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Your Ultimate Guide to Selling and Investing in Sports Cards

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This guide to investing and selling trading cards was written by Gary Vaynerchuk, Raghav Haran, Tyler Schmitt, and Lou Geneux.

 

So… you’re thinking about investing in sports cards. This guide will cover everything you need to know to get started - from figuring out what your old cards are worth to finding what new cards to buy, and more.

 

Also be sure to bookmark this post and listen to the Card Talk podcast for more tips and tricks on the go.

Why Invest in Sports Cards?

Sportscard prices have spiked in recent years for a few reasons:

 

  • Kids who flipped sneakers are getting into the game. The big difference with sports cards is that people can get them in much higher volume than they can with sneakers - with sneakers you might only be able to get one pair online, but with sports cards, you can get as many as your budget allows.
     

  • Nostalgia is a huge driver. Men and women from the 80s who grew up with sports cards now have young kids and love seeing their kids get into the same hobbies they loved. You see toys like GI Joe “reboot” every 30 years or so for the same reason.

 

  • Buying sports card packs also ties into the rise of sports betting - buying a pack of cards and hoping you pull out a $50,000 Zion card is similar to the excitement of betting on games. 

 

It all creates a perfect storm for cards to rise in value today. 

 

The other more fascinating element, especially for you as you’re reading this article, is the concept of trading cards being the current generation’s “art.” 

 

As attitudes and values shift, a lot of people are into displaying - say - a Michael Jordan rookie card in their house that they can show to their friends instead of a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s like how Justin Bieber showed off his insane Pokemon card collection hanging on his wall. 

 

Similarly, the scarcity and supply-and-demand elements of certain sports cards makes them an interesting long term investment that could increase in value - similar to something like fine art. 

 

Here’s how closely fine art has tracked the stock market over time: 

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And here’s how the trading card market compares to the stock market over a 10-year period (according to PWCC).

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Not to say that trading cards will always go up or that they’ll always beat the stock market—but it’s an interesting conversation to have, especially for those who can afford a small, fun, alternative investment. 

 

Being successful with sports card investing is all about education. Unfortunately, many people will get caught up in FOMO, gambling-like behavior, or buy in areas where they’re not educated - and that’s where they’ll lose over time. Education comes in the form of figuring out what sports to invest in, what players to buy, understanding the supply of the card you’re buying, and more. 

 

In this guide, we'll break down the specifics of everything you need to know when it comes to trading cards, such as:

  • Setting goals
  • Different card buying strategies
  • Card values
  • Rookie cards
  • Types of cards to collect
  • Card value variables
  • Considering options outside of sports
  • Places to buy
  • Research tools
  • Future of the hobby
  • Risks involved

Set your goals

1. Set a budget

Without a budget, it’s easy to spend a lot more than you’re comfortable with! Before you get started, make sure to set a budget for the amount that you’re willing to spend on cards. 

2. Decide your financial goals with the hobby

What are you looking to accomplish, financially? Are you just looking to collect, or are you looking for a return? 

 

Different financial goals might require different strategies. If you have some cash and you’re looking for a long term investment, you’ll have a different strategy than if you’re looking to make money in the next few months, for example.

Understand different card buying strategies

1. Long term investing

Cards that are long term investments require a different thought process and strategy than cards that are short term investments. 

 

If you’re looking for long term growth (and less risk), you should be thinking generationally. When you’re thinking generationally, you’re not focused on a player having a good game today or tomorrow (like Bol Bol did in July), you’re focused on accumulating cards of generational icons. You’ll be thinking more along the lines of what players will have the best legacies, as opposed to the short term implications of one game or even one season. 

 

These cards generally cost more, but also typically carry less risk.

3. Collecting

Let’s not forget that sports cards are a hobby! 

 

That means a number of people should be into this just for that purpose. If you want to collect cards of a certain player because you like that player, then that’s amazing. Just enjoying collecting makes investing and flipping more fun too, if you go down those routes.​​​

4. Sports betting & gambling

If you’re into sports betting, flipping sports cards could be another potentially lower-risk way of playing. If you’re betting on the New Orleans Pelicans winning a game, or Zion Williamson scoring more than X amount of points in a game, then sports cards might be a safer angle to go (since you won’t necessarily lose all your money if it doesn’t work out). Or if you’re betting on someone to win Rookie of the Year, buying their card and flipping it after they win would be another way to do it. 

 

If you can bet on a game, you can bet on a player as well in the same form or fashion by buying up their cards.

How to find the value of your cards

A lot of people are getting back into the hobby by first researching and figuring out the value of their old cards in their closet from when they were younger. If you have a card that you’re trying to find the value of, make sure you have the following info: 

 

Step 1. Find the year of the card. You can find this by checking the copyright date or the final year of the stats that are included. 

 

Step 2. Find the card company name.

 

Step 3. Find the player’s name. 

 

Step 4. Find the card number.

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For example, in the case of this Michael Jordan card: The date is 1986, the card company is Fleer, and the card number is 57/132 (this means that there were 132 cards in the set this card was in, this is the 57th card). 

 

Step 5: Head to eBay

 

You can enter all of those things into eBay, and scroll down and hit “sold items.” Make sure “completed items” is unchecked.

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From there, you can see all the sold listings for that card and get a feel for how much it’s going for. You’ll see a variety of listings - some cards will be “raw”, some will be “graded”, and others will be similar cards from different years or sets. 

 

You’ll learn all the terminology later in this guide, but this is a great starting point! 

 

After you go through your existing cards and see what you have, you can start the process of exploring new players that you’re interested in. You can explore new cards and get a feel for the market - starting with that player’s “rookie card.”

Figuring out what player’s card to buy: Starting with the rookie card

First, go to a site like eBay, and start by picking a player you like. Let’s say you like Ja Morant.Type in “Ja Morant rookie.”

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We’ll talk about this more later, but the most desirable version of a player’s card is typically their rookie card. The rookie card is the first version of their card to be printed. If you don’t know what set their rookie card is from, a good way of figuring it out is by typing in “[player name] rookie” and seeing what comes up. 

 

Once you type it in and press enter, look at what graded cards come up. Graded cards are cards that are enclosed in a case like this one and given a rating from 1-10 (which reflects the card’s condition) by a grading company.

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Here’s some context on what the different words on the case mean:

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In Ja Morant’s case, a good chunk of the graded card listings were 2019 Panini Prizm - which indicates that that’s his main rookie card. “Panini Prizm” or “Topps Chrome” will typically be the main rookie card sets for some of the more recent players. Panini acquired the exclusive NBA license for trading cards in the 2009 - 2010 season. 

 

For LeBron James, his rookie card is the 2003 Topps Chrome. For Giannis Antetokounpo, his rookie card is from the 2013 Panini Prizm Basketball set. 

 

From there, we can start searching for recent prices and sold listings. Type in “2019 Panini Prizm Ja Morant PSA” into eBay, and click on the “sold” listings on the left-hand side filter:

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That search term will give you a list of all rookie cards that have been graded by PSA (which usually hold the most value).  

 

You can scroll through and start to get a sense for what the prices are, and what you can expect to pay. The rookie card is usually the most desirable and will usually be the first card to go up in value in correlation with the performance & future outlook on the player, if that fits within your budget. The general rule of thumb is to take the average of the last five sales, and consider that as a fair price to pay. One thing to note, is that when selling on ebay or stockX, there is a ~13% fee for the seller. This means when purchasing from a human off platform, prices will be anywhere from 10-15% less than comparison on an online marketplace. 

 

From there, you can consider the other variables that play into whether the card is a good short or long term investment - things like what team the player is on, the grade of the card, the population report, the cultural awareness around the player, the artwork on the card, and more. 

 

In the rest of this post, we’ll cover the different aspects of card collecting, and the different variables that can affect a card’s value.

Types of Sports Cards you can collect

1. Rookie cards

A player’s rookie card holds more value than their other cards, historically. The reason is because it can’t be manipulated - even as new product is released, the rookie card remains the rookie card. People in the hobby typically want to get the first card that was ever printed of that player, which happens to be the rookie card. 

 

At the time of writing this article, the LeBron James Topps Chrome rookie card is selling for upwards of $17,000 in PSA 10 (we’ll talk more about PSA grading later in this post).

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LeBron’s 2006-2007 Topps Chrome card on the other hand, is selling for just over $1k. It’s not the rookie card, so it’s not as highly desired. But keep in mind that LeBron is one of the greatest therefore you see other cards going up. 

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That being said, as the rookie card of a player gets too pricey, people begin to collect other cards of that player, such as second-year cards or first-year cards with a specific team. For example, LeBron’s first Miami Heat card sells for $2.5k+ now. 

2. Inserts

Card companies put inserts into packs to spread out the regular cards. Inserts are typically more artistic, or hold a different kind of design from the rest of the cards in the set. For example, Panini did a fun design with Zion as a superhero for one of their inserts.

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Inserts have started to hold more value over time as of late. As people start to look for different ways to invest in cards, there are lower populations of inserts. 


Zion’s 2019 Panini Prizm rookie card has 9000 PSA 10s right now - an insert of his would definitely be printed less, which means that the inserts might be more valuable depending on what it is and what it signifies.

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You can find inserts on eBay by searching something like “Dwyane Wade psa” and looking for cards that seem a little “off the beaten path.” From there, enter the set that card is from into the “PSA Pop Report” tab to find the supply of the card. 

 

Check out the “population report” section below for more on this.

3. Complete sets

Hardcore collectors love the “chase” of trying to assemble complete sets - they love the challenge of trying to get every card in - say - the 2019 Panini Prizm Basketball set.

 

It can be fun as a hobby, but a full set doesn’t necessarily sell for more than individual cards by themselves.

4. Boxes

There are different types of card boxes you can find. There are retail boxes that you can find in stores like Target. There are also what’s called “hobby boxes” and “jumbo hobby boxes” - those are the ones that have autographed cards in them, guaranteed. 

 

You can approach this in a couple of ways: 

 

For one, you could buy the boxes, keep them sealed, and hold onto them as they rise in value. Sealed boxes typically hold the most value because you don’t know what’s inside - it gives people a “thrill of the hunt” and a sense of excitement as they buy the box and open up. The value of sealed boxes really depends on the type of boxes you’re buying - like this 1986 Fleer Basketball Box for example sells for a ton of money because people could potentially pull a Michael Jordan rookie card out of it (among others).

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You could also just open up the packs for fun as soon as you buy them from the store, in hopes that there’s a valuable card inside. This ties in a bit more to the gambling or sports betting aspects, but it can be a ton of fun, especially if you really enjoy collecting.

5. Unopened packs

Boxes are made up of a number of individual card packs, which can be sold by themselves too. 

 

Packs can also go for a lot of money, depending on the set they’re from.

6. Autographs

Autographed cards are printed less than regular cards because the card company has to pay to get player autographs - and the more popular the player is, the more expensive the autograph is. 

 

The supply of autographed cards are typically a small fraction of the total number of rookie cards a player has.

7. Jersey patch cards

There are some cards that come out with a patch of a player’s jersey on it. 


Just because a card is a patch card doesn’t necessarily make it the most valuable thing - the most valuable patch cards are typically game-used jerseys (as opposed to event-used jerseys). The game-used jersey patches are usually reserved for premium products, like Panini National Treasures basketball sets.

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To find jersey patch cards, you can search things like “[player name] patch”, “[player name] RPA” (which means rookie patch auto), or “[player name] rpa psa” (which will give you graded cards). Rookie patch auto cards are autographed cards with a jersey patch from the player’s rookie season. 

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From there, you can take into account all the other variables - things like population reports (more details below), your general intuition about the player, recent sale prices, amount of recent sales, and more.

8. Error cards

Error cards are cards that have some kind of misprint on them, which can be valuable. They don’t happen as much anymore because there’s usually much more quality control these days when it comes to that, but with vintage sets, you can find some error cards with wrong names or images. 

 

They’re definitely flippable, but it doesn’t happen as often with newer stuff.

Variables that can affect a card’s value

1. Modern vs vintage

Some people feel that vintage cards are a better investment compared to modern cards because there are less variables. Meaning, players like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have been cemented as icons of basketball, so their price might not fluctuate as much in the day-to-day. The supply of those cards also won’t rise as demand goes up, so some people view them as a safer investment. 

 

Cards of current players like Luka Doncic or Patrick Mahomes could go up and down based on injuries, how well they play, and a number of other factors.  

 

On the other hand, the argument for buying modern cards is that new people entering the hobby are more excited about - say - Giannis than they are about someone like Julius Erving. There could also be more opportunity for short term gains with modern cards, since a lot of the recent excitement around the hobby is based around current players.

2. The grading company

Grading companies evaluate the condition of the card. 


Right now, PSA is the major one.

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BGS (Beckett Grading Services) is probably the next biggest, and SGC coming in third. 

 

People can submit their card to these grading companies, who will then evaluate the card’s condition and put a “grade” on it from 1-10, and enclose it in a case. 

 

Right now, PSA graded cards are generally the most respected and higher valued, with the highest being labeled as a “PSA 10.” BGS black labels cards that earn a 10/10 on centering, edges, corners, and surface quality. Those are also highly desired.

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If you’re a newer investor or collector getting into graded cards, start with PSA, then look into BGS and SGC. 

 

The “premier” grading company might be something that changes over time. A different brand might be “number 1”, meaning their graded cards might be more desired in the future compared to a PSA graded card. 

 

That’s something to think about especially if you’re really in this for the long haul. But for now, graded cards are the absolute currency of the industry on the premium end.

3. Supply of the card (Population reports)

The number of cards in circulation can affect the value in a big way. Supply & Demand is a tried and true principle and is at the core of this hobby!

 

You can check population reports for PSA-graded cards on their website

 

Just enter the set your card is in… 

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And you can find the population of all cards within that set. For example, Ja Morant’s main card within that set currently has 6584 PSA 10’s in circulation. 

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Zion Williamson’s card has a little more at 9000+.

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You can also search by player name, and get a list of all the cards they have in circulation, along with the population numbers of those cards. 

Just because a card is lower in supply doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more valuable. There are a lot of other factors to consider too - like the overall awareness around that player, the team they’re on, future potential, and more. Ask yourself, is the card low in supply because it’s truly rare? Or because it’s irrelevant and so no one’s sent it in for grading? 

 

Population reports are one important tool you can use to compare cards and find the rarest cards of a player you like.

4. Buying raw vs graded

You can buy cards that are graded by companies like PSA or Beckett, or you can buy cards “raw.” Meaning, cards that haven’t been submitted to a grading company. 

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The barrier to entry is often lower for raw cards because of the lower price. Since they haven’t been officially graded for quality, they don’t carry as much of a premium. 

 

Raw cards are generally better for beginners who are just getting into the hobby because they allow more room for mistakes and for learning. You could spend $100 and get - say - seven raw cards, or spend $100 and get maybe one PSA-graded card. There’s more room for error with the seven. 

 

Early on, it can be safer to start with raw cards, then move into graded cards as you learn the nuances.

5. Surface, corners, edges, creases, and centering

When a grading company grades cards, they pay attention to the surface, corners, edges, creases, and centering of the card. 

 

Does the surface have any scratches? Are the corners and edges frayed? Does the card have any creases? How well is the player centered on the card?  

 

Grading is a subjective process with a human element to it. People at these companies will grade cards based on the condition, and these are some of the things they look for. 

 

Assessing a card’s condition is a deep skill that takes time to develop, but if you’re buying raw cards and sending them into a grading company to get them graded, or digging cards out of your closet to get them graded, these are some of the factors you can look at.  

6. The card company

There are different companies that create cards - you’ll hear of these names as you get into the hobby. 

 

Panini is the company that predominantly is known for basketball and football cards, the reason being that they hold the licenses with the professional leagues to distribute player cards with team logos. 

 

Topps holds the licenses for baseball cards. The MLB player’s association has a deal with Panini which allows Panini to print baseball cards with player names (but not team logos), but Topps has the full deal where they’re able to print both player names and team logos. For that reason, Topps baseball cards hold more value. 


Upper deck holds licenses for hockey.

7. Cultural relevance of the athlete

Cultural relevance plays an important role in overall demand because it shows how much awareness people have about the player. 

 

For example, with all the stuff LeBron James is doing off the court, what does that mean for his cards? What players - like Shaq, Dwyane Wade, or Charles Barkley - will stay culturally relevant even after they retire? 

 

The player’s life off the field or off the court could potentially also play a role in whether they make a good long term investment - even after they leave the game.

8. Player performance in a game

Player performance can play a role in the short term fluctuations of their card’s value. This is more relevant for flippers than long term investors, but the dynamics are similar to sports betting. If a player has an incredible game or series of games, their card price will probably go up.​​​​​

9. Your negotiation tactics

Negotiation is part of the hobby! 

 

It’s something people do a lot at card shows, but also something you can do on sites like eBay or StockX when you’re buying. 

 

You can look for listings that “accept offers”, and message the buyer with a price you think is reasonable based off of recent sales.

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Because information on recent sales is so readily available, there’s typically not a ton of flexibility on recent prices. The wiggle room comes when you buy from a particular seller more than once - if you’re a repeat buyer or you buy multiple cards from one person, you can ask for lower prices. Also, put yourself into the seller's shoes, why not list at a higher price point than the market at the chance lazy buyers are perusing the market and willing to pay over market value in exchange for the time saved from doing the research? If there is an option to make a “best offer” or “OBO”, do so! But don’t be upset if while you’re waiting for a response, someone comes along and buys at full price.

10. Retirements and Hall of fame potential

Getting into the Hall of Fame is one variable that can really spike a card’s value. For example, Vince Carter’s rookie card saw a lot of demand as he became eligible for the Hall of Fame.   

11. The player’s team: Major markets

The team the player’s on matters. Major markets overall tend to hold more value than smaller markets. When a player wins with the Yankees, Lakers, or Celtics, it can hold more weight. 

 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t excel as an individual athlete - for example, the Anaheim Angels aren’t necessarily the hottest team, but Mike Trout is “the guy” in baseball. It’s just something to take into consideration.

12. The player’s team: Smaller markets

Small market teams can hold less weight than larger markets, but like it was mentioned before, just because a player isn’t on the Celtics or Lakers or Yankees doesn’t mean their card isn’t valuable. 

 

For example, Ja Morant is in Memphis, but if he ever gets traded to a major market team, that might spike the price of his card. That’s one way to use this data.

13. Player career path and potential

One of the most fun parts about the hobby is seeing whether you’re “right” about a player or not. 

 

When you’re buying modern cards - especially new rookies - evaluating a player’s talent is a huge variable. Who’s going to be a huge talent? Who’s already a talent, but hasn’t gotten the chance to really shine? Who’s talented, but on a small market team? What if they get traded somewhere else? 

 

This goes back to deeply knowing the sport you’re trading in - if you can’t answer those questions, then you probably won’t be able to make educated decisions on current players.

14. The player’s league

The league the player plays in makes a difference too. 

 

Basketball is a major sport and also has a fanbase in countries like China and around the world. That can influence the demand for basketball cards. 

 

Football is extremely popular in America and has a loyal fanbase. The stats show that 73 of the top 100 TV broadcasts in 2019 were football. It’s the biggest sport in America and will have an audience. 

 

Baseball is the oldest sport out of the group and was the sport that truly popularized sports cards. They’re the foundation of the hobby. 

 

Hockey isn’t as massive in terms of popularity, but the NHL fanbase is extremely loyal and excited about the sport which could sustain demand. Same with baseball, wrestling, and the UFC. 


Soccer has a huge international audience. And with the explosion of the Premier League and the TV rights deal they’ve done with NBC, and the fact that the schedule over the next two years will be jam packed due to COVID-19 match delays, there could be a lot more awareness around it. International soccer which always dominates TV. Also, the 2026 World Cup will be played in the United States, and that could make a difference in the overall awareness around the sport.

15. Nostalgic elements

Nostalgia’s a powerful driver of human behavior and is something that carries weight in the world of collectibles. 

 

This is especially true for areas like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards that hold a lot of sentimental value for people - people often want to collect the cards that they played with as kids. It’s true for sports cards too, and a big argument as to why vintage players hold a lot of value. 

 

Older people might have grown up watching Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing. Those players hold a place in a lot of people’s childhoods, which can make them more collectible and influence their card’s value. 

Consider your options outside of Sports

With sports cards rising so much in value, there’s been a lot of awareness brought to the world of trading cards and collectibles as a whole. Things like Pokemon cards, Magic the Gathering cards, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and more have been really rising in value in a big way over the past 1-2 years. 


Check out this blog post from PSA on the collectability of Pokemon - sets of some of the most valuable cards have been auctioned for $100,000+, including this specific Charizard card which receives bids upwards of $50k - 60k+.

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There are plenty of options outside of sports if you’re more passionate about another trading card game you played as a kid!

The Best Channels to Buy Sports Cards

1. eBay

eBay is the most well-known place to buy and sell cards. It can also be a quick tool you can use to see what a card is selling for. 

2. StockX

StockX.com is a site that’s emerged as an eBay competitor where people can buy and sell authentic collectibles. You have the ability to enter a bid on a card you’re interested in or enter a price you’d like to sell it at.

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3. Facebook groups and Instagram

There are a number of sellers who post their cards on Facebook groups or directly on Instagram for sale. It’s another place to find deals, and an opportunity to build a closer relationship with a seller (or buyer) who you can go back to over and over again. As those relationships are formed, it’s easier to get deals.

4. COMC

Comc.com is another place you can buy trading cards. It’s built more for collectors who are trying to collect full sets. 

5. Card shows

Card shows still happen across the country, the biggest one being the National Sports Collectors Convention. It’s an opportunity to have a ton of fun, potentially relive some childhood memories, and buy direct from sellers at their booths. 

The Future of Sports Cards

Increased demand might lead to more supply 

 

As demand for cards increases, the natural reaction of card companies will be to increase the amount of supply in future sets. It’s part of what caused the junk wax era - as card companies tripled the amount of printing, supply outpaced demand and the cards from that era just weren’t as valuable. 

 

It makes sense - card companies like Panini and Topps are trying to get more sales. If there’s more demand, they’ll increase production to match it. 

 

The only way to combat that is being smart about how you’re buying cards. Like we mentioned earlier, you can check PSA population reports to see how many of a certain card are in circulation and think about whether the market demand outpaces the supply. 

 

Macroeconomic variables 

 

Markets go up, and markets go down. 

 

There’s a good argument to be made that certain sports cards and Pokemon cards will continue to rise in value over the long term (especially the icons), but like with everything, it’s important to recognize that there are macroeconomic factors that can affect the card market. 

 

Collectibles aren’t a “top need” for most, so in recessions, liquidity could dry up and we could see a decline in card value. That’s why it’s so important to set a budget - define how much you’re comfortable spending and treat it like any other investment (i.e. don’t overexpose yourself and diversify).

Risks

Player injuries 

 

One risk of sports card investing is that athletes get hurt. 

 

For example, if you were obsessed with Derrick Rose and put a ton of money into his rookie cards at the height of his career, that wouldn’t have been a good outcome given what happened to him with injuries.

 

There are some sports where athletes might be more at risk than others (like football) but there’s not really any sure way to predict this. It’s one of the risks that come with the territory.    

 

Fake cards

 

Just like there’s fake art, there are fake cards, too. 

 

You can educate yourself on how to tell whether a card is real or fake, and also lean more towards buying graded cards over time. Taking into account the seller’s reviews and feedback can also help. 

 

Shilling

 

“Shilling” is when sellers put in a fake, massively high bid on a card just so they can sell it at a higher price. If a card has a few sales where it “sold” for a much higher price than what you think it’s worth, it could be manipulation. Don’t forget, trading cards, just like sneakersm fine art, modern art, or any other collectible is an unregulated market and there is bound to be manipulation. 

 

Scams

 

If you’re not transacting through a reputed website or trading card marketplace, PayPal goods and services can be a reliable way to send money to sellers or collect money from buyers. 

 

It offers protection to both buyers and sellers to make sure that the transaction gets carried out properly. You can use this if you’re buying cards through places like Instagram or Facebook groups. 

 

Diversification 

 

If you think about buying cards as a business, the same rules apply as any other investment! 

 

By diversifying you can make sure that you’re not overexposed to any sport or player. Consider collecting different sets, different players, different leagues (if you really know multiple sports), different rookie cards, different grading card companies, etc based on where you think the risks are in your portfolio.

Research tools


Hope you found this guide helpful as you’re getting started - happy trading, and hit us up @ONE37pm on Twitter!!

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