For many years, collecting sports items was limited to cards, jerseys, autographs and items that were directly related to the sport. Die cast sports items were available with most relating to auto racing. They were naturally a perfect fit to the die cast market that was mostly automobiles to begin with. Sure, Matchbox, Hot Wheels and Corgi collections were already in full swing with a great selection of product and availability, but die cast collectibles in the other major sports like baseball and football were hard to come by. This was easy to understand because there was no true relation between these sports and motor vehicles, right? Wrong !!!
The beginning of the movement for die cast items from racing into the other major sports began in 1989. The Baltimore Orioles wanted to have a unique promotional giveaway for their fans at one of their games. They contacted and did business with a small company in York, PA that many of us know as White Rose Collectibles. White Rose literally "stepped up to the plate" and delivered an existing Matchbox Model A Ford with the Orioles Logo and year printed on the side to given away to fans. This Oriole item, being so unique, was a big hit with fans of all ages. Die cast had now started to become a sport collectible.
Starting in 1990, White Rose began to produce these collectible Model A Ford trucks for all Major League Baseball and NFL teams. Popularity was still a bit unknown so the production run of approximately 10,000 per team was limited to hobby, toy, card and gift stores and was not available to most of the mass retailers. All of these tucks were officially licensed and were available with the appropriate team colors and logos. The year of the model, 1990 in this case, was also printed on the door panels. Printing the year on the vehicles is what made these trucks a true collector's item.
Each year the color scheme would change a bit to keep the items fresh. Then the vehicles themselves began to change to really enhance the collectibility of the product. Again, all models still had the year printed on them and production still remained limited. Since these were still Matchbox models, these also became a "cross over" collectible to main stream Matchbox collectors. The mid 1990's brought the addition of a few of the most popular NBA teams but, there was still nothing for the hockey collector to this point.
That all changed when White Rose got the license to produce mini Zamboni's, the machine that cleans the ice surface at all ice rinks and a machine that has an unusual popularity with hockey fans in general. All NHL collectors now had their item! Even though it was not an official Matchbox item, the Zamboni WAS directly related to the sport and was a HUGE success with fans. As with past items, the official colors and logos were employed in the design as well as, the year of production.
Die cast now had a much larger presence in the sports collectible marketplace. As years passed, other models and styles were added to the line that included tractor trailers, tandem trailers and helicopters, to name a few. As popularity increased, so did the attention of the larger sports companies and White Rose was originally purchased by Fleer, Inc. Fleer continued to add to the line to also include muscle cars, fighter planes and more classic vehicles. A year or so ago, Fleer was bought out by Upper Deck, Inc. which has continued to enhance the die cast line of products. Even though the companies change, the vehicles and production quality continue to improve. All vehicle designs continue to change from year to year but many still have the year printed on them. They all still have a limited production runs to further protect their collectibility.
Racing fans will always be the biggest die cast sports collector's. For this reason, they also have the widest variety of product that ranges in price from a few dollars to limited production vehicles that cost a few hundred dollars. Also, as in other sports, scale models in all sizes are available to satisfy the needs of all collectors. Manufacturers such as Winner's Circle, Revell, and Action (now Motorsports Authentic) keep collectors of all ages and budgets happy. Race cars are continuously updated to reflect changes in sponsors, drivers, color designs and various promotions, such as movies, that keep the racing die cast collections fresh.
In all, it does not matter what sport you enjoy or what driver you follow. Die cast collectibles are a fun and unique way to display your support. Limited production runs, variety of vehicles and ever changing designs help protect the value of your collection and yet offer a choice that keeps every collector happy. I do not matter if you are in the winners circle or hoisting a World Series trophy, die cast collectibles are heavy metal fun !!!