An article in the NY Daily News over the weekend hinted at ensuing indictments being handed down by a grand jury that has heard evidence resulting from an ongoing investigation headed by the Chicago office of the FBI. Targeted are dealers, authenticators, and auction houses within the sports memorabilia industry for their alleged involvement in illegal business practices including shill and rigged bidding, forgery, mail and wire fraud, card doctoring, and collusion to name a few of the accusations.
At a time when The Hobby, as a whole, is reveling in the targeted success of decreased manufacturers, licenses, and products in the market place, coupled with strong demand for new cards on the hype of Washington National's Stephen Strasburg, this pending spectacle is the last thing The Hobby wants but it is EXACTLY what it needs. A niche market like sports cards and memorabilia that generates billions of dollars per year is incapable of policing itself. An annual, central gathering place, for the now defunct Mastro Auctions and other potentially investigated parties, launches this week in Baltimore, MD., as the 31st National Sports Collector's Convention kicks off. The FBI has made it clear with two prior investigations (Operation Bullpen and Operation Foul Ball ) that they will no longer turn a blind eye to The Industry side of The Hobby that uses such aforementioned business practices to deceive and defraud collectors, sports fans, and the public.
A calculated, highly visible raid on The National may seem far fetched to some, but what better way to send a message to industry peers and The Hobby's consumer base as a whole that previously tolerated behavior will no longer be accepted. Collectors and dealers have operated on a basis of trust for several years and it is quite obvious that trust has been taken advantage of and misplaced. The growing pains collectors have been feeling with a reduction in brands, devalued prices for non-graded vintage material and other natural machinations of a contracting industry will be further compounded in the memorabilia and graded card categories as these are the items in which most auction houses involve themselves with.
If events transpire in Baltimore to make front page news this weekend, how will the established Hobby Media react to this? Will they downplay the events for the sake of protecting relationships with established advertisers or will they have your best interests in mind and provide a detailed listing of the companies and individuals accused, charged, and arrested and on what counts?
If these events do go down, I will be sorry for the negative attention our beloved hobby will receive in mainstream media, but I will be very happy for collectors, knowing that a giant step has been made in cleaning up the shenanigans behind the curtain.