The AFL off-season is my FAVOURITE time of the year to buy trading cards! As the AJ’s remind everyone ad nauseum, the sports card market fluctuates cyclically. From December to February, once all the Series 2 and premium release hype has died down, prices are normally at their “softest”. This tight window is precisely when I ‘get to work’ and pinpoint EXACTLY where I intend to put my money moving into the 2023 season!
It’s also a great period to reflect on what strategies worked well, acknowledging missed opportunities, and understanding how the market has changed in the past 12 months. And that last point is exactly what today's article is about!
Rewind yourself back to 2021, specifically to the first instalment of ‘Optimum’. The Essendon Football Club were the talk of the town, both in the footballing fraternity and the card collecting community! Essendon shocked everyone's tempered expectations and made the top 8 accompanied by an attractive brand of football.
The collecting community were enamored with Essendon's card stocks, when they drafted the ‘Big 3’; Archie Perkins, Nik Cox & Zach Reid in the 2020 National Draft. Mixing together the passionate fan base of the ‘Bombers’, with 3 highly touted draft picks, plus more Rookie Cards produced than ever before. It created a MASSIVE premium on Essendon cards!
Unfortunately though, 2022 was UGLY for Essendon. Bottom 8, injuries galore, sacked Coach, CEO & 2 President’s resigning, furious members, the works! And unsurprisingly, Essendon cards absolutely tanked as a result. It was an emotional backflip for the ages from collectors, with cards that were commanding uber premiums, now being fire-sold for half the price. Currently, collectors won't touch them with a 10 foot pole, EXCEPT ME….. And I’m now going to tell you WHY I’ve been massively stocking up on Essendon trading cards!
1. Essendon are going to push for Top 8 credentials in 2023!
Bit of a juxtaposition having Essendon pushing for finals football after the year they had in 2022, but there’s a method to my madness! And a lot of it has to do with the mechanisms of the AFL fixture. As it currently stands, there is no possible way to make the 23-round season fixture completely fair for all teams. You’d have to conduct 17 or 34 weeks of football to understand the true ability of every team.
Given scheduling issues and T.V license agreements this will likely never happen, meaning that every year some teams are going to have easier fixtures than others. Essendon is one team that I believe have been kissed on the proverbial when it comes to their matchups for the upcoming season!
They are locked in to play last year's cellar-dwellers North Melbourne, GWS and West Coast a combined 6 times, whilst also playing Collingwood (one being ANZAC Day), Port Adelaide, and the Cats twice. Realistically, the ‘Bombers’ could walk away with 8 wins from those
12 games, before even taking into consideration games against sides like Adelaide, Gold Coast and Hawthorn. That could potentially result in 11 wins from 15 games if Essendon were to take the next step and push away from other bottom 8 sides! 12 wins got the Western Bulldogs into the 8 last year, so is it really that implausible that Essendon find themselves around that mark?
2. The Bombers playing-list demographic
Mentioned during the first point, Essendon’s ascension up the AFL ladder is dependent on their playing list taking the next step in their development, and playing to their expected abilities. An accurate but simple measure I use to see which playing groups have room to grow is list demographics.
If you look at the current crop of Bombers; Andrew McGrath, Darcy Parish, Jordan Ridley, Peter Wright, Mason Redman, Sam Draper, Archie Perkins, Nik Cox, Zach Reid, Harrison Jones and Jye Caldwell are ALL under the age of 26. With Zach Merrett and Jake Stringer only 27 and 28 respectively, alongside newly drafted Ben Hobbs and Elijah Tsatas, this current Essendon group looks poised to have a successful future!
3. Brad Scott is a GREAT coach!
With the sacking of Ben Rutten, the Bombers were able to lure Brad Scott out of his well-paying job at AFL House and throw his hat back in the coaching ring! He may have ultimately been ‘let go’ from his position at North Melbourne, but don’t let that distract you from the success he had from his 9-year tenure at Arden Street!
He took a genuinely bang-average North Melbourne list, with no A+ talent, to not ONE but TWO Preliminary finals and arguably should’ve went through to the Grand Final in 2015! How did he do this? Scott developed a really good system which got the most out of the players at his disposal.
I rate the potential of the 2023 Essendon playing list STREETS ahead of the mid 2010’s Kangaroos. Another reason why I believe in the trajectory that the Bombers are currently heading towards!
4. The ceiling prices of Essendon cards shown in 2021
Now focusing back to sports cards, everyone saw how the small scent of success drove Bombers’ fans crazy, resulting in ginormous price tags on all Essendon trading cards.
I’m not exaggerating either, money was getting thrown all around the Hobby, and every Essendon collector was approaching Optimum 2021 with a ‘Master-Set Mentality’. Not to mention the impact Essendon had on the breaks market, with punters entering numerous ‘Random-Team’ breaks in the hopes of scoring big and hitting Essendon for a fraction of the price!
Even moving into the first edition of Supremacy Rookies, the ‘Big 3’ were commanding $200 for their rookies numbered to /75 and anywhere between $500-700 for the rookies to /25! Fast forward into the following season, those rookies /25 were being picked off from anywhere between $250-400. Prices which I think pose a STRONG buying opportunity. Also looks towards some of Essendon’s established stars such as Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett, and Dyson Heppell whose card prices all saw an uptick when individual performance and team success worked together.
All these factors fill me with confidence that if the Bombers can gather momentum down the stretch in ‘23, that there could be similar pandemonium as was seen in 2021, resulting in another ‘Essendon Boom’!