culture

Grading Your Sports Cards: The Game Has Changed

mobile hero grading
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Gone are the days when you could take a raw card that might sell for $20, send it to PSA for $9 or $15, get it back in 60 days, and flip it for big returns if you are fortunate enough to receive a PSA 10 grade.

The game has changed.

On March 1st, PSA announced that they would be raising the price of their standard grading service from $50 to $100 and 'express' service form $75 to $150, with their backlog of cards numbered in the millions and their turnaround times well over six months. They hoped that the increase would slow down submissions while they worked their way through the backlog, giving them a chance to get caught up.

On March 30th, another announcement came that created shock waves throughout the entire card collecting hobby, with PSA suspending their value, regular and express service levels.

"Given our growing backlog, it would be disingenuous for us to continue to accept submissions for cards that we will be unable to process in the foreseeable future. It’s an unpleasant conclusion, especially after the March 1 price increase, but it is necessary to properly serve the customers who have already submitted to PSA."

- PSA President, Steve Sloan

As the hobby took a step back to digest the news, and with collectors scrambling to figure out where to grade their cards, there were aftershocks.

SGC, who had recently raised the price of their base card pricing from $15 to $25 shortly after PSA's price increase, announced their second price hike in a month, raising it to $75/card. However, it was recently announced that they are working with a few of the large group submission accounts who will be offering 50% off savings on their published rates.

Beckett Grading Services (BGS) also raised their prices and is in the midst of a similar backlog of cards, with their $65 'standard' service taking over six months to turn around, and their $165 'express' service turning around cards in around 30+ days.

New companies such as HGA and CSG have popped up in recent months, with each attempting to become viable alternatives to the major grading companies.

HGA currently only accepts 5500 cards per week, with two chances (typically on a Thursday and Friday) to enter their waiting room for the chance to be able to submit a maximum of 5 cards. Reserving a spot has grown to be extremely difficult. That said, many collectors are excited about the look of their slabs, which are colorful and customizable. It only costs $20 to submit with HGA for their "best value" service with 60 day turnaround, but again, you can only submit up to 5 cards if you are "lucky enough" to reserve a spot.

CSG is a new sports card branch of the well-established CCG (Certified Collectibles Group) brand that includes CGC, which specializes in Pokemon cards, comic books and magazines, as well as NGC, which specializes in coins. Their reputation is impeccable, and for that reason, many in the sports card hobby are excited about their entry in to the space. Also interesting to note that CSG offers bulk submissions at $8/card if you are submitting 50+ cards whose raw value is under $100, with current turnaround times at around 80 days. Their 75 day economy is $15 and is for cards with less than $500 of raw value, and their standard $25 level ($1000 or less) will get you your cards back in just 32 days.

And then, of course, there is GMA.

Recently, we posted this question on the @cardtalkpod Instagram account and received a wide array of responses.

I came up with the idea for this article because I am in this predicament, trying to figure out what to do with my stack of over sixty raw cards that I want to grade, whose value all hover around $100 each. Considering what these cards would be worth if they came back graded a 10, for me, it makes no financial sense to spend $300 to super express them at PSA. When I was trying to decide what to do with them, I had so many more questions than answers.

  1. Should I just wait the three months until PSA comes back and pay their $75 rate, but then wait another 6-9 months (or longer) to get them back in hand?
  2. Should I consider waiting well over a year to use PSA's lesser expensive economy or value services, and will they decide to even bring those levels back at all?
  3. Is it worth it to bother grading these cards at all, or should I just sell them raw?
  4. If I decide to grade them, which of the companies makes the most sense when factoring in turnaround time and price?

The only way to get answers was to break it down with facts and data based on a formula that includes the current raw value of the card, cost of grading with each service, and the most recent comps of the highest graded examples of those cards by each company.

It's not easy to find data on cards that have been graded by all six of the grading services due to the fact that HGA and CSG are so new and seem to be grading mostly newer cards, while PSA and BGS's turnaround times have made it so that most of those newer cards are still waiting to be graded. Further, I wanted to make sure that all of the sold prices I pulled from eBay took place within the last two weeks (ideally in the last few days) in order to make sure that market fluctuation skewed the results as little as possible.

I was able to get enough of a sample size to get a pretty good idea of how to proceed. The results might surprise you.

(*the cost of grading prices used in this article are based on advertised group submission rates. Prices may vary slightly depending on how you submit your cards.)

1. Zion Williamson 2019 Prizm Base

zion
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

(*the +/- numbers are based on the following formula:
value of the graded card - raw value - cost to grade = xxx)

RAW VALUE: $192.50

PSA: $75 (cost to grade) - 12+ months (time it would take to get the cards back in hand)

PSA 10: $728 (+$460.50*)

PSA 9:  $203.50 (-$64.50)

BGS: $65: 6+ months

BGS 10: $1854.28 (+$1596.78)

BGS 9.5: $354.99 (+$97.49)

BGS 9: $199.50 (-$58)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $519.95 (+$290.45)

SGC 9.5: $275.00 (+45.50)

SGC 9: $215 (-$14.50)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5: $510 (+297.50)

HGA 9: N/A

GMA: $15 - 60 days

GMA: N/A

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: $325 (+$117.50)

CSG 9: $170 (-$37.50)

Summary: For this card, sending it to PSA for $75 is a major gamble, one that I am unwilling to take. The risk of it coming back graded a 9 and actually losing money after waiting an entire year to get it in hand is silly. BGS 10's are the hardest grade to achieve in the hobby, and even if you get it back as a 9.5 after paying $65 and waiting 6+ months, you are only increasing the value of the card by $97.49. The HGA 9.5 comp is actually from mid-February but was the only one I could find. According to CardLadder, these Zion PSA 10's were actually selling for less on that date than they are today. To see the HGA 9.5 selling for $150 more than the BGS 9.5 was eye opening, especially since you get the card back four months sooner and the cost to grade is only $20. The CSG 9.5 selling for around the same as the BGS 9.5 is also eye opening, with 75 day turnaround and only $15 cost of grading. SGC will cost you $37. You will do well if you get a 10, but if you get a 9.5, you only increase the value of the card by $45.50. Anything less, you will lose money.

2. Justin Herbert 2020 Mosaic base

herbert
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

RAW VALUE: $31 

PSA: $75 - 12+ months

PSA 10: $303 (+$197)

PSA 9: $120.50 (+$14)

BGS: $65 - 6+ months

BGS 10: N/A

BGS 9.5: $239 (+$143)

BGS 9: $99 (+$3)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $130.39 (+$62.39)

SGC 9.5: $85 (+$17)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5: $180 (+$129)

HGA 9: $132.50 (+$81.50)

GMA: $15 - 60 days

GMA 10: $57 (+$11)

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: $265 (+$219)

CSG 9: $71 (+$25)

Summary: This is another example of PSA and BGS making no sense for a card of this raw value. HGA and CSG are absolutely the play here. How can you go wrong with HGA. With the $20 cost to grade, even if you only get a 9, you are still +$81.50, and you will have the card in hand in 60 days. You are also in good shape with CSG, turning a profit even if you only receive a 9. It will be interesting to see what the sale price is once either of these companies give this card a 10 and it goes up for auction. Again, at SGC even if you receive a 10, you are only +$62 and in the more likely scenario that you receive a 9.5, it only increases the value by $17. Also... take my advice and stay far away from GMA under any circumstance.

3. Kyler Murray 2019 Prizm Base

kyler
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

RAW VALUE: $79

PSA: $75 - 12+ months

PSA 10: $475 (+$321)

PSA 9: $136 (-$18)

BGS: $65- 6+ months

BGS 10: N/A

BGS 9.5: $226 (+$82)

BGS 9: $140 (-$4)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $175 (+$59)

SGC 9.5: $149 (+$33)

SGC 9: $76 (-$40)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5: N/A

HGA 9: $180 (+$81)

GMA: $15 - 60 days

GMA 10: $83 (-$11)

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: N/A

CSG 9: N/A

Summary: There isn't that much data on this card for the newer grading companies, but I wanted to use it to further illustrate why BGS and PSA are extremely risky places to send this card. You need to feel extremely confident that you will get either a PSA 10 or BGS 9.5, or you are going to lose time and money. If you send this card to SGC, your upside on receiving a 10 is only $59, and just $33 on a 9.5.

4. Fernando Tatis Jr 2019 Topps Chrome

tatis
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

RAW VALUE: $113.50

PSA: $75 - 12+ months

PSA 10: $349 (+$160.50)

PSA 9: $133.50 (-$55)

BGS: $65 - 6+ months

BGS 10: $1138 (+959.50)

BGS 9.5: $311.17 (+132.67)

BGS 9: $141.50 (-$37.50)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $300 (+$149.50)

SGC 9.5: $175 (+$24.50)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5: $280 (+$146.50)

HGA 9: N/A

GMA: $15 - 60 days

GMA: $142.50 (+$14)

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: N/A

CSG 9: N/A

Summary: Sending this card to PSA makes no sense anymore, where again, you will wait a year and if you get a 9, you will lose $55. I actually don't hate the BGS play here if you feel strongly that the card is flawless, because a 9.5 sells for almost as much as a PSA 10, and if you are lucky enough to get a BGS 10, you cash in. Sending it to SGC hoping for a 10 is a big gamble. But the winner here again is HGA, whose 9.5 is worth almost as much as the BGS, while the grading is cheaper and you will have it in hand four months sooner. We unfortunately have no CSG data to go on for this card.

5. Ja Morant 2019 Prizm base

ja
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

RAW VALUE: $74.71

PSA: $75 - 12+ months

PSA 10: $341 (+$191.29)

PSA 9: $94 (-$55.71)

BGS: $65 - 6+ months

BGS 10: N/A

BGS 9.5: $200 (+$60.29)

BGS 9: $109.99 (-$29.72)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $222.50 (+$110.79)

SGC 9.5: $99.99 (-$11.72)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5:  N/A

HGA 9: N/A

GMA:  N/A

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: $237 (+$147.29)

CSG 9: $90 (+.29)

Summary: It would begin to get redundant if I said the same things about PSA and BGS as most of the previous cards, but it applies to this card again. An SGC 9.5 is worth half as much as a BGS 9.5 and will actually lose you money. But check out the CSG 9.5 doing numbers! It's sold for more than the SGC 10 and BGS 9.5. There is no HGA data here.

6. Trae Young 2018 Prizm base

trae
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

RAW VALUE: $94.08

PSA: $75 - 12+ months

PSA 10: $425 (+$255.92)

PSA 9: $129 (-$40.08)

BGS: $65 - 6+ months

BGS 10: N/A

BGS 9.5: $299 (+$139.92)

BGS 9: $105 (-$54.08)

SGC: $37 - 25 days

SCG 10: $152 (+$20.92)

SGC 9.5: $142 (+$10.92)

HGA: $20 - 60 days

HGA 10: N/A

HGA 9.5:  N/A

HGA 9: N/A

GMA: $15 - 60 days

GMA 9:  $91

CSG: $15 - 75 days

CSG 9.5: N/A

CSG 9: N/A

Summary: If you pull this card out of a pack or a break and you are convinced it's perfect, I suppose sending it to BGS isn't the absolute worst play ever, but you better hope it doesn't come back a 9 or you will lose money. Get a 9.5 and you will double your investment. The fact that an SGC 10 recently sold for half the value of a BGS 9.5 is very telling. Trying to squeeze maximum value and sending to PSA, praying it comes back a 10 in a year, that isn't something I would suggest because seeing a 9 on that slab will lose you $40 at the end of the day.

7. Other Cards

other
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

2020 Bowman Chrome Prospects Jasson Dominguez

Raw: $50

BGS 10: $635.01 (+$520.01)

CSG 10: $375 (+$310)

PSA 10: $325 (+$200)

HGA 9.5: $214.92 (+$144.92)

SGC 10: $202.50 (+$115.50)

CSG 9.5: $152 (+$87)

BGS 9.5: $169.08 (+$54.08)

PSA 9: $89 (-$36)

BGS 9: $50 (-$65)

2020 Topps Chrome Luis Robert

Raw: $19.50

BGS 10: $405 (+$320.50)

HGA 9.5: $161 (+$121.50)

PSA 10: $146 (+51.50)

SGC 10: $93 (+$36.50)

SGC 9.5: $76 (+$19.50)

BGS 9.5: $72 (-$20.50)

GMA 10: $33 (-$6.50)

PSA 9: $60.11 (-$34.50)

8. So... where should I grade my cards?

slabs
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

I think that the answer to that question is pretty simple, given all the data presented. We know exactly what PSA is. They are a premium service for premium cards. You likely won't be sending them your base cards like the ones I am trying to get graded anymore, but any card with significant value should absolutely be going to them. The market simply wants PSA cards and pays a premium for them. You will now have to pay a premium for the right to put your cards in their slabs. Before you call that unfair, just realize how long everybody took advantage of the massive returns on the $9 and $15 investments that the PSA brand provided for years. The playing field is now leveling out.

It gets a bit more complicated with Beckett. I'm not sure that once PSA opens up all service levels again, what cards I would send to BGS. If you are going to pay $165 to express a premium card through BGS, why not just do it through PSA? If you are going to pay $65 for 6 month turnaround, why not just do it through HGA or CSG for less money and get them back faster? I understand PSA's target audience for premium cards. I understand HGA and CSG's target audience for lower end cards. BGS seems to be in an uncomfortable middle ground at this point.

SGC is another complicated one. I know that their niche is vintage cards. I actually like the way their tuxedo slabs look. However, the data tells me that the numbers don't add up. Even when you factor in that SGC is working with some of the large group submission accounts, you still aren't getting me there on the value.

HGA is definitely in play, but getting a spot reserved is so difficult and even then, only being able to send them five cards means that for my sixty cards, I would have to go through the process twelve times. Who knows how long that will take? I like the look of their slabs and the data that proves the value is there, but until they can ramp up the number of cards they accept, it's not the right play for me at this time.

I am going to give CSG a shot for my lower end cards and wait for PSA to come back for my premium cards. It's especially intriguing that they are so well respected in the comic book and coin communities. That gives me confidence that they could be major players in the space for a long time. If speed is your main objective, you can upgrade from their $15 economy service–which is currently operating at 70 day turnaround–to approximately 30 days by paying $25 for their 'standard' service. If you want to add sub-grades, you can do that at all levels for a $10 upgrade. They also offer an $8 'bulk" level that is for 50 or more cards with a value of $100 or less each and turnaround times around 80 days.

It will be interesting to see how the market changes in the coming months and years. Will the values of slabs from these newer companies continue to hold up over time? Are people simply excited about these newer grading companies and paying a premium until they are no longer new? I suppose that is possible. But the data is the data, and that's all I have to go on for now.

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