In our series of articles about collectibles, writer Christopher Mosinksi focuses on what makes soccer trading cards valuable, and how important getting your rare cards graded is.
Whether you are purchasing soccer cards for your personal collection (PC) or trying to invest, the question of value is important. How do you know which cards have value? What makes a cards value go up or down? Which cards will hold the most long-term value? The collectibles market is much like the art market. It can be confusing on the surface, but when you start to look at it, you quickly see that it can be simple if you know what you are looking for. Let’s find out what makes soccer trading cards valuable.
To start, it is important to understand who or what gives a card value. The answer to that is relatively simple – it’s you! This is true now more than ever. In years past, there were price guides that would help collectors identify and determine card value. Companies such as Beckett still exist today, but their monthly valuations are only a small sliver in the card value discussion compared to what they once were. Historically, if you went to your local card shop (LCS) or a card show, the vendor would consult a Beckett guide to determine a reasonable sales price. Today, it is a quick search on the latest eBay completed auctions (Consumer Alert – Don’t fall for the vendor trying to show you eBay asking prices. These aren’t an accurate valuation of the card. Rather, be sure to view completed transactions) that will begin the negotiations. This is real-life valuations being determined in real time by you and the millions of collectors.
While one half of a value equation is demand, the other half is supply. This is true in any market and is visible in collectibles. When it comes to soccer collectibles, there are many different types of cards and stickers that are available with different amounts of supply.
The best place to begin looking is where most collectors begin, with a pack of cards or stickers. Inside each pack will be two types of cards: base cards and insert cards.
Base cards are the standard card that makes up the majority of the pack and set. These are the most produced cards in the set but they can still hold value. Most important of the base cards is the rookie. In terms of a player’s card to collect, one of the most sought-after cards is in fact their rookie card (RC).
Beyond the rookie, many sets contain variations of the base card that add scarcity and thus value. Card producers will add color to borders or make the product holographic to differentiate from the base card. These parallels or refractors add scarcity to the card by limiting the print run. In addition, it makes for a fun card to chase especially if the variation matches the team colors. Panini Prizm is their flagship brand and provides a good example of the different colors and scarcity (see below, including how many limited edition numbered cards are produced [#] out of the total print run):
• Black Prizms: 1/1
• Gold Prizms: #/10
• Orange Prizms: #/25
• Green Ice Prizms: #/49
• Blue Ice Prizms: #/75
• Purple Prizms: #/99
• Red Prizms: #/149
• Blue Prizms: #/199
There can be many more variations depending if you purchase a “hobby” box from your local sports card store, or a retail box from a store such as Walmart or Target (hobby boxes are more expensive and sought-after than retail boxes). Some collectors will even try to “complete the rainbow” and collect all the different color variations with a specific player.
Besides the base cards in a set, there are also several different inserts. These are cards that can have a different design than the base cards and can also include autographs or swatches of player shirts. Of these, the autograph cards have the highest value. There are also some inserts that have the requisite scarcity and have also caught the attention of collectors to drive value.
What makes soccer trading cards valuable
The last part of the value discussion pertains to the quality of the card. Over the life-cycle of a card; from manufacture to arriving in your hands, a number of things can happen that can decrease the card’s worth. When cards are cut by the producer, it can lead to an off-center image. During transportation or handling, cards can be scratched on the surface or damaged on the edges. A higher quality card is more desirable and thus the value is more. Learn how to best store your cards to keep them protected.
To verify the quality of the card, there are a number of different third-party companies that will rate the appearance. This holds significant value to many collectors as it leaves little doubt to the appearance. During all of the hype of the past year, an influx of cards to companies such as PSA and Beckett Grading Services (BGS) has changed some of the dynamics but, in general, having a card with a high grade will only increase its worth (see the process of submitting a card to BGS for grading).
To get a good understanding of all this, we can look at a few different sets that included Christian Pulisic:
• 2016 Topps Bundesliga Sticker
• 2016 Panini Donruss
• 2019 Panini Prizm
In the world of soccer collectibles, it is very common the first card will come in the form of a sticker. What is a fun hobby (especially during tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup) can also provide some serious value. It also provides an opportunity to see the impact grading a card has on the value.
Pulisic debuted to the collecting world in the 2016 Topps Bundesliga Sticker set (there was also a UEFA Champions League sticker set, but we’ll stick with the domestic league for now). Recent sales of the Pulisic sticker went for $30. When PSA grades cards, they will grade them with 10 out of 10 being the highest possible score. A Pulisic sticker graded as a PSA 6 will also sell for around $30. However, the same sticker with a 9 grade recently sold for $230. Highly graded stickers are also very difficult to come by so they can have some really good multipliers in terms of value.
One of Pulisic’s rookie cards came in the 2016 Donruss set. Recent sales of the raw (ungraded) card were around $150. With a PSA 10 grade, that same card can be worth around $800. To give an indication on how different grading companies hold different value, we can compare the PSA 10 with a SGC 10. SGC Grading is another reputable company but does not hold the same value as PSA (it’s also worth noting the cost to grade will also be cheaper). The SGC 10 version of the Pulisic had recent sales around $650.
To see the value of the parallels, the 2016 Donruss Pulisic can also be found in a “Press Proof Die-Cut” that is numbered to only 149 available worldwide. Because this card is much scarcer, it holds more value. Recent sales for this parallel version were $700 before grading.
Finally, if we transition over to the 2019-20 Prizm Premier league set, we can see how later cards decrease in value but inserts can boost that back up. In that 2019-20 Prizm set, you will find Pulisic’s first year with Chelsea card. This raw card had recent sales around $35 and graded PSA 10 went for $190. However, this set also included some inserts with even greater value. Kaboom is one of the inserts that are harder to come by and hold value in the collecting world. Recent sales of Pulisic’s Kaboom card were around $400 raw. In the 2020-21 Prizm set, Pulisic had a card in the famous Color Blast Insert which is even more valuable. This ungraded card had recent sales of $1,600.
How many players can lay claim to single-season goalscoring records in the Premier League, LaLiga, and Serie A? That number is now one after Cristiano Ronaldo finished the 2020-21 campaign with 29 goals for Juventus. There may be some arguments to whom has the most goals scored for country and club all-time. However, there really is no debating Ronaldo’s place in history, even while he is still playing.
In what is a unique situation, you can actually chase Ronaldo autographs in all three leagues of 2020-21 cards. With Panini’s launch of Mosaic for both Serie A and La Liga, he is featured with autograph cards in both sets (though you will only find his base card in the Serie A set). In Panini’s Prizm Premier League set, he is also featured in the Flashback Autographs checklist in his Manchester United gear. Recent sales for both the Mosaic (Real Madrid) and Prizm (Manchester United) cards were north of $1,500.
Have any questions about what makes soccer trading cards valuable? Let us know in the comments section below.
Author: Christopher Mosinski