There is a disappearing card trick underway across Victoria and it has nothing to do with magic.
Speculators are working an online system to ramp up profits on collectables
Sellers "break" boxes of footy cards to buyers watching online
It's a "can't lose" hustle, says an expert — unless you're a kid saving for one pack of cards
Footy cards have all but vanished from corner stores, supermarkets and service stations, leaving many of the children they are intended for disappointed.
The people behind the disappearing act are not magicians and many are not even collectors.
Footy card dealer Anthony Trigger from APT Collectables said speculators were buying footy cards by the box, leaving little for anybody else.
And they've worked out a trick to make easy money.
"Over the last 18 months, there really has been a perfect storm, not only for the collecting of cards, but for collecting in general," Mr Trigger said.
"We've obviously had COVID, which led into JobKeeper.
"Melbourne, specifically, with more than 100 days of lockdown, [had] a lot of people with more money, and more importantly, nowhere to spend their money.
"They had more disposable income, which saw them turning to collectables and, specifically, the card industry.
And that led to others realising there was "an opportunity to make some pretty good money", Mr Trigger said.
Crashing the pack
AFL footy cards come in sealed foil packets, with each packet holding between eight and 10 randomly allocated cards.
A box of AFL Teamcoach Game Cards contains 36 packs, each containing nine cards.
While a box sells at retail for $105, prices paid on the secondary market can be much higher than that.
2021's most sought-after footy cards
Teamcoach Gold Craft Dustin Martin – going price $1,000-$1,400
Teamcoach Gold Craft Scott Pendlebury — $600-$900
Select Footy Stars Marquee Josh Daicos — $500-$800
Select Footy Stars Prestige Marquee Dylan Shiel — $400-$600
Select Footy Stars Prestige Marquee Andrew Gaff — $300-$400
A newspaper reported the cards had all but sold out in south-west Victoria, while footy card collector Paul Bramley from the Bendigo Coin and Collectables Club confirmed it was a similar story in central Victoria.
Mr Trigger said the speculators had come up with a system that almost assured they would make a profit provided they got complete boxes of cards.
"They are doing what we call 'breaks'," Mr Trigger explained.
"What happens is a person would buy a whole box for, say, $105.
"They would then sell the 18 team spots at $10 each, for example, and then break that box open live on social media or on a live stream.
"They would then send the cards out to those people who had each individual team.
"People realised this was an easy way to make money sitting at home, locked down.
"[You] go to your newsagent or supermarket and buy every box you can get your hands on and, when they run out, you turn to the secondary market.
"And it doesn't matter if you pay three times the price of a box because you just increase the price to go into the draw from $10 to $30.
"You can't lose and you've got a nice little business sitting at home, but it makes it difficult for kids to get their hands on cards."
Collectors vs speculators
ABC "geek guru" and former comic book shop owner Garry Fay says speculators cashing in on collectables, from footy cards to superhero comics, was not new.
He said they were taking advantage of collectors' desire to "complete the set".
"Footy cards have always been popular," Mr Fay said.
"With a lot of collectable cards there is a collector mentality that rather than just buy the packets, you would buy boxes.
"This was something I struggled with when I owned the comic book shop — there is a difference between collectors and speculators.
"When some new comics would come in, if there was a news report about them, we'd get people coming in who we had never seen before, to buy multiple copies of something just on the speculation they could make money on them.
"It just makes it harder for the young kids who save up their pocket money to get that one packet of footy cards and they've sold out."