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What Does the Sports Card Hobby Look Like in 10 Years?

July 16, 2021 11 min read

What Does the Sports Card Hobby Look Like in 10 Years?


Today I am going to look into my crystal ball and try and imagine what the sports card hobby looks like in 10 years.  One thing is for sure it will look nothing like it does today here in 2021.  It seems like every day PSA is buying another company or a new grading card company starts.

There will be 4 areas we will discuss today.

  • Grading companies
  • The Cards
  • Trading card companies
  • And the marketplaces such as eBay

These are just my own thoughts to have some fun debating what the hobby might look like in the near future.  You might say some of these will never happen, but hey, at one time in life we never thought we would go to the moon.  Anything is possible.

Now stick with me, this might be a little bit longer of a video than normal, but I had some fun brainstorming this one.

#1 Grading companies

This is one area of the card industry that is going to see rapid change.  We’ve already seen it with PSA buying Genamint, the grading software company.

Here’s how I see grading being in the future.

Human graders at the big companies such as PSA are pretty much out. Everything is going to be done via software.  It is the only way to really scale a card grading business to its potential.

Human graders will still have a small role to play to double check what the software says, make sure the label is correct, basically quality control work.  Because of this, I see PSA’s turnaround times getting increasingly faster with more accurate grading.

PSA will gain increasing market share and be grading 90% + of all the cards on the market.  Collectors will use PSA because their software will give the most accurate grade possible and PSA has branded itself as the leader in sports card grading.

I also see PSA having an app on your phone where you can pre-grade your cards for a fee.  The app will grade your corners, edges, centering, and surface and give you an estimated grade.  Although surface may be tricky, all would depend on how good the cameras on your phone get in the next 10 years.  Potentially even having kiosk machines at your local sports card shop where you can pre grade them there.

After scanning all your cards, you can then choose which ones you want to submit to PSA.  PSA will auto populate their submission form for you and send a copy of that right to your phone or email.  No more filling out endless forms.

Once graded, PSA will also give you an option to have them scan and sell your cards for you directly on eBay or even have their own marketplace.  PSA will then ship your cards for you once they sell.  Of course, they will charge you for this service.  Basically, once you send PSA your cards you would have the option to never see them again.

In order to help avoid a conflict of interest since PSA would be grading the cards and more likely to give a higher grade if they were selling it, you only tell PSA to sell your cards after seeing your grades.

I also see PSA opening up an office in China.  Now this is a big stretch I know.  But you got to think boldly.  In the next 10 years China is set to become the largest economy in the world.

Basketball is a huge sport in China.  Millions of fans of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James live there.

As the basketball card market continues to grow and arguably becomes the #1 sport collected in trading cards, collectors in China are going to want to get their cards graded.

Shipping them back and forth to PSA in California adds tremendous cost but also the fear of losing your cards in shipment.

Since hopefully within the next 10 years PSA becomes mainly software-based grading, it will become easier to open up offices in other parts of the country as the will not have to rely on training human graders.

Canada, Europe, and also Australia will be prime candidates for future offices.

I really think the first grading company to get their foot into China wins big.  CCG, the parent company of CSG, does currently have an office in China.  Very curious to see how makes a big play for that market.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a brand-new grading card company pop up in China that only serves Chinese collectors.  Marketing really matters when it comes to grading.  If a Chinese company can build out their own AI software for grading and gain the trust of collectors in China, you could see a solid competitor to PSA.  China has about 1/5 of the world’s population.  I wouldn’t overlook them on anything.

Let’s talk about Beckett for a minute.  Recently we have seen PSA and also CSG get bought out by some big investors in this space.  Will something like that happen to Beckett?

I don’t know why I have this feeling, but I feel like Beckett is getting left behind.  You don’t hear about them making many moves in their business as far as upgrades to grading or getting any outside investments. 

At this point, PSA is getting close to running away with grading market share.  Heck, they just recently purchased WATA, the video game grading company.  The more money that gets pumped into them the more opportunity they have to grow and grow quickly.

I wouldn’t be surprised is PSA attempts to take out their biggest competitor and make an offer to buy them.  Would Beckett sell?  Everything is available for the right price. 

I see PSA becoming your 1 stop shop for all things grading.  Cards, video games, coins, tickets, etc.  Anything that can be graded.

What about all other grading companies?  CSG, SGC, HGA for example.  Will they still be around in 10 years?  Absolutely, as long as the sports card hobby continues to grow there will be room for those companies.

However, they are going to have to stand out from PSA in order to compete for business.  Whether that be the color matching slabs that HGA does or the cheap bulk rates CSG offers. 

Each one is going to have to try and find their niche and really control and dominate that area.  Competing with PSA on an apples-to-apples business model is going to be quite the challenge as their lead in the industry is so big. 

#2 The cards

Technology in cards has really grown in the last 20 years, from the 1st refractors to patch cards and acetate cards.  Over the next 10 years we could see some really crazy designs come out.

One area of the cards I see really being experimented with is the size of them.  Yes, I know this is almost sacrilegious to adjust the current size of a trading card, but I think that is what makes cards like the 1969 Topps basketball so cool is the different size. 

I did see a Deandre Ayton card that had his huge hand print on it recently, 1/5 and I thought that was totally unique, very different trading card.  Imagine a 1/5 Luka Doncic card that had this hand print on it that was also signed!  What would that go for when compared to a rookie patch auto card?  Would be very interesting to see.

As card companies run out of ideas that can fit into the traditional card size, it only makes sense to go bigger.  I realize traditionalists may not like these designs, but there will be a good number of collectors that will appreciate these new “cards.”

Having a card with the JAMES part of a game used LeBron James jersey put into a card would be absolutely epic.

I do see individual athletes partnering up with traditional trading card companies to make their own personal branded trading cards. 

Developing products centered around an athlete’s personal brand is going to be huge in the coming years, especially since college athletes can now profit off their Name, Image, and Likeness.

Imagine Luka Doncic having his own personal branded cards with Panini that he helped design and market on his website?  Just like autographed items can be limited edition print runs, the athlete would make these cards limited to say 100 each.  Imagine the buzz on the release date for these on their website?  Insane amount of traffic in the hopes of getting just 1.

NFT’s and digital cards are going to be an interesting area to see what happens in the next 10 years.  I maybe completely wrong on this, but I see this market just tanking.  The only reason I see people buying these is to sell them.  Not collect them.  When the money from investments dries up in the NFT market so does the value.

I just can’t get my mind to accept that a sports card you can’t hold in your hand is something people would want. 

What changes with a card you can hold in your hand is a sense of emotional attachment to that card.  Something an NFT just doesn’t offer in my opinion.

Again, I maybe completely wrong on this.  But let me know in the comments your thoughts about the NFT market.

Collaborations are going to be one area where growth is going to continue.  We’ve all seen how much effort Topps has put into this with their 2020 Project and work with huge main stream artists.  This will not slow down as it creates tremendous buzz around multiple genres. 

DJ Skee recently came out with a design for a Ronald Acuna Jr Outkast influenced card is a great example of this.

#3 Trading card companies

Right now, there are 2 big players, Panini and Topps.  Will we see a 3rd company come onto the market and challenge these two?

You would think over the next 10 years that a company such as Upper Deck would try and make a push to get back into the basketball or baseball card market.

However, Topps and Panini are just light years ahead of them with their technology and also revenue.  Topps, the only publicly traded company out of the three, had $567 million in sales in 2020.  A massive amount.  I don’t think Upper Deck has the resources to compete with those 2 companies.

I just don’t see the MLB, NFL, or NBA moving away from their exclusive licenses to these companies.  From their perspective, it is way easier to manage 1 license holder and create a consistent product fans come to expect, then to have numerous licensee holders.

As the sports card market expands, it is going to be very interesting what happens internationally.  Soccer cards have taken off with Europe and America both being very interested in cards.  I think we will continue to see specific sets made for specific countries especially after the World Cup since we have not had a World Cup since the soccer card explosion.  Imagine Italy winning the World Cup and Panini (who is based in Italy) making a World Cup Champions Prizm set, sold only in Italy.  The buzz around that product would just be insane, but also stiff competition on the resale market.

While yes, Panini is a trading card company.  What they really are is a marketing company.  They know how to pump up a market and drive traffic to a sale.  They are masterminds at that.  Got to give them credit. 

I am very curious what is going to happen in China with Panini.  At some point, the market in China, specifically for basketball, is just going to explode. 

As we all know, China owns the NBA since the majority of the NBA fan base lives there.  While doing business in China as an outsider can be very challenging, many have tried because the payoff can be huge.

Does Panini start making basketball cards specifically for the Chinese market?    Could they make cards with their name translated into Chinese characters on them?  Those would be interesting to see.

As China becomes the world’s #1 economy within the next 10 years, I do see the NBA doing everything they can to be the #1 sport in the country.  Panini will want to capitalize off of that with their trading cards.

Recently, Alex Rodriguez’s SPAC SLAM has been rumored to be in talks about purchasing Panini.  If that were to happen, I can see Panini making a HUGE play to get a full MLB license to make cards.  Right now, they only have the player’s license, meaning they can’t use the team logos.  If you are AROD, you made your living playing baseball, you will do everything in your power to get Panini making fully licensed baseball cards.

#4 What will the sports card marketplaces look like in 10 years?

I am a big believer in eBay.  I think eBay sat on its hands idle for many years not knowing they had a gold mind and a monopoly on the card market.  They have now realized that.  When you think of buying a sports card, most people thing of eBay.

We have already started to see them make changes to their return policy and also are updating their search results to help buyers find the item they are looking for much easier.  They are also working on having their website be able to read your card slab and accurately list your product and its title.

They have tremendous infrastructure on and offline.  That takes years to build out. 

Within the next 10 years I see eBay making a bigger push to be a part of the expensive card market, the ones that everyone currently sends to Goldin Auctions.  I heard Ken Goldin who started Goldin Auctions say that eBay had tried to get them on their platform a few times.

The issue surrounding selling high end cards on eBay has always been getting paid and avoiding returns.  No one wants to sell a $100,000 card and not get paid for it.

I see eBay fixing this issue in a couple ways.

First, just like all the auction sites, you will have to get pre-approved to not only sell a high-end card but also to bid on one.  This makes logical sense.  It builds trust in eBay for the buyer and the seller.

eBay could even take it a step further and require you to ship them your card and they sell it on your behalf.  Goldin Auctions once stated they had roughly 200,000 emails of the top high-end buyers of sports cards, which is a huge targeted list. 

But imagine how many emails eBay has?  Probably most of what Goldin has and then tens of millions on top of that.  eBay currently has 182 million users.

Imagine paying a fee to have your card emailed out to 1 million sports card collectors. 

As mentioned before, I see eBay partnering up with one of the grading companies to make it seamless to go from getting your cards graded to having them listed on eBay without ever having to get your cards back.  PSA will make the most logical sense.  Biggest grading card company and both companies located in California.

One of the biggest changes I see is Panini and Topps making their own marketplaces where buyers can sell their branded cards.  Look at as eBay but just for Panini or Topps cards.  Part of the benefit of selling on their platform is getting points the more you sell that can be used towards buying more of their product.

Imagine being able to sell your own sealed wax or graded cards on Topps or Panini’s official marketplace?   Buy boxes directly off their website on launch day and then immediately offer it for sale on their marketplace.

We can’t talk about marketplaces without talking about China again.  As the hobby grows and a potential card grading company is created out of China, I see a marketplace being developed there specifically for sports cards and memorabilia. 

As we have seen with eBay China failing, it is very challenging sometimes for outside companies to come into China and be successful with traditional American marketing and systems. 

Plus, having to deal with big brother can be too much.  This is why we see the most popular companies in a country are typically started by citizens of that country, but even more so in China.

Let’s touch on ungraded cards for just a second.  We all know one of the big issues in the sports card market is finding quality cards to grade.  It is almost impossible to tell a cards grade by just looking at a couple scans.

I see a company and marketplace being developed that serves the collectors and investors that want to get cards graded but want an honest opinion and score beforehand.  This score would be given via AI software, not a human’s eye. 

You would pay a premium for this service as having an ungraded card with a score of 95-100 out of 100 would almost guarantee a 10 when grading.

This would be perfect for those who do not grade cards, but wanted to get a premium for their quality cards.

A company such as COMC which stands for checkoutmycards.com, would be ideal for this.  They already have the infrastructure in place, would just need the software in order to implement it.

The big hiccup in this could be any patented technology Genamint has, the company as you may remember from earlier that PSA bought to help with its AI grading.

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