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A 2023 Sports Card Grading Year In Review

2023 Sports Card Year In Review

If you have been following our monthly reports on grading here at Cardlines, you know it has been a year of ups and downs for grading.

Some months have been more vital, while others (including recent ones) have been relatively weak. But if you look at matters by year, there has been an excellent grade increase since 2022. There is no question that grading cards has become an inseparable part of the hobby, and more people are doing it than ever before.

PSA has remained the biggest grader in the industry by a mile. Their volume is now over a million submissions per month.

The company was kind enough to send us its charts based on real-time data. So, let’s dive into the Annual Grading Charts For 2023 using the latest data from PSA.

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The top grading card companies

PSA has been the biggest grading company in the business for a long time. SGC and Beckett have been doing their best to keep up but with limited success. But just how large is the gap between the companies? We added up the numbers for 2023 to get an idea.

PSACCGSGCBGS
11,361,0001,373,0001,039,000700,000

The state of PSA

While PSA has graded over 11 million items this year, none of its rivals have reached 1.5 million. So yeah, they are over ten times bigger than any other company.

PSA has been playing it safe throughout the year with grades. Always trying to be a bit more generous than their rivals, but without going overboard. Of course, it makes perfect sense for the most significant player in the game to avoid making too many waves.

The role of CCG

Who is the second biggest? CCG is easily the second biggest, and by a far more significant margin than the numbers would have. That is because the mostly TCG-oriented grader was doing a stock inventory check for several months in 2023.

So, there is a good chance they would have had more than 2 million submissions if things were open as usual. And there has been a severe uptick in their popularity towards the end of the year.

One notable trend we have seen towards the end of 2023 is the migration of some TCG businesses from PSA to CCG. That shows there is good scope for growth here, as CCG is making inroads with its preferred market.

It will be interesting to see if 2024 sees its emergence as a genuine rival to PSA within the TCG space. It would not surprise me at all.

What about the other sports grading companies?

That leaves the other sports companies far behind. SGC is easily the biggest among the two. As we know, BGS suffered two blows that have lowered its status in the hobby. First, it took ages to reopen its services after getting logjammed during the COVID boom.

Then it had that terrible grading mess when it changed the scale for grades and then again. All this has left it seeming less relevant than ever in the hobby. However, I wouldn’t write them off. It is still a brand with real significance in the pursuit. It just needs to work on its image and public relations.

One exciting move we have seen from BGS is a genuine attempt to make their grading scale more challenging. At the start of the year, SGC had the most demanding grading scale across the board, which began to change in late 2023. Beckett has consistently had the most challenging grades for ultra-modern cards over the last few months.

This hasn’t done much for their popularity yet, but it may well pay off as the value of BGS cards increases due to scarcity. Honestly, they seem like a prime target for one of the big players in the business: a Fanatics or an eBay, perhaps.

Meanwhile, SGC has had an uneventful year. They remained steady yet unspectacular. They made gains in ultra-modern early in the year and seemed to be successfully changing their branding. However, in recent months, they have reverted to form somewhat and are grading more vintage again.

Since the brand is slightly stuck, it will be interesting to see what they do in 2024.

Most popular categories for 2024

Over the last couple of years, TCG has become the most popular submission category. So much so the number of cards submitted in any month for that category is roughly equal to all the sports categories.

But the balance of the sports submissions has been changing. Basketball has become weaker, while baseball is regaining its place as the most popular sport in the hobby. Let’s crunch the 2023 numbers.

TCGBaseballBasketballFootballNon-SportHockeySoccer
5,211,3002,532,5001,682,4001,406,100550,300341,100326,500

TCG is by far the strongest category, as expected. But the dominance is down a bit. If you add all of the sports together, it comes to 6,288,600 submissions. Meanwhile, baseball is way ahead of football and basketball, which are about the same.

It’s also worth noting that the big jump forward for soccer, predicted a couple of years ago, never really happened. It remains a smidge behind hockey.

Are we on the verge of a basketball card bounceback?

What can we expect in 2024? I think basketball will do a lot better. There is the Wemby factor to consider. His cards are already among the most popular around.

Indeed, you will find one of them among the top ten cards for 2023. You will likely find several of them among the biggest for 2024. But it isn’t just Wemby. Another young player, especially Chet Holmgren, has massive potential to become a megastar.

We will see at least two top-rated young NBA players: Victor and someone else.

The future of baseball is assured

The future of baseball is very bright, and there is no reason to believe 2024 will be weaker.

Sure, some big names have fallen by the wayside. The legacy of Wander Franco and Fernando Tatis Jr. has taken some significant setbacks.

But there is a lot of excitement with all the excellent rookies that have come into the league, from Shohei to Gunnar Henderson. Knowing the MLB, there will be some incredible talents emerging in 2024 as well.

The future of football is in the balance

Basketball got so weak in 2023 that NFL cards almost caught up with it. But for the above reasons, that seems unlikely to repeat in 2024. But it’s unclear if the general trend of the sport will be positive or not.

A few big-name quarterbacks have been in the league since Patrick Mahomes Jr. arrived on the scene in 2017. But none of them have had the same impact. With Joe Burrow experiencing injuries and Justin Herbert’s status deteriorating, it’s unclear if anyone from that generation will take his place.

There A few big-name quarterbacks have been Brock Purdy and Trevor Lawrence. However, neither is a sure thing. Football may have no natural heir to Mahomes, leading to a decline in its cards.

Hockey and soccer

Soccer has been unable to overtake hockey as the “best of the rest” behind the big sports. There is no reason to think that will change next year. The NHL has its own Wemby in Connor Bedard. There will be massive excitement around his rookie cards next year, whether he pans out or not.

Meanwhile, soccer cards are held back by the lack of a vast and marketable soccer rookie. Since Halaand and Bellingham came along a couple of years ago, we haven’t seen any young players capture the imagination of fans. Perhaps a new star will take the world by storm in Euro 2024.

Most popular athletes in sports cards

A few new entries were in the charts this year among the athletes. In particular, some young and exciting baseball players broke through in 2023. Notably Julio Rodriguez and later Elly De La Cruz.

Meanwhile, some younger names we saw in football included Kenny Pickett and Trevor Lawrence. It is interesting to see how well these players do compared to the GOAT types like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Ken Griffey Jr.

  • Shohei Ohtani
  • Michael Jordan
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Joe Burrow
  • Tom Brady
  • Koby Bryant
  • Lebron James
  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Patrick Mahomes

Shohei Otani started leading the charts for the most famous athlete in the grading world about halfway through 2023. Therefore, there was no doubt that he would be at the top of the charts. But Julio came in at a surprisingly high spot.

There were some doubts surrounding the young Mariners star early in the season when he did not seem entirely up to the standards of that electrifying rookie year. Nonetheless, he pulled out of the slump and had a solid sophomore season.

But that other young phenom, Elly De La Cruz, seems to have emerged too late in the year to make the top ten. We guarantee you will see him here in 2024 if he has a solid sophomore season.

Football and basketball players

Only Trevor Lawrence has become a fixture in the charts from the vaunted 2021 rookie class in football. It is easy to see why.

The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback has shown continued growth despite inconsistency. He should feel proud to be placed over Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, and Patrick Mahomes Jr. In addition, Lawrence was one of the top growers in submissions for 2023.

The three who experienced the most significant bumps include Travis Kelce, who had a spot of a good 67% year over the year. Trevor had an impressive increase of 98% as well. But who would have guessed it:  Justin Fields’ submissions grew 119% from 2022.

However, as you can see, that was not enough for him to enter the charts.

Finally, basketball gives us a pretty depressing picture. The only three players on this list are LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant.

Only “The King” is active and nearing a glorious career’s end. None of the younger stars are in the charts, including absolute megastars like Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not to mention the more recent crop of rookies that has entered the league since 2020; we know that will change when Wemby cards are released next year. But it is still somewhat depressing how little attention the biggest names in the NBA are getting.

The hottest rookies

The hobby is dominated, first and foremost, by rookie cards. Therefore, we gathered the highest-performing rookies in each sport for your perusal.

Baseball

  1. Elly De La Cruz
  2. Adley Ruschman
  3. Corbin Carroll
  4. Anthony Volpe
  5. Gunnar Henderson

There haven’t been enough exciting rookies in other sports, especially basketball, to get the juices flowing. But baseball has not had that problem, to put it mildly.

Adley Ruschman is considered a generational-level catcher, often compared to Johnny Bench. And he still only managed to come in second, thanks to the overwhelming reputation and allure of Elly De La Cruz.

Earlier in the season, the Reds phenom was quickly the most exciting player in baseball. Of course, Elly faded in his performance towards the end of the year and had people posting hot takes that he would be a bust later in the season.  

And to drive home how good this bunch of rookies is, let’s examine number three. Corbin Carroll was NL Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, and All-MLB First Team. He even led Arizona to the World Series against all odds. And he still finished third in the grading. So, we are talking about a phenomenal class of rookies here.

Basketball

  1. Paolo Banchero
  2. Victor Wembanyama
  3. Cade Cunningham
  4. Jalen Green 
  5. Chet Holmgren

At first glance, you may be surprised that Wemby is not topping the rookie charts. But, of course, he has not featured in any mainstream NBA releases yet. After all, Panini is still releasing its 2022-23 season stuff, though we are already well into 2023-24.

Chet Holmgren is also remarkably low on this list, but that is because he was injured last year, and few expected such a solid start to the season from the Thunder big man.

Football

None of the NFL rookies made the overall annual top ten. However, the two biggest names, Kenny Pickett and Brock Purdy, were often in the mix and appeared high on the charts in certain months. The others kept a lower profile, though those are betting on Desmond Rider and Garrett Wilson.

  1. Kenny Pickett
  2. Brock Purdy
  3. Desmond Ridder
  4. Garrett Wilson
  5. Sam Howell

It’s easy to see why Pickett faded from the overall charts. He has not enjoyed a particularly productive season. The disappointing performances he has put up with the Steelers have led to countless “why Kenny is a bust” type articles.

The injuries haven’t helped either. But never write off a quarterback based on first-season struggles. But Pickett will be happy to see he came in ahead of Purdy, who has undoubtedly established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league in 2023.

Most graded sports cards

We saw who the most popular athletes were. But what cards made the most impact in 2023?

Sports

  1. 2018 Bowman 49 Shohei Ohtani
  2. 2022 Bowman Chrome Prospects BCP50 Elly De La Cruz 
  3. 1989 Upper Deck 1 Ken Griffey Jr. Star Rookie
  4. 2023 Topps Now Draft D1 Victor Wembanyama 
  5. 2022 Bowman Paper Prospects BP50 Elly De La Cruz 
  6. 2018 Topps Update US285 Shohei Ohtani 
  7. 2018 Topps Update US1 Shohei Ohtani Pitching In Red Jersey 
  8. 2022 Topps Update US44 Julio Rodriguez 
  9. 2018 Topps 700 Shohei Ohtani Pitching 
  10. 1990 Fleer 26 Michael Jordan 

The first thing that jumps out regarding this list is the dominance of Shohei Otani. He has four cards among the top ten in all sports. That is particularly striking, considering his rookie cards are all from 2018.

Then add to that the Ken Griffey Jr., Julio Rodriguez, and Elly De La Cruz cards, and you have eight baseball cards among the top ten. The other two are basketball cards. That leaves no football cards at all.

Another interesting fact: there are no Panini cards in the top ten either. Aside from the ancient 1989 Upper Deck and 1986 Fleer cards on the list, every card here is Topps. And they are all relatively recent, too.

That is a perfect sign for Fanatics. Their takeover of the hobby is already one step closer, at least in the minds of grading enthusiasts.

TCG

  1. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SV PROMO 001 PIKACHU SCARLET & VIOLET PRE-ORDER
  2. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SWORD & SHIELD INCANDESCENT ARCANA 074 FULL ART/ALTARIA
  3. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SWORD & SHIELD VSTAR UNIVERSE 246 FULL ART/ELESA’S SPARKLE
  4. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SWORD & SHIELD VSTAR UNIVERSE 212 FULL A RT/CHARIZARD VSTAR
  5. 2023 POKEMON JAPANESE SV1a-TRIPLET BEAT 080 MAGIKARP ART RARE
  6. 2022 POKEMON SWSH BLACK STAR PROMO 262 FULL ART/CHARIZARD VSTAR SWORD & SHIELD ULTRA-PREMIUM COLLECTION-CHARIZARD
  7. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SWORD & SHIELD INCANDESCENT ARCANA 069 FULL ART/BRAIXEN
  8. 2023 POKEMON JAPANESE SV1V-VIOLET ex 100 MIRIAM SUPER RARE
  9. 2022 POKEMON SWSH BLACK STAR PROMO 261 FULL ART/CHARIZARD VMAX SWORD & SHIELD ULTRA-PREMIUM COLLECTION-CHARIZARD
  10. 2022 POKEMON JAPANESE SWORD & SHIELD VSTAR UNIVERSE 221 FULL ART/MEWTWO VSTAR 

As you might expect, Charizard cards have a powerful presence in these charts. Five of the top ten belong to the popular character known in Japan as Lizardon. But Pikachu has the top cards. Indeed, we have seen a general increase in the popularity of Pikachu at the expense of Charizard, who seems a bit last year at this point.

Most popular products

We looked at the most submitted products of 2023. Unlike with the specific cards, Panini still rules the roost regarding the top releases Here is the top ten:

  1. 2022 Panini Prizm Football
  2. 2022 Panini Mosaic Football
  3. 2021 Panini Prizm Football
  4. 2021 Panini Prizm Basketball
  5. 2022 Panini Prizm Basketball
  6. 2022 Bowman Prospect Autographs
  7. 2020 Panini Select Football
  8. 2022 Panini Donruss Optic Football
  9. 2022 Panini Prizm Basketball
  10. 2022 Topps Update Baseball

There are only two Topps products here, and one of them barely makes it. Furthermore, the top three are football releases. That is an interesting finding, considering that football languishes far behind baseball and a bit behind basketball in overall submissions.

That means more excitement around recent football releases than any other sport. But the cards from these releases have less longevity. It makes sense when we look at some of the most popular baseball cards.

Take all the Shohei rookie cards from five years ago or the Ken Griffey Jr. ones from over 30 years ago. And other folks like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vlad Guerrero are still famous. That isn’t even taking into account that baseball dominates the vintage market. But football cards fade from popularity after a while.

Final thoughts on sports card grading in 2023

Despite a weaker submission in the last few months, it has been a great year for the hobby. PSA remained king of grading by a mile, and sports were more robust than they had been the year before. Baseball seems particularly strong, while basketball showed great weakness compared to recent years.

What can we expect next year? It will be Panini’s last gasp, and they will pump the Wemby train for all that it is worth. They will probably be successful in doing so. We can expect a significant resurgence of basketball next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if other players also enjoyed a great boon due to increased interest. Baseball will still do great, and hockey will shoot past soccer.

One fundamental question mark is the grading companies. Will PSA remain as supremely dominant as they are now?

The other companies will undoubtedly try to chip away at their position. But overall, the numbers should be even healthier for 2024. So keep an eye on this space. There will be a lot of action on the charts, and we will cover all of it here.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.

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