering business, sports, Latin America, and more for nearly 15 years. He is currently living in Colombia, concentrating on economics, the financial sector, and the nation's ongoing peace process.