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How Did the Houston Astros Cheating Scandal Affect Their Autograph Market?

April 07, 2020 4 min read

How Did the Houston Astros Cheating Scandal Affect Their Autograph Market?

People often compare sports memorabilia and the sports card markets to the stock market. Well, now is not a great time for people like me that have years of collecting and tens of thousands of dollars tied up in a very controversial market: the Houston Astros.

I am sure nobody in the sports world (memorabilia or otherwise) needs a recap of why (the Astros were stealing signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons using technology), but the cheating scandal left its mark not only on Astros fans, but also on Astros collectors. While “H-Town” as a whole has maintained its pride and a sense of identity while the team they love is blacklisted by the rest of baseball, some autograph collectors sit on stacks of items associated with the “tainted” title.

houston astros scandal

2017 World Series memorabilia became a cornerstone of any Astros fan's collection basically overnight. After the final out, fans started emptying their wallets at a Houston area autograph show in February 2018 to fill their showcases with autographed baseballs, photos, and jerseys.  Autograph prices were $169 for Dallas Keuchel, $99 for Josh Reddick, $69 for Lance McCullers, $59 for Brad Peacock, $49 for Ken Giles or Collin McHugh. The list went on.

Companies began to monopolized other players including Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and World Series MVP George Springer who was featured on the electrifyingly popular June 2014 Sports Illustrated cover. There was a special autograph ticket for $300 at the show following the World Series if fans wanted to get the Sports Illustrated signed.

george springer autographed sports illustrated magazine

At the 2018 winter autograph show in Houston, those Sports Illustrated magazines autographed by George Springer were rapidly exchanging hands at about $500 each. The current selling price as of 4/7/20 on the exact same item is between $200-$350.

But how much has all of this truly impacted the Astros market when you break down the numbers? What parts of their market took the biggest hits?

Despite all of the nuances surrounding the Astros, their market has not been eliminated. It's just shifted to different than normal platforms. The market that currently exists, especially for anything related to the 2017 World Series, is simply a trichotomy between social media, online, and trade shows.

The social media market for the Astros (I will focus on Instagram for the purpose of this article) has slowed down. It's not just the monetary value of items that takes a hit. A crucial part of being successful on Instagram is growing a following through gaining the trust and respect of your followers by following through on deals and posting quality content. That same "quality content" that grew my account to 4,000 followers has kept me from posting as often in the last few months. Reactions to high end Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman cards used to include fire emoji and dollar signs but have since been replaced with comments like "Cheater!" 

jose altuve autographed 2017 world series baseball

Fellow mid to high end Astros card collectors have had similar experiences, saying “Trash can emojis became popular on most of my Astros baseball card posts. Accepting and moving on from the punishment has helped with dealing with upset MLB fans. It’s time to embrace being the most hated team in baseball and bring home another World Series Championship.”

Two main factors normally dictate an items value: the player's recent performance (leading to the up-and-down trend stock market comparison) and the availability/rarity of an item. 

The 2017 Houston Astros, it seems more like a popularity, or rather unpopularity, contest that dictates the market right now. Does the name of player affect value? Absolutely. But in this unique case, a player’s value on social media seems to be more aligned with the public perception of his role in the cheating scandal. Alex Bregman has probably suffered the biggest blow to his reputation and simultaneously his card and memorabilia values.

justin verlander autographed baseball

On the contrary, Justin Verlander—a pitcher who notched the 2017 ALCS MVP honor without benefitting from “The Scandal” has steadily kept his value as one of the most sought-after autographs. His signature is among the rarer in the game these days anyway, and 2017 World Series balls autographed by Verlander continue to cost a few hundred dollars. Gerrit Cole, another pitcher who has distanced himself from the organization by signing a record-breaking $324 million free agent contract with the New York Yankees (becoming 1st pitcher to surpass $300 million), also has not seen a hit on his market. If anything, that combination of factors actually increased his value.

Auction sites, however, the market values have stayed fairly stagnant. They tend to present a community that tailors more to common fans looking for autographs and is a virtual way for sellers to connect with Astros fans regardless of location. Card collectors also turn to auction sites when new products are released throughout the year (2020 Gypsy Queen for example), which results in a temporary spike in buying. These are prime opportunities for sellers to unload any Astros they pull from packs as values remain high immediately following product releases.

The third, final, and most productive platform is local memorabilia shows in Houston.  This is where I personally have continued success and have not seen a dive in the market at all. In fact, recent experiences at these shows illustrate quite the opposite trend. Support for the Astros runs deep in Houston. Fans on the showroom floor and at the autograph pavilion are as willing as ever to spend money on pieces of Astros history. Buying autographed 2017 World Series baseballs on social media and online and holding them for the next local show is easy profit. The obvious major downside to a team’s market plateauing at trade shows is that they only happen a few times a year, so as collectors and dealers you are trading the constant ebb-and-flow of Instagram and online sales for major profits every few months.

This fluctuation of value across different mediums the most interesting part of this unprecedented market right now. Prices and sales are going to greatly differ based on the platform and who you are selling to. Astros collectors face an interesting business venture for the foreseeable future: take a monetary cut but maintain a broader customer base with regular sales, or narrow the pool of potential buyers to the Houston faithful to maximize profit.

Written by: Tyler Josefsen


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