Strategies for Hobbyists and Investors, Part 1: Sports Card Collecting vs. Investing

Posted on 2/5/2024

The differences between sports card collecting and sports card investing is the first topic in a guide to maximize your goals within the hobby.

The popularity of "ripping" sports card packs and boxes has been on the rise in recent years, whether you're looking to add to your personal collection (PC) or to pull rare cards to resell for a possible profit. There are numerous ways to go about buying sports cards, but there are certain strategies that both collectors and investors can follow to maximize your goals within the hobby. This helpful guide will take a look at each, as we take a deep dive into sports card collecting and investing.

Some will decide to focus on their PC, not worrying about market trends and only acquiring cards with top values. Instead, these buyers are focused on adding cards that feature players from their favorite teams to their collection, regardless of a card's value. Hobbyists may collect every player from their favorite team that is in a particular sports card set or they may collect as many cards as possible from different sets of their favorite player. There's no wrong way to go about your PC, but hobbyists tend to follow their heart and collect what and whom they love to follow as sports fans.

On the other hand, sports card investing requires a different mindset, focusing heavily on cards with value that could turn a profit in the immediate or distant future. Their goals are based more on the financial returns of the sports card market, and the buyer often must be patient if they are to see a profit. Research is required, along with following market trends, to attempt to maximize their purchasing power's full potential. Examples include identifying what players' cards are in demand, from each sport's most elite players to promising rookies who could be the next superstar. However, in many cases, investors may have to wait years to maximize potential profits.

Although sports card collecting and sports card investing can each be fun endeavors for hobbyists and investors alike, they require different strategies for success. This three-part guide will explore some of those strategies, while looking further into what drives collectors and what is driving the current sports card market for investors.

The World of Sports Card Collecting

Most sports card collectors enter the hobby because of their love for a particular sport, team or player. While there is no specific reason needed to get into the hobby, sports fandom frequently directs a collector's intentions when buying cards for their personal collection. Collectors are often passionate about their sports allegiances, and therefore PCs reflect their personal interests and connections to their favorite teams and players.

The emotional value of a hobbyist's PC can at times far outweigh the current market values of certain cards. A collection focused on a favorite player may have little resale value, but to a collector focused on the sentimental side of the hobby, the collection may be priceless in their eyes. There are numerous ways to go about building a PC, but collecting what and whom you love will always be at the forefront of the hobby for a true sports card collector. The joy of collecting doesn't come from the monetary value of the cards, but instead from the emotional attachment when chasing certain collectibles to add to your PC.

The hunt for cards to add to your PC is just as important as the destination for collectors. Finding a long-awaited card that has escaped you, pulling a rare insert of your favorite player or tracking down the final card to complete a team set is all part of the thrill of sports card collecting. Priorities lie within each collector's preferences and are geared toward personal satisfaction compared to financial gains. There are many ways to go about building one's PC, starting with completing a particular set.

Sports Card Collecting: Completing a Set

Each year, card companies release several annual sets for collectors to hunt down cards featuring current veterans, legends of yesteryear and rookies who are prospective future stars of their sport. Hobbyists often have a favorite series due to a set's design or inserts that are only available in that particular set.

Some sets may have hundreds of base cards, many with parallels of various colors and styles, as well as rare inserts. Therefore, it can be a difficult and lengthy task to complete a full set. For some collectors though, this is an ultimate challenge and one well worth their time and patience.

CGC Cards also makes set collecting fun and easy with the third-party grading company's CGC Cards Registry, which is free for all members. The registry allows collectors to add their certified cards to specific sets, keeping them organized with high-quality images as they work through checklists and see how their sets stack up against the competition. For more information on the CGC Cards Registry, click here.

Sports Card Collecting: Completing a Team Set

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Some collectors may have certain sports allegiances because of where they're from, as they root for their hometown team. Others may gravitate to certain teams because support for certain franchises has run in their family for a long time. Whether due to proximity or being passed down through generations, one's fandom of a team can play a huge part in their collection.

That's why many collectors opt to complete team sets instead of an entire card set. Hobbyists with this goal in mind focus on finding every player from their favorite team who had a card issued in a particular sports card series. Completing a set of your favorite team can be a challenge, but it's generally a far less challenging task compared to completing a full set and shouldn't take as long.

Sports Card Collecting: Completing a Player Set

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Arguably one of the most popular ways to go about collecting is to focus on player sets. Every sports card collector has a favorite player from the past or present, or both. Tracking down as many cards of a particular player as possible to add to your personal collection is the main goal for these collectors.

Do you have a childhood sports hero whom you want to collect or a current All-Star or Pro Bowler who you want to add to your PC? Is there a rookie on your favorite team who is showing promise, and so you want to attempt to add each base rookie card from every set that releases that season to your collection? Like completing team sets, completing player sets is another way to collect for the love of the game.

The CGC Cards Registry also includes Player Sets, which can be found under each category of a sport. Collectors can organize and display their CGC-certified cards featuring their favorite players all with one convenient online tool. To explore CGC Cards Registry Player Sets, click here.

The World of Sports Card Investing

Sports card investing is a different ballgame altogether, with financial gains being the main goal. A collector can still seek out cards that align with their sports fandom, but the preference will always be geared toward finding the most valuable cards possible in any given set. Investing takes knowledge of the sport and hobby, while more research is required to stay on top of sports card market trends.

What drives current market values can change at any given time, as the players and their cards that collectors seek out can shift for various reasons. A once-promising athlete may not be living up to his or her potential, and so the value of their collectibles decreases over time. The opposite can happen as well, with the popularity of an athlete increasing through the years due to solid performance, making their cards more desirable and valuable.

Sports card investing can be looked at like an alternative stock portfolio, with the aim of the collection being to appreciate in value over time. Investors must be strategic with their money and sports card purchases, paying attention to player performance, card scarcity and trending values. They want cards of players who are in high demand or of promising young talent who could be a future Hall of Famer. Investors want to find the rarest inserts possible of these players, hoping for the maximum return on their purchases due to scarce short-print runs and the potential for future spikes in value that can lead to financial profits.

Understanding Market Value, Rarity and Condition When Investing

Market Value

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For sports card investors, following market trends is imperative to successful investing. Similar to checking in on the stock market daily, investors must stay on top of cards' fluctuating rise and fall in terms of value. With some research, investors can identify whether it's time to buy, sell or hold any particular card.

If values have declined for a certain player's cards, it may be time to take a chance and buy while they're low, if you believe they could bounce back in the future. Other cards might be trending upward, so it might be time to offload cards from your collection at a peak price. In other instances, investors will have to be patient and play the long game, holding onto cards until a later date when their values rise once again.


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The rarity of sports cards also plays a huge role in market values. For years now, sports card companies have produced numbered parallels and short print inserts. These limited cards are highly sought after by collectors and investors alike for their scarcity. Whether numbered to only 299, 99, 50, 10 or even a coveted 1-of-1, these numbered issues are often the most desired finds in a set due to their rarity, which directly impacts value. The lower the print run, the higher the monetary values in most cases.

In other cases, a card that is decades old can be rarer and harder to find. Before the so-called "junk wax" era of the late 1980s and 1990s, card companies simply didn't print as many cards as they do in the modern hobby. Since sports card collecting tended to be a hobby for youngsters in decades past, many cards were damaged and not handled with care. The older the set, the less likely it is that cards from the series survived to present day. Therefore, some cards are harder to find than others, especially in good condition.


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Another vital factor for investors to consider is a card's condition. While most new cards ripped from boxes and packs will be in excellent condition, some may still have manufacturing flaws that will reduce a card's overall value. However, when buying vintage cards or any single cards already out of their packaging, condition should always be considered first and foremost.

Cards can have scratches, corner damage, discoloration, centering issues and many other defects that can drastically impact a card's value. Knowing what to look for condition-wise in a card is a key factor in maximizing the value of your collection.

This is why third-party grading can be a huge benefit to your sports card investments, as it authenticates your collectibles and assesses their condition, giving buyers and sellers an accurate picture of a particular card's condition and, therefore, value. Third-party grading services like CGC Cards use a universally recognized grading scale that ranges from 1 to 10, with Pristine 10 being the highest and most desirable grade. The higher the grade, the higher the value. For further information on CGC Cards’ 10-point Grading Scale and to find out more about our industry-leading services, visit

Part 2 of the Sports Card Collecting vs. Investing guide will focus on how to get started as a sports card collector or investor. It will include tips on how to enjoy collecting without the pressure of investment, specific strategies for buying and selling for a profit, and more!

*Any mention of "investment potential" is for entertainment only and should not be construed as investment advice. The Certified Collectibles Group does not provide investment advice and is not liable for any buy, sell or trade decisions made by any parties.

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