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Investing in Sports Cards

March 31, 2020 5 min read

Investing in Sports Cards

What goes up must come down right?  In the case of sports cards recently, the opposite has been true. I have been talking to many sports collectors and sports shops around the country about how sports cards are making an epic come back with record setting prices.

patrick mahomes panini rookie card

Take for example the Kansas City Chiefs star Quarterback Patrick Mahomes.  If you were smart enough to invest in his Panini Prizm or other high end rookie cards you could easily be sitting on a new car.  They've gone up that much!  Not bad for just a few years.

One of the most popular sports cards of all time, Michael Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card, recently sold for $45,000!

michael jordan rookie card

If you were lucky enough to have pulled this card from a pack you would be sitting on a nice profit! 

If that doesn't get you excited to invest in sports cards I'm not sure what will!

Growing Up 80’s

If you were a child growing up in the 80’s you probably had a stack of trading cards at your parents house.  Always going to the local sports card shop to pick up the latest packs.

Unfortunately, during this time the trading card companies over produced their product and tanked the market.  Thus, most 1980 cards aren't worth nearly as much as the 1970s or today's cards.

What Changed?

Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the past, trading card companies got smart.  They started putting autographed cards in the packs, creating limited edition pieces and "Refractors."  What is that?  According to Wikipedia...

"A Refractor Card is a trading card that has a reflective coating and displays a rainbow when held at a specific angle. They are parallels of base set issues and were introduced with the release of the 1993 Topps Finest Baseball set."

kobe bryant refractor rookie card

These specialty cards have become extremely collectible as they come in different colors and limited editions.  A Kobe Bryant 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor PSA 10 recently sold for $60,000!

A LeBron James autographed patch card sold for $124,000!

Trading card companies did an excellent job of creating buzz and scarcity around their products, making them one of the best investments in the sports industry.


Authenticity in the card market is just as important in the autograph market.  A well graded card by the top 2 authentication companies PSA DNA or Beckett Authentication Services (BAS) can add significant value to a card compared to an ungraded one.

derek jeter rookie card psa 10

What are you looking for when it comes to authentication?  With PSA, a card rated GEM MINT 10 is about as good as it gets.  A perfect card.  What does that mean?  Means the card is well centered, has sharp corners, and a sharp focus.  Here is PSA's own description...

"A PSA Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and full original gloss. A PSA Gem Mint 10 card must be free of staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn't impair the overall appeal of the card."

Beckett seems to be a tougher grading company and a BGS 9.5 is very similar to a PSA 10, although PSA 10 seem to garner more interest and a higher value.  a BGS 9.5 Jordan Fleer rookie card recently sold for $34,000.

michael jordan rookie card

While you can certainly buy card raw (meaning not graded by PSA or BAS) and submit them to PSA or BGS for grading, many collectors prefer to buy cards already graded so they know exactly what they are buying.  Tough to know how PSA or BGS would grade a raw card.  So if you only want PSA 10s in your collection, best to buy them already authenticated.

Now that you are ready to invest in sports cards, which ones do you get?  When collecting sports cards and memorabilia always do your homework and research prior to purchasing.  Be sure you completely understand what you are buying.  There are many different variations of cards.  How do you make the correct purchase?  Let's dive into the different companies and variations that make these cards so collectible.

Where to Buy Sports Cards?

Obviously eBay has been a great resource for sports cards.  Facebook groups have become very popular.  A quick search can lead to dozens of groups.  StockX, originally known for shoes has taken off in the card market as well.

Of course, sports card stores can be a great place to not only buy cards, but talk to other collectors and familiarize yourself with the card market.  

Sports Cards To Purchase

Here are some of the different brands on the market to choose from.  You can purchase single packs of cards, boxes, or even complete cases!

  • Leaf
  • Fleer
  • Donruss
  • Panini Prizm
  • Panini Flawless
  • Panini National Treasures
  • Upper Deck
  • Optic 
  • Signature Series
  • Panini Select
  • Crown Royal
  • 1st Bowman
  • Topps Chrome


When it comes to the different sports, Panini is king of basketball and football.  Topps is the star of baseball.

zion williamson panini optic psa 10

Football is not the only booming sport around.  Baseball and basketball have had record sales recently with star athletes like Zion Williamson, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, and Lamar Jackson.

When starting a collection, while it is fun to open up packs and boxes of cards, often times buying the exact card you want is the way to go.  Not only do you buy what you need, but you also save tons of money opening up packs and boxes trying to score the "big one." 

Which Cards and Players to Invest in?

So now that we have gone over the history of the industry, the different types of cards and companies who make them, and also the authentication, which specific players and cards should you buy?

While football and baseball certainly have great players and cards that sell, basketball seems to take the cake here.

Players such as Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and LeBron James have taken over the market.

lebron james patch card

A Doncic Panini Contenders Cracked Ice card recently sold for over $18,000!  A Williamson Panini Optic PSA 10 went for $43,000!  BIG prices for such young stars.

Panini is the star of basketball, specifically Prizm and Optic.  Optic are technically Donruss cards, but Panini owns Donruss.  

Rookie cards of course are the way to go.  A rookie card will have the RC on the front of the card.

"Base" rookie cards refer to the basic rookie card of that player.  Nothing special such as a limited edition or a refractor.  While these are significantly less value than those, they still sell very well and are a good entry into the card collecting market because they are cheaper to buy.

If you want to get into the higher end cards, here are some suggestions...

  • autographs
  • patch (ones that have a part of the player's jersey in the card)
  • limited edition
  • refractor
  • lots (buying quantity of the same exact card)
  • vintage ones (Jordan or LeBron rookies for example)

Which Basketball Players to Get?

Which Baseball Players to Get?

Which Football Players to Get?

I hope that helps you navigate the crazy world of sports cards!  Any questions, please feel free to reach out.

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