The trade of collectible cards has experienced significant growth during the COVID-19 period. While we often hear about Pokemon, Magic, and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, today we're interested in another type of collectible card: sports cards. And with international sports events and the Olympics coming up... there's no better time to get started :)
In this article, we will delve into the humble origins of sports collectible cards, their market, and their future.
Sports cards: what are they?
The origins of sports collectible cards
It's hard to imagine that the first collectible cards were simply promotional cards placed inside cigarette packs to strengthen them. Especially when we learn that the Mickey Mantle card, dating back to 1952, sold for over 12.6 million dollars last month.
The first sports cards date back to the 1860s, with baseball cards, which were typically sold inside packs of chewing gum or tobacco.
With the rise of color lithographic printing, other sports joined the movement. Thus, in the early 1900s, we witnessed the emergence of collectible American football and hockey cards in the United States, and football cards in the 1950s in the United Kingdom.
It was only in 1952 that Topps, a producer of collectible cards, launched the very first sports collectible cards, including player biographies, their performances, and other features.
While Topps is generally considered the leader in the Major League Baseball (MLB) baseball market, there are many collectible card companies:
- Panini, the exclusive partner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for collectible cards, is often associated with the National Football League (NFL), or American football, and the National Basketball Association (NBA), American basketball. Panini's cards are licensed, meaning they are the only ones who can manufacture cards with jerseys (see the "Memorabilia" section for more information).
- Upper Deck Company, associated with the National Hockey League (NHL)
- The Prizm and Optic collectible cards for NBA basketball.
Now that you know a little more about the origins of collectible cards, let's take a closer look at the different sports cards.
Types of Cards
When looking at sports cards, there are several types to consider. In this section, we will cover seven: Rookie Cards, Base Cards, Parallel Cards, Subsets, Inserts, Autograph Cards, and Memorabilia Cards.
A Rookie Card is a collectible card that features an athlete for the first time after they have competed at the highest level possible in their sport.
A player's Rookie Card is usually the most sought after as it is rare. However, for a Rookie Card to be considered legitimate, it must be included in a product's base set.
Things can get quite complicated when it comes to football. There are a multitude of international cards focused on international matches and leagues (think players like Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have played for multiple teams throughout their careers). For this reason, it can be difficult to spot the true Rookie Card for your favorite player.
Fortunately, the distinctive red "RC" logo on Rookie Cards has become increasingly popular in recent years. This logo indicates to the collector that the player being represented is a new recruit - not an experienced player.
For older cards, we recommend checking out The Ultimate Soccer Card Rookie List to evaluate the authenticity of the Rookie Card.
Base & Parallel Cards
Base Cards are the basic cards in the collection. They are the easiest to obtain and therefore the cheapest.
Parallel Cards are a modified version of a "base" card that uses the same photograph as the standard edition but has slightly altered colors, appearance, and even feel.
In the image below, you can see a green parallel card, Bowman Mike Trout 2021, next to his base card:
Subsets and Inserts
A subset is a card that usually has a number and is completely distinct from the other base cards in the deck. A card from a subset is an insert. A serial number on the card can sometimes be used to distinguish inserts from parallel cards. For example, if a card is printed 30 times, yours will likely have a stamped "21/30" to indicate that it is the 21st of the 50 cards made.
Autograph Cards (AU)
An AU card is a card that has been signed by the player. It is also known as a "certified autograph." There are two types:
- Hard-signed autographed cards have a signature written directly on the surface of the card. If these cards are signed by a famous player, they have a high value.
- Sticker autographed cards feature a certified signature on a clear label affixed to the surface of the card. The card was never actually touched by the player.
A memorabilia card is a card that contains a part of the material used by an athlete during a sports competition or worn once for the card. You can find cards containing pieces of a player's jersey, baseball bat, or even a piece of their cap.
The value of these cards increases with the player's fame and if the inserted piece was worn during a match.
Now that we have reviewed the different types of cards and seen how value can be derived from each of them, let's discuss a crucial topic: how to develop your collection!
What should I collect?
Before buying your first sports cards, you should ask yourself: "Why do I want to collect them in the first place?"
Is it to keep an everlasting memory or to make money? What do I want to collect? Do I want to collect complete sets, variants of a single player, or unopened packs?
If you choose to start a collection, we recommend that you always set a goal at the beginning as well as a budget: that way, goodbye guilty pleasures! 100% enjoyment objective.
Now, let's take a look at the values of the cards.
The history of sports cards can be divided into three parts:
- Before the 1980s: vintage cards, which can be worth a lot of money depending on the card in question.
- The 1980s to 1990s, when companies made cards excessively to meet the growing interest of customers, resulting in a decrease in the monetary value of cards. Unfortunately, these cards are not worth much.
- After the demand of the 1990s, collectible card manufacturers began to control the supply in order to create a sense of rarity and increase the value of cards. These cards can also have greater value.
Therefore, the prices of new and unopened packs vary considerably depending on their age and the cards they contain. Packs that date back to before the 1950s are by far the hardest to find and are sold at a high price. The same goes if the set contains a sought-after card. The "Sealed Wax" box refers to an unopened box that is still in its plastic wrapping. These boxes typically contain dozens of individual packs.
To help you evaluate your cards, you can rely on the official grading system, which adds value to ungraded cards. In this process, sports cards receive a condition rating from 1 to 10, corresponding to a perfect condition.
Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) offer an authentication and grading service in the United States. You can also check card-selling websites such as Voggt (hello 🤓), Ebay, COMC, Kronozio, or go to card forums and social media to look at the prices of completed sales. These data will allow you to know the approximate selling price of your card.
The grading is evaluated based on 4 criteria:
- Centering: how well is the print centered on the card?
- Corners: how rounded are the four corners? (barely visible white, for example)
- Edges: how free of bumps and discolorations are the edges?
- Surface: is the cardboard generally smooth and scratch-free?
We have reviewed the characteristics that make some cards more valuable than others. Now, we explain how to trade sports cards.
Where to buy sports trading cards
The best option for beginners is to go to a collectible card store. If there isn't one in your area, you can go directly to the internet where you'll find a multitude of retailers. You can buy them on Voggt (that's us 🤓), from specialized online retailers, and if you're looking for a specific card, direct sales or auction sites, or local selling platforms may be the best starting point.
If you're feeling more adventurous, you can participate in live box or pack openings. Participants usually buy a spot - which can cost from a few euros to several hundred euros - and are randomly assigned to a team: baseball, basketball, hockey, football, etc. Participants then watch a live unboxing of a sealed pack and only win the cards from the assigned team.
You have to be ready to rely on chance, as you won't know what cards you'll get until the packs are opened: you could come away empty-handed or hit the jackpot!
Trading card influencers are also gaining popularity. YouTubers like Geoff Wilson post videos in which he opens basketball card packs and shares his findings with his followers on his channel (and his app) Sports Card Investor.
Now that you know where to buy them, let's focus on selling sports trading cards.
Where to sell sports trading cards
Unlike in the United States, Europe doesn't have many specialized sites where you can sell your old sports cards for money, such as Dean's Cards, The Cardboard Connection or Just Collect. However, there are many alternatives:
- Online auction sites such as VOGGT of course, eBay or Catawiki, where you'll have access to an international community and therefore more chance of finding a buyer who is in the market for a specific card. However, you'll have to pay a commission for the sales you make.
- Your local card store, where you can ask if they buy cards. It's easier, but you may not be able to sell them for a high price.
- Peer-to-peer selling sites such as Leboncoin or Etsy, where you can list items for sale (and do so for free on Leboncoin for example).
- Flea markets and garage sales, where you can access collections of people who can't sell online. However, you're subject to the uncertainties of visits on that day.
What are your strategies?
The Collector's Dilemma: sealed wax and GOATs
Can You Resist the Urge to Open Boxes and Hold Onto Your Cards for Decades?
One long-term investment strategy in the world of sports cards is buying and holding onto unopened boxes, also known as "sealed wax." The supply of sealed wax gradually diminishes over time as most people tend to rip open boxes as soon as they get them. As a result, their value can increase over time. Additionally, as people get priced out of purchasing high-end cards, more collectors may turn to sealed wax for the chance of pulling valuable cards. The main downside to this strategy is fighting the urge to open the boxes yourself.
You can also invest in the Greatest of All Time (GOATs). For example for Baseball Cards, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant are three players whose cards have close-to-guaranteed potential for long-term growth due to their player caliber, cultural significance, and popularity. Owning a graded 2003 Topps Chrome LeBron James card and holding onto it for a few decades could be a relatively safe investment.
Timing is Everything
How Flipping Cards Based on Market Trends and Events Can Maximize Your Profits
Prospecting involves investing in younger players with star potential while their cards are still undervalued. Currently, players like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Michael Porter Jr., De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and many others are potential prospects. While this can add a new level of excitement to cheering on your favorite players and teams, there is always a risk of players not panning out the way we expect.
Flipping based on market trends, hype, and events will help you buying and selling cards based on market trends, hype, and events. For example, stocking up on a star player's cards during the offseason and selling them when he carries his team deep into the playoffs next season. It could also involve forecasting awards, championships, and other events like Hall of Fame induction. Flipping and prospecting can be synergistic as they are fun ways to slowly build up your investment towards more valuable cards.
In which in TCG protection should you invest?
When you invest in trading cards, protection is key. Here are some must-have tools to keep your cards in top condition.
Ultra Pro Penny Sleeves
Ultra Pro penny sleeves are thin, transparent plastic sleeves that protect your cards from surface damage. They're inexpensive, especially if you buy them in bulk. Don't risk damaging your semi-valuable cards - put them straight into one of these sleeves.
Ultra Pro Top Loaders
Semi-rigid plastic top loaders protect your cards from bending, creasing, and corner/edge wear. Valuable cards should, at the very least, be sleeved and stored in a top loader.
Ultra Pro One-Touch Storage Cases
For higher-end cards, one-touch cases are a pricey but worthwhile investment. These rigid plastic containers snap your card into place, ensuring maximum protection against bending, creasing, corner/edge wear, and even UV light.
Cardboard Storage Boxes
When you rip boxes, you'll likely end up with a lot of low-value cards. Cardboard storage boxes are the perfect solution for storing bulk cards.
While not a necessity for pure investors who only stockpile valuable cards, no true hobbyist is complete without a binder to showcase their precious collection.