As game worn jersey collectors, many of us are well aware of the game worn jersey cards that we see all the time and in turn, dislike. It pretty much goes without saying that if you collect whole game jerseys, you look down on these cards because the card companies are taking pieces that could be in our collection and destroying them, but have we really had a discussion about the dichotomy of these cards?
As the card companies buy jerseys to cut up, they have to choose from a limited stock of jerseys that are available, especially from retired players. The problem becomes when they get their hands on a rare, memorable, or milestone jersey like the pictured Nikolai Khabibulin 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning White Playoff jersey from the year the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. This would be a pretty remarkable jersey to have in a collection, but it has now been destroyed.
On the flip side, this makes the remaining jerseys from that cup year a bit more desirable due to the even more limited number, but is this a price we are willing to pay in the hobby?
Many of the jerseys the card companies purchase are purchased from collectors. This is great in regards to helping a collector who may be in need sell their jersey that they may not otherwise be able to sell. It adds additional purchasers in the market, and every year the card companies need to make new cards, they need to buy more jerseys boosting the economy within our hobby.
Unfortunately, many collectors sell on eBay and the downside to this is that you do not know who your buyer is. If you knew that this jersey was going to get cut up and put in cards, you would probably either not sell, or add a very high premium to the jersey cost. With anonymous markets, this cannot be prevented and some consider this a danger in the hobby.
Also, these companies often go direct to the teams to acquire jerseys before they can even be in a collectors hands, which you can identify in the comments of this video of Panini displaying their “vault” of jerseys that will eventually be destroyed.
As with anything that becomes popular, copycats can try to enter the market, like the maker of this Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk game worn jersey key chain. These jerseys were cut up and placed in a key chain like this and among many other products after the purchase of the jerseys. I remember browsing eBay and seeing these items appear, the jersey that was cut up to make these pieces and the Meigray tag that was on the jersey remnants.
Authenticity vs. Product
In all actuality, many card collectors would never know the difference in wording between a game worn jersey and a game issued jersey. For each of these cards, these card companies place a little blurb on the back of the card as their LOA and describe the jersey that was used to make the card. Some say event worn, others game worn. Switch the text to prepared game jersey and we can remove game jerseys from the lot, replaced with game issued jerseys, still acquired by the team (some people still speculate that the card companies themselves do not know the difference between game worn and game issued jerseys).
What makes these hacked up cards popular? The feeling that the card collector can own a piece of the game. Its a very similar feeling to what we have when we have the whole jersey. The difference here is that we discovered that instead of owning just pieces of a piece of the game, we get the whole thing. Many card collectors do not realize that it is actually possible to acquire the whole jersey.
We see new collectors in our hobby as card collectors discover entire game worn jerseys. The conversion process is easy. The converts (myself being one) quickly discover the nefarious ways of the card companies.
This is a hard pill for us to swallow, unfortunately it seems like it will be a never ending battle that we face until we gain traction within our hobby. Some people within our hobby commit to secrecy which hinders the growth and awareness of our hobby. Others are trying to promote the hobby, gain new collectors, create awareness and make a public knowledge base.
As the hobby grows, it would give us more leverage in the world of memorabilia, and eventually it is possible that teams could eventually be presented with open dialog to discourage the sale of jerseys to card companies, and card companies could be persuaded to switch to game issue and event worn jerseys exclusively.
To gain this foothold and negotiating power, we need to come together as a community, compile our resources, understand that we are in it together. Many collectors understand this concept already, but we can do better. Lets make a push to create recognition among the teams we love.