The 'Caitlin Clark effect' has skyrocketed trading card popularity and value

As Clark continues her meteoric rise through the record books, collectors have become more and more enamored with her cards, which have seen huge jumps in grading submissions.

Caitlin Clark signs autographs after a game
Caitlin Clark signs autographs after a game / David Berding/GettyImages

Caitlin Clark is everywhere. Her highlights flood social media. Nike has plastered her billboards and ad campaign across the country. Conversations about Clark have infiltrated spaces where women's basketball has barely been represented. One of those places is experiencing an unprecedented boom right now — trading cards.

If you're a millennial like me, then trading cards have likely been an integral part of your life. Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic the Gathering, and others have seen massive popularity over the last 25 years. Sports cards have been around longer, but seemed to take a backseat to these newer, action-packed trading card sets and the games that accompanied them. 2020 changed that, though.

The COVID pandemic and quarantine year saw trading card prices skyrocket as people flocked to the hobby, and sports cards returned to the forefront. This led to a massive increase in values, visibility, and production of new cards across all sectors of the industry.

During this time, women's basketball also experienced increases in visibility and popularity. The WNBA celebrated its 25th season in 2021, and has continually broken viewership and engagement records since. The NCAA Women's Tournament has done the same. Much of this stems from better coverage, viral highlights, and more access to the players. In the college ranks, NIL exposure has helped, too.

The aligning of these booms has led to an inevitable surge in women's basketball card popularity, and Caitlin Clark is leading the way. Let's take a look at how she's changing the trading card game

Caitln Clark's star power has caused graded submissions of her card to rise over 3,000%

Clark's 2022 Bowman University Chrome “1st Bowman” card was released at the beginning of June 2023. Since then, submissions for her cards have gone up by more than 3,000 percent. Here’s a look at the Month-Over-Month card grading data from PSA, the company responsible for more than 75 percent of all card gradings in the US:

  • May 2023 - 34 cards graded
  • June 2023 - 150 cards graded
  • July 2023 - 359 cards graded
  • August 2023 - 636 cards graded
  • September 2023 - 620 cards graded
  • October 2023 - 525 cards graded
  • November 2023 - 728 cards graded
  • December 2023 - 840 cards graded
  • January 2024 - 959 cards graded
  • February 2024 (through 2/21/24) - 1151 cards graded

Along the way, this card was sold for a record-setting $78,000 during the January Premier Auction at PWCC Marketplace. This number blew by the previous high for a women's basketball card — $11,500 for a 2004 Ultra Platinum Medallion Diana Taurasi card — and became the second-highest-selling women's athlete card ever, trailing only Serena Williams.

After Clark broke the NCAAW scoring record, Topps printed a card highlighting the accomplishment as part of their "Bowman U Now" set. Is it possible that as Clark continues breaking records on the court her cards follow suit?

Clark's impact on the women's basketball trading card industry shows how she is growing the game

Clark's impact is pushing women's basketball to new heights in ways that only a select few have ever done. While it is not just her doing it, she's the meteor in the field of stars, flying through new solar systems, allowing others to follow. Her impact will be felt for years to come, and will show itself in ways we may not even be able to grasp.

The great thing about Clark's unprecedented stardom is that it won't be unprecedented for future players. I mean, did anyone have her breaking trading card records on their radar? It was unheard of. Now it isn't.

There are young players who are already unprecedented in their own rights, but now there's an idea of just how big and impactful they can be for the game as a whole — and an infrastructure in place to get them there. Brands have better ideas of how to market these players, media can better cover and promote them, and players see that their potential is limitless. It is completely possible that one of them surpasses Caitlin's stardom, breaks her records, and expands the game even further.

This isn't limited to just the college game, either. There's no reason to think Clark's stardom will dwindle when she goes to the WNBA. She will bring a massive number of new eyes to the league. Who knows what could come from this? The possibilities are endless and could take the league (and the game as a whole) to new heights.