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Rookie cards for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy have become a commodity for collectors looking to capitalize on his transformed career trajectory.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The hottest stock moving the sports memorabilia market has retail investors trying to decide whether to buy now, despite rising costs, while sellers consider cashing out before there’s a sudden downturn.

It’s the latest example of how Brock Purdy’s improbable season is impacting his value not just on the field but also in the collectibles business. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s rookie cards have become a commodity for collectors looking to capitalize on his transformed career trajectory.

“It’s a phenomenon right now, and a lot of people want a piece of that,” Shawn Vuocolo, owner of sports memorabilia appraisal firm Finding Nostalgia, said in an interview. “That’s why you’re seeing the prices escalate the way they are.”

The market for signed Purdy cards has jumped from lukewarm to sizzling, with sales on eBay earlier this month hitting $15,000 (Purdy 2022 National Treasures Collegiate card) and a whooping $22,500 (PSA 10 Panini Certified Signatures Mirror Black 1 of 1 Brock Purdy RC). Even thousands of lower-tier, standard Purdy cards have had a noticeable uptick in price since he took over the starting job last month.

“It’s a byproduct of hopes and expectations that are built into a Cinderella story,” Card Ladder co-founder Chris McGill said in an interview. “Is it inflated? Probably. But if the [49ers] go on to win the Super Bowl, and he wins MVP, maybe not.”

Those two highest purchases for Purdy cards to date indicate that many are bullish that the 23-year-old will be a long-term winner, perhaps the next Patrick Mahomes, who saw one of his 1 of 1 rookie cards sell for $4.3 million in 2021. The movement and liquidity behind both graded and ungraded Purdy cards right now remain attractive for investors. But there’s no denying the risk. 

“It has very much become like the stock market, as the blue chips are the scarcest cards from the greatest players and can rise and fall upon the number of cards coming into the market and the career of the particular athlete,” said Leila Dunbar, former head of Sotheby’s collectibles department.

PSA 10 Panini Certified Signatures Mirror Black 1 of 1 Brock Purdy RC

Heritage Auctions director of sports auctions Chris Ivy believes Purdy’s success represents the modern trading card market and that he resembles more of a penny stock in a speculative market as opposed to more stable blue chips connected to retired legends.  

“An athlete’s performance can move value significantly, and Purdy is great example of that,” Ivy said.

A major factor in Purdy’s spiking rookie card prices: Few of his key cards are in the marketplace because of delays in product release schedules—a consequence of supply chain issues dating back to the pandemic.

Collectors typically select top draft picks and promising players out of their card packs and send them to Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) for grading. Purdy stands out because as the last pick in the 2022 draft, his success was completely unexpected.

Many collectors did not spend early on getting his card graded by PSA. They’re scrambling now, the same way Purdy does when he bounces out of the pocket.

“People thought they’d be wasting their money getting the last pick of the draft’s card graded,” Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, said. “Now they’re all stuck in grading, and there’s not a lot of supply. It’s all backlogged.”

It’s unclear how the market will adjust when more supply, including Purdy’s best cards like 1 of 1 National Treasures and Prizm Blacks, is available later this year. The market might have experienced a peak after this weekend. It also depends on the 49ers’ future plans, a big offseason question mark. The Niners drafted former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance third overall in 2021, and he started earlier this season before being injured. 

Purdy, who entered this season as a third-string quarterback, has the benefit of playing for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, which touts two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young. His rise also comes in the wake of the pandemic boom in the trading card market.  

Regardless of what happens Sunday, Mr. Irrelevant, who finished with the ninth-most jersey sales this season, has already cemented himself an active offseason between endorsement talks and personal appearances. Meanwhile, collectors and investors will decide if the campaign was a fluke or a sign of what’s to come. 

“His card market is only going to go up, even if he doesn’t play well this weekend or in the Super Bowl,” Vuocolo added. “He’s a cool customer, who looks like he has what it takes, but time will tell.”