I'm an avid collector of sports cards and have done well investing and selling them.
The Price of Sports Cards is Sky High!
Sports card prices have been going crazy!
If you owned a 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card in September 2020, you might have sold it for $200,000. Six months later, it's selling for $800,000. If you owned a 2005 Aaron Rodgers Topps Chrome rookie card in July 2020, you could have sold it for $800. In March 2021, they're going for $5,000. Other cards have seen similar price increases.
So if you want to invest in sports cards, what do you buy? This article will suggest a few cards you can buy right now that aren't overpriced and can be afforded by the average person. All of these have a serious possibility of rising in value.
Remember, the off-season is always the best time to buy any sports card. Typically, May through July sees the lowest prices for football cards. Take your time and do your research before buying any sports card. Try not to get fixated on any one card or get caught up in a bidding war. There are plenty of cards out there and if one doesn't work out, the next one will.
Only Buy Graded Cards, If Possible
I try really hard to only buy cards in PSA 10 grade, which is the highest grade there is from PSA. Both Beckett and SGC are also good grading companies, but I've found it's easiest to sell PSA graded cards.
If I make reference to a price, I'm most likely talking about a graded card in PSA 10 and I'll try to make that clear.
Russell Wilson rookie cards have increased in value, but not nearly at the same rate as other top-tier quarterbacks. This probably has to do with the fact that Wilson was in the conversation for MVP of the league during the 2020 season and then he dropped out of that conversation. His cards rose in value in anticipation of that possible award and then people lost interest when it became apparent he wasn't going to win.
That's a good thing for investors because Wilson's cards have stagnated, if not dropped in value. Let's remember, this guy won a Super Bowl and almost won a second one. It's also possible that he gets traded to another team in the next few years.
For a guy who has won a Super Bowl, his rookie cards are undervalued in comparison to his peers. However, investors and hobbyists still have a wide variety of cards to buy at a wide variety of prices.
If you're looking to start somewhat small, I recommend Wilson's 2012 base Topps card in PSA 10. Right now, it's a card that can be flipped in that you can sometimes get one for $250 and sell it for $500 pretty quickly. It all depends what's available at any given moment. That said, if Wilson gets back in the MVP conversation or Seattle is primed for another Super Bowl run, that card could approach $1500 quickly. Regardless, it's a good investment for the long haul as the base Topps cards are always in high demand.
The upper end of the Russell Wilson spectrum is where some deals are really to be found. I recently purchased a limited edition rookie patch card for $200. That's criminally underpriced. I've purchased several of his rookie patch autographed cards for under $1k, which is also criminally undervalued.
In general, look for any of his 2012 rookie card that are limited print runs, relics, or autographed. If you want a card guaranteed to go up in value, try his 2012 Topps Chrome card. However, you'll pay a pretty penny for that one, even now.
For the record, I am actively buying Russell Wilson cards.
Matthew Stafford's 2009 rookie cards got a bump in price when he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Now that Stafford is on a team with a legitimate chance to compete for a Super Bowl and a coach who appreciates his skill and will use it well, Stafford's cards are going to rise in value. If the Rams are in serious contention next season, which is likely, you can expect his cards to rise quickly. I expect anyone who buys Stafford's rookie cards now to see their investment double or triple in value in under a year.
Still, some of Stafford's rookie cards are a bit inflated at the moment. There are still deals to be found, such as the Topps Chrome Refractor pictured above, but there are also many Stafford cards that are overpriced at the moment. Waiting until mid-summer to hunt for some deals is probably best here.
If you're wondering about Stafford's potential, that 2009 Chrome Refractor went for $1600. Aaron Rodgers has one Super Bowl to his name. A similar Rodgers Topps Chrome Refractor can fetch over $25k. Depending on how long he plays, Stafford could easily wind up in the top five quarterbacks all-time in passing yards and various other statistics.
Right now, some Stafford rookies in PSA 10 are going for as little as $100. Those won't increase as much as others, but it's a cheap way to start investing.
Rodgers cards climbed significantly during the 2020 season and didn't really decline much after the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs. That's probably due to him winning another MVP award.
However, compare a Rodgers rookie card to a Tom Brady PSA 10 rookie card, one of which sold for well over $1 million recently. Most Rodgers cards sell for less than 10% of that. Given that Rodgers may retire as the most accurate passer in NFL history, and even at today's high prices, an investment in his rookie cards is still a promising deal.
The big question is what to buy. You could buy a 2005 Aaron Rodgers Topps rookie in PSA 10 in October 2020 for $450. Three months later, the same card was selling for $1500. Now they're back down to $900 or so. In July 2020, you could buy his Topps Chrome rookie card in PSA 10 for $800. Six months later, it was selling for $5000. So, more so than the other two guys I mention above, buying Rodgers cards costs a bit more. If you're low on cash, you may want to focus on PSA 9 and PSA 8 cards. There are plenty of good cards out there, but if you're buying in those grades, make sure you look closely at them. Eye appeal on a PSA 8 can make a big difference when you go to sell.
A caveat before I discuss Hurts - I generally regard new players as high risk. Sure, many of their cards are going for thousands of dollars more than various Peyton Mannings, Drew Brees's and lots of others who have far greater accomplishments. Quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, and various others are selling for thousands and thousands of dollars. However, take Jackson as one example. There are a lot of sad people who bought his cards at the peak who now have cards worth 1/3 of what they paid for them. That's money they're likely never getting back. You're always better off betting on players who have established credentials.
That said, Hurts' potential to send Lamar Jackson-like shock waves through the NFL and the card collecting world during the 2021 season are too high to ignore. I wouldn't purchase his cards to hold, but instead try to sell them at the high point of his value next fall - basically any point during the season where he's on a roll. And if Philly appears playoff bound in the weak NFC East, watch out.
There's an absolute glut of new football cards, so if you're going to pick up some Jalen Hurts cards, look for autographs, relics, and any limited edition cards. Similarly, anything Panini Prizm is likely to hold its value, particularly the parallels.
And if you can, and this is the tricky part, send them in to be graded. Yes, I'm talking about buying raw cards here. Frankly, I don't like buying raw cards because I usually find that fewer than half of the raw cards I buy are worth sending in for grading, so you have to be really careful (pay particular attention to the surfaces and edges of the new prism cards). Look at the photographs carefully. If you don't like what you get, send it back. Make sure you read my article about grading so you know whether or not a card has a chance at being graded gem mint.
Unfortunately, both PSA and Beckett are months behind, so even if you send cards in right now (it's mid-March 2021), you'll be lucky to see them before the season starts. In fact, maybe the only way you see them is if you pay for express grading, which isn't cheap. Still, if you own or can get your hands on any of Jalen Hurts's rookie cards that are signed or patch/autos or very limited, it's probably worth the money to get them graded. You might see 10x on your investment during the 2021 season.
Will the Bubble Burst?
Like any market, the bottom can always fall out and sports cards are no exception.
However, given the way things have gone during the last year, that's not likely to happen with sports cards in the near future. In fact, it's more likely the market will get even crazier.
That's because of COVID. You see, once people are able to get back to watching live sporting events, the demand for collectibles is going to rise even more. Just my two cents.
If you have any questions about a sports card investment strategy or particular cards, just ask in the comments section. I'll do my best to provide advice. Of course, there are lots of people with advice, so make sure you get multiple opinions! Whether it's stocks or sports cards, always do your due diligence.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Allen Donald
Liz Westwood from UK on March 18, 2021:
This article gives an interesting insight into collectibles in the USA. It certainly puts the soccer sticker books of my youth in the shade.