The world of sports card collecting has been around since the mid to 1880s with the hobby beginning with baseball before eventually transitioning over the years to include football, basketball, soccer as well as other sports including hockey and MMA. Once a hobby that included a stick of bubble gum, a potential noise producer between the bicycle tire, and even an object to toss in a childhood game has now evolved into a big-time potential investment hobby. If you are one of the lucky newcomers to sports card collecting, here is a beginner’s Guide to Sports Card Collecting guide for you to begin your journey.
For a newcomer to the hobby, each collector has a different reason for collecting sports cards and each may have a different approach to how they decide to collect. These different types of collectors may be die-hard fans of a specific sports team who loves to collect players from that team or what some would call a Personal Collector or PC collector. Other types include collectors who get into the hobby to make money by flipping cards for a profit, ones who only collect autograph and relic cards while others collect rookies and prospects in hopes of the next Mickey Mantle or Michael Jordan. No matter how you plan to collect, everyone should have an idea of what they want to collect, a budget they feel fits into your lifestyle and a game plan on where to start collecting.
With a wide range of sports to collect and an even larger selection of sports card products for each of those sports, building a starting place to start should be your priority. While some elect to jump into all sports, a big suggestion is to take the time to focus on one specific sport for a short time, learn the ins and outs of that sport, learn what you want to collect, learn the company’s producing products and take the time to learn about the popular sports card grading companies. Also decide if you want to collect a specific player or team, a specific product or type of sports cards such as Rookie Cards (RC), autograph or relic cards, and even short prints.
Now figuring out where to start is difficult but as you read this guide you will learn more about the sports card companies, different types of cards found in the products, as well as a quick look at other sports card collecting items such as grading, where to potentially find products and popular cards to collect. Below is our guide to sports card collecting to help assist you as you begin your journey into sports card collecting. In addition our Sports Card Glossary and Terminology is also here to help you.
Sports Card Companies
The landscape of sports cards continues to change and the companies producing the cards as well. Depending on the specific sport you are collecting, various brands are licensed to supply products for those sports for the upcoming seasons while products produced in the past will include other companies. The list of sports card companies includes Topps, Panini, Upper Deck, Leaf, Tristar, and Onyx while newcomer Fanatics enters the scene taking over ownership of Topps.
Topps – Currently licensed products of MLB, UFC, Nascar, Formula 1 & Soccer
Panini – Currently licensed products of NFL, NBA, UFC, Racing, Soccer as well as the MLBPA.
Upper Deck – Currently licensed products of NHL as well as non-licensed sports.
Leaf, Tristar & Onyx – No licensed products (repacks, autograph equipment & endorsement)
Types of Products
Over the years the hobby has changed from one or two different sets to including upwards of 20-30 various produced products each year for the NBA, MLB, and NFL while many additional sets for the other sports such as UFC, Racing, and Soccer. These products range from lower-end products such as base sets of Topps Baseball, Bowman Baseball to much higher-end products such as Panini National Treasures and Panini Flawless that can cost upwards of $500-2000 per box. For now, this is a quick look, stay tuned for a deeper look into the various types of products from each company. In addition, these products could include hobby which are available to purchase at hobby shops and websites, and retail which are available at locations such as Walmart and Target.
Types of Cards
Much like the products, the different types of cards available in the product continue to evolve as well. Once just a base card set now has evolved to include base cards, inserts, parallels, short-prints, memorabilia/relic cards, autograph cards, autograph relic cards and booklets.
Base Cards – Basic card which is available within each pack of the product purchased to make the main set.
Rookie Cards (RC) – The first card the player has in MLB, NFL, NBA, Soccer and NHL (may be multiple based on sets released during that year).
Prospect Card – Often mistaken as a RC, but these cards are offered prior to the player reaching the majors (Typically common in baseball with minor league cards with Bowman products but also common now with college subsets).
Inserts – Subsets of the product highlighting specific players with lower quantity available.
Parallel – Variation of the base card to include different colors and borders with different print runs.
Short-Prints – Different images or likenesses from the base card with lower quantity production.
Memorabilia/Relic – Card featuring a piece of equipment or jersey of the players featured.
Autograph – Card featuring an authentic autograph of the players featured.
Autograph Relic/Memorabilia – Card featuring an autograph and piece of relic/memorabilia.
Booklet – Card that opens like a book.
With the popularity of sports cards growing for both collecting and for investment, the popularity of grading continues to grow. To make it easy for you to understand, sports card grading is where the card is produced a number grade from 1-10 from a specific company such as Beckett, PSA, and SGC based on various conditions of the card including the color, condition of the corners and surface as well as the quality of the autograph (if featured). The higher the grade received will increase the value of the card.
As Beckett, PSA and SGC are at the front of the sports card grading industry, other companies are slowly emerging giving collectors additional options such as Break Stuff which will be offering instant AI-grading. To learn more about sports card grading visit our Sports Card Grading Guide.
Where to Buy Products
As technology continues to be a staple of our lives, the availability of sports cards is at the tips of our fingers while also traditional ventures are also available. Looking to get started and talk one-on-one finding local sports card shops in your area is a great stop to purchase hobby products of your favorite sport as well as supplies and even single cards of the players or teams you are collecting. In addition to sports card shops, many of the top shops have websites to offer you past released products, new products, a chance to prebook products, and even supplies and singles. Other avenues include sites like eBay, Check Out My Cards (COMC), Starstock, Myslabs, Facebook Marketplace and groups, and Sportlots to name a few.
Protecting Your Sports Cards
Now that you are purchasing sports cards or preparing to start buying, the last thing to learn is how to protect your sports cards and how you may want to store them. For each collector, this may vary but the most important aspect is to ensure you take some sort of approach to protect the cards. For sports card storing and protection, many different products are available from sports card pages that can be stored in booklets to penny sleeves (soft plastic), hard sleeves, magnetic one-touch sleeves, and even sports card storage boxes.
Take the time to learn the various products and understand how they can protect your cards and more importantly your potential investment.
As we wrap up this Beginners Guide to Sports Card Collecting guide, remember to check back with us often for other tips and guides on learning the products, investment opportunities, grading companies, sports card releases, and even top players or products performing on the market. Looking forward to being your one-stop shop to helping you learn and grow within the sports card hobby. Feel free to reach out to us if you would like a specific article written on a topic or just to talk about the hobby.