Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feasting On The Ebay Vultures

Another year, another tragedy for the NFL. Just a horrible situation for everyone involved, no doubt about it. Chris Henry may have been a troubled and often disparraged receiver for the Bengals, but he was also a father of three kids that are now going to grow up without a father. Unfortunately, it’s the third time this has happened in the last few years, first with Sean Taylor, second with Steve McNair, now again with Henry. I don’t want to focus on their deaths, or even talk about potential team implications. I do want to talk about what happens in the market when someone dies, and my comments on the different schools of thought.

We were talking on Twitter this morning about how the frenzy on eBay begins each time someone dies, both expectedly or unexpectedly. Sellers begin posting as many cards as they can to try to satiate the new demand for a player's cards and signature, many starting right after the news breaks. Its understood that prices will jump, but I still havent decided what the practice actually says about the sensitivity of the issue. These sellers have already gained a new moniker for their tendencies, eBay Vultures, as they hover over the dead to collect as much money as possible.

First off, I see how people could be offended, especially when a person dies suddenly. These sellers are trying to cash in on a dead person's tragedy, and that isnt always going to be something that people like. The school of thought is that these people should wait for a more acceptable timeframe before dumping their stash, but I am not sure if that is necessarily something I think is required.

Lets take other situations as an analogy. Any time someone of stature dies, people will inevitably try to cash in. T-shirts, multi-million dollar concerts and funerals, tribute albums, movies, etc. Its all a huge money making venture, and most of the time it’s a million times more public and in your face. With this, it’s a few hundred people selling their stuff they have collected. Considering that the price is higher than it ever will be, consumerism says that this when they need to sell to attain the highest ROI.

Rob from VOTC stated on his Twitter that he didn’t think it was in good taste to produce a card like the Camelot Triple Threads card created after Ted Kennedy's unfortunate death. I disagree, even though I dislike the product it came from. I think that if the card spelled out "Cancer" or some thing horrible like that, it would be one thing, but to commemorate one of the most popular times in our nation's history, is another. The Kennedys are an American institution, and I think they had every right to pay tribute.

Of course there will always be good taste and bad taste in every situation, and the auctions for Chris Henry's stuff will definitely fall under that fact. But that doesn’t mean that it is particularly wrong to sell while demand is high. Its an inevitability regardless of the person, and I think to provide that service to the fans by selling, is not a bad thing. If people want it, someone should sell it, and this is just one of those situations.


  1. In a way feasting on the dead is what capitalism and the markets are all about. You nicely summed it up in the last line of the post, though I disagree with your use of "should." That's the space where ethics comes in, as in "everything that's legal isn't necessarily ethical." In this case I'd tend to agree with you, though: by the logic of the market, the cards will never be hotter than NOW, meaning this is the time to sell if you are going to. Nice post.

  2. The worst was the Nick Adenhart stuff. People were just printing jpegs of the guy and selling them on ebay. It was pretty bad. After the life that guy lived, I think it would be hard sell to get much out of his stuff either way. Still, not great to cash in on death.

  3. I don't follow football very much so I'm not sure who this player is, but the cards of most players who die before finishing a long successfull career only go down in value. Sell them now before nobody wants them. That might be unsensitive, but who wants to end up with cards that you can't give away when at one time you could've sold them for good money.

  4. Do you think the way the player/athlete died has anything to do with the demand?
    I.E. Dale Earnhadt vs. McNair or Henry (discounting the superiority in their sport)