An autographed Tom Brady rookie card was purchased at auction on eBay for $555,988 January 25, one day after the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback helped his team secure a spot in Super Bowl LV.
The rare 2000 card was rated PSA Gem Mint 10—virtually perfect—condition1 and depicts Brady the year he was drafted by the New England Patriots. It was auctioned by PWCC Marketplace and purchased by a private bidder.
The record-breaking sale surpasses the previous high for a football card sold at auction, set in February 2019 when another signed Brady rookie card offered by PWCC sold on eBay for $400,100.2 The card’s value was no doubt bolstered by the fact that the 43-year-old Brady will become the oldest player to participate in a Super Bowl during his record-setting 10th trip to the NFL’s championship game, scheduled for February 7.3 Nevertheless, values on all rare sports cards are on the rise, according to a recent ESPN report.4
“These are items that are priceless, really, and they require a higher level of coverage than what a Homeowners Insurance policy can provide.”
“Tom Brady has had a long, illustrious career, and especially just ahead of the Super Bowl, one would expect the value of this rare collectible to be high,” said Danielle Alessandrini, Associate Vice President, Underwriting Director, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Detroit/Farmington Hills, Michigan. Collectors should beware of common insurance misconceptions that could leave such purchases unprotected, she warned. “These are items that are priceless, really, and they require a higher level of coverage than what a Homeowners Insurance policy can provide.”
A Personal Articles Floater policy is available for any type of collection and generally includes coverage for costs related to direct physical losses, including fire, wind, mysterious disappearance, breakage and theft, said Bill Gatewood, Corporate Senior Vice President, National Personal Insurance Practice Leader, Burns & Wilcox, Detroit/Farmington Hills, Michigan.
“A Personal Articles Floater policy offers broad coverage, there is usually no deductible and it includes the full value of the item,” Gatewood said, noting that some policies even offer inflation protection that provides up to 150 percent of the insured value. “This is also a very reasonably priced policy that I recommend highly to any collector.”
Fraud risk grows amid booming sports memorabilia market
Online auction sites like eBay have helped propel the sports memorabilia market into an estimated $5.4 billion per year industry.5 On January 11, PWCC Marketplace announced a new record for the highest-selling sports card of all time: a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 9 card that sold for $5.2 million.6 It broke a record set last August when a Mike Trout rookie card was purchased for $3.94 million.7
Major sporting events tend to inspire a surge of interest in sports memorabilia. The excitement surrounding this year’s Super Bowl match between the Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs already has sports vendors cashing in on sales of autographed jerseys and helmets.8 “Value is heavily impacted by supply and demand,” said Wendy McCormack, Senior Underwriter, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Toronto, Ontario. “If Tom Brady’s name is suddenly in the news, the value of the Brady memorabilia supply goes up along with the demand.”
“Events like the Super Bowl generate more interest in collecting sports memorabilia, but unfortunately they also bring out scammers.”
The sports memorabilia market’s overall upward trend has also been attributed to the pandemic, with some vendors reporting a renewed interest among sports card collectors seeking at-home entertainment.9 However, both new and seasoned collectors need to be careful about vetting items to verify their authenticity, Gatewood emphasized.
“This is a very robust industry and it is something that can be very personal for collectors. Fans of certain teams or players like to collect a piece of related history,” he said. “Events like the Super Bowl generate more interest in collecting sports memorabilia, but unfortunately they also bring out scammers.”
Insurance policies generally will not cover losses stemming from the purchase of a counterfeit item. “Researching a seller’s track record before completing any transaction is vital,” Gatewood said. “If an online seller does not have a good rating or has no rating at all, that should alert would-be buyers to beware of potential scams.”
“A Personal Articles Floater policy can cover one item or a museum full of items,” he said, and should be updated whenever a new item is added to a collection. Depending on the circumstances, an appraisal may be required to verify an item’s value, existence and authenticity prior to obtaining coverage.
Collectors may be more vulnerable to burglary, theft
Theft is another serious concern for collectors. In 2019, U.S. burglary victims suffered an estimated $3 billion in total property losses, averaging about $2,661 per theft.10 In Canada, a total of 161,291 burglaries occurred in 2019.11
After more than $100,000 in sports collectibles was stolen from a Phoenix, Arizona home in 2018, the owner offered a $20,000 reward for assistance in recovering his property.12 He told news outlets at the time that few others knew about his collection, which included more than 10,000 autographs he had been gathering since childhood.
Many collectors are at risk for uninsured losses because they do not realize they need separate insurance for their high-value items, Alessandrini said. “Many assume coverage for the full amount of their collections is included as part of their Homeowners Insurance policy, when usually that is just not the case,” she explained. According to Alessandrini, a typical Homeowners Insurance policy includes a maximum of $1,000 to $2,500 in coverage for collectibles.
Even collectors with lower-value items may find they need a Personal Articles Floater policy as their collection grows in value over time and eventually exceeds their Homeowners Insurance policy limit.
“The owner of a rookie card worth $10,000 should obtain a Personal Articles Floater policy; not only will there likely be no deductible, but the limit can also be adjusted based on appraisals and valuations over time,” McCormack said.
A Personal Articles Floater policy is also the only way to obtain coverage for costs related to certain risks, such as breakage or some cases of water damage not covered by Homeowners Insurance. “Some collectibles are highly susceptible to damage from humidity or other elements; expenses related to damage like that would not be covered at all under a Homeowners Insurance policy,” Gatewood said.
Last August, souvenirs including game-used hockey sticks and jerseys were stolen from the Brantford, Ontario home of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father. Police spent months investigating the burglary and eventually made two arrests, recovering more than $500,000 in stolen property.13
“Keep collectibles off social media. Collectors who post their items are setting themselves up as potential targets for theft, possibly disclosing not only what they own, but where they live and perhaps whether their home is protected by an alarm system.”
“Some of that property has been returned, fortunately,” McCormack said. “Besides its dollar value, it had tremendous sentimental value for Wayne and his father as memorabilia they collected over many years.”
Even everyday collectors can be targeted, McCormack cautioned — especially if they publicly share details about high-value items. “Keep collectibles off social media,” she said. “Collectors who post their items are setting themselves up as potential targets for theft, possibly disclosing not only what they own, but where they live and perhaps whether their home is protected by an alarm system.”
Alessandrini agreed: “Posting items purchased on social media absolutely increases the risk of a potential theft or burglary. It is essential to keep that information off social media platforms.”
Home security measures, safes can help protect collections
A Personal Articles Floater can be obtained as a standalone policy or an addition to a Homeowners Insurance policy. Some add-on policies place limits on scheduled personal property; therefore, Alessandrini said, a standalone policy is often the best option.
Home alarms, safes and other security measures are recommended for anyone who owns a valuable collection. Keeping items in a bank safe is another protective option. Insurers will likely question collectors seeking coverage about what security measures they have in place, she explained.
“If a collector keeps an item on display in his living room, the underwriter will want to know that,” Alessandrini said. “Carriers will also want to know if a collector is a frequent traveler and whether she has a security system installed in her home.”
Collectors should be prepared to discuss these details with their insurance brokers and agents. “Part of the process of adequately insuring collectibles is understanding where items are kept and what security is in place to protect them,” Gatewood said, adding that even bright lights can damage certain collectibles. “Most serious collectors keep valuable items locked up and not displayed on their mantlepieces.”
Written appraisals and certificates of authenticity may be useful for insurance purposes, though Gatewood noted that because “some so-called authenticity documents are not worth the paper they are printed on” a reputable seller is critical.
As the sports memorabilia market changes over time, insurance coverage will adapt with it, he said. NBA Top Shots, for example, are video versions of basketball highlights sold in limited-edition packs. After packs sell out, the digital collectibles — which are encrypted and secure — can only be purchased on the peer-to-peer marketplace. In January, a LeBron James highlight sold for a record-breaking $71,455.14
“The world of sports collectibles has changed a great deal,” Gatewood said. “What was once a market dominated by baseball cards and autographed baseballs has become much broader, including one-of-a-kind items like game-worn equipment. It makes sense that the market would evolve to incorporate digital moments. As long as there is a market for an item and a reasonable value for it can be established, it can be insured.”
Sources 1 Professional Sports Authenticator. “Grading Standards.” PSA Authentication & Grading Services. 2 “Tom Brady Rookie Card Sells For Record $400,000 At Auction.” CBS 4 Boston. WBZ, February 29, 2019. 3 Starling, Mike. “NFL’s underdog story: ‘150th’ Super Bowl for the goat Tom Brady.” The Week, January 25, 2021. 4 Hajducky, Dan. “How the coronavirus, the internet and tons of money unexpectedly fueled sports cards' biggest boom.” ESPN, October 2, 2020. 5 Thomas, Mike. “Sports Memorabilia Market Estimated at $5.4 Billion, but Beware of the Fakes.” Sportscasting, April 21, 2020. 6 Hajducky, Dan. “Mickey Mantle baseball card shatters record, sells for $5.2 million.” ESPN, January 14, 2021. 7 VanHaaren, Tom. “Mike Trout rookie card becomes highest-selling sports card of all time.” ESPN, August 23, 2020. 8 Padilla, Alexis. “Sports vendors cashing in on Chiefs back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.” NBC 27 Topeka. KSNT, February 1, 2021. 9 Stevenson, Jessica. “New business sees jump in sports memorabilia sales during pandemic.” ABC 13 Kearney. KHGI, July 27, 2020. 10 Federal Bureau of Investigation. “2019 Crime in the United States.” U.S. Department of Justice, Fall 2020. 11 “Number of burglaries in Canada from 2000 to 2019.” Statista, October 30, 2020. 12 Barry, Jason. “Phoenix sports collector offers $20K reward to get back stolen memorabilia.” AZ Family, September 5, 2018. 13 The Canadian Press. “Police make arrests after theft of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia at father's home.” CBC, December 15, 2020. 14 Beer, Tommy. “How Did A LeBron James Video Highlight Sell For $71,455? A Look at a Burgeoning Product Called NBA Top Shot.” Forbes, January 23, 2021.