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Pokemon Soars, Basketball And Football Lag: December 2022 Grading Card Trends

December 2022 card grading trends

The last grading reports of 2022 are in. After that, we don’t know exactly what the future holds for the hobby. However, the writers here at Cardlines have made some fine guesses and estimations.

But now we can look back on 2022 and draw some conclusions. The sports card grading trends for December 2022 leave no doubt that this was TCG’s year. After some weak months, Pokémon appears to be back and in a big way.

But things aren’t bleak for the big sports either. Many of them have shown a robust recovery after falling recently. Read on for the whole story. The numbers were provided by GemRate.

Top categories of cards graded in December

Despite the holidays, December was a robust month for grading. There was an overall increase of 4% in the volume received. And the leading beneficiary was, once again, TCG cards.

They crossed the 400,000-a-month graded threshold over at PSA. It’s the first-time submissions have reached this landmark number. So, after a few slow months (mostly August and September), we can definitely and reliably say that Pokémon is back.

Submission typeEstimated raw numbers for DecemberChange from previous month
TCG410,9005%
Baseball198,00023%
Basketball161,90012%
Football143,6007%
Non-sport36,700-34%
Soccer36,100-12%
Hockey35,70042%

Baseball had a strong month as we headed closer to spring training. Meanwhile, there was an even more significant rise in national pastime cards over at SGC, with a 37% rise. But all the prominent sports saw at least some increase in their numbers, a good sign for the hobby’s health.

There was concern that inflation was eating into the grading numbers. However, with inflation numbers curbed this month, this may indicate that 2023 will be a stronger sports card year than expected.  

Overall this was a positive month for grading. For example, PSA increased its already massive numbers with an addition of 7%. Meanwhile, SGC had the most significant increase, up a healthy 10% from November. But not every company is doing well

Grading companyTotal units gradedMovement from November
PSA1,000,6207%
CCG110,000-17%
SGC78,00010%
BGS48,000-5%

But Beckett suffered more bad news. Despite their drive to increase traffic with new deals, their output dropped by 5%. Of course, that may be a question of inefficiencies rather than decreasing popularity.

But no matter how you look at it, BGS doesn’t seem able to recapture its previous status as the undisputed number 2 company. For its part, CSG/CGC dropped by a whopping 17%. It remains to be seen if this is a worrying trend for the mostly non-sports company or just a case of the holiday blues.

How did vintage do in comparison to ultra-modern?

PSACCGSGCBGS
2020s46.2%40.3%43.6%48.7%
2010s17.9%16.4%10.4%20.9%
2000s13.2%7.7%4.2%10.9%
1990s12.2%12.4%7.5%13%
1980s4.5%10%5.6%3.6%
1970s2.1%5.6%5.6%3.6%
1960s1.9%4.1%9.4%0.9%
1950s and earlier2%3.5%13.7%0.8%

This decade’s overall share of cards rose quite a bit from November. At that point, 42.2% of the cards submitted to PSA were from 2020 and on. But in December, that was up by 4%. The share of legit vintage (the 1970s and further back) went down from 7% to 6%.

Another thing we keep an eye on is how well SGC is doing in its move from a vintage focus to an ultra-modern one. The transition continues to be remarkably successful, with over 54% of all submissions coming from the last two decades.

But their vintage submissions remain at a healthy level of 28.7%. A far greater share than PSA has. SGC’s ability to attract a wider subsection of the hobby has proven wildly successful. Meanwhile, BGS is highly focused on ultra-modern, with almost 70% of submissions from 2000 and on.

One of the main things we keep an eye on here is how forgiving graders are to submissions. There are always rumors that one company is more generous than the other. However, there is no substitute for real-time data.

So, how did the grades break down for the companies in December? Here is the chart:

PSACCGSGCBGS
2020s54.5%57.6%32%57.6%
2010s47%47.9%27.7%30.4%
2000s22.6%16.8%3.9%11.8%
1990s14.1%10.4%4.6%7%
1980s6.5%4.1%1%1.6%
1970s1.7%0%0.2%0%
1960s0.2%0%0%0%
1950s and earlier0.1%0%0%0%

What this means for card value

There is no question that SGC is a tougher grader than the other big guys. While gem rates for ultra-modern are well over 50% for the other graders, only a third of the cards issued since 2020 received an SGC 10.

That is a mixed blessing for SGC customers. On the one hand, there are readily available public numbers for gem rates.

Like the ones provided here. If they continue to show reliably lower gem rates, the value of SGC 10s should go up. After all, scarcity drives up value. That is one of the most fundamental laws of supply and demand. Therefore, it is likely to occur sooner or later.

However, with PSA 10s almost twice as standard, you are far more likely to get a non-gem at SGC than you are at the more prominent company. Therefore, it is still riskier to submit the card to SGC, even if the long-term trend of gem value is likely to favor SGC in the long run.

The difference between the grading companies narrows somewhat regarding cards from the 2010s, but widens again for cards from the first decade of this century.

But the most significant difference is in late vintage and junk-wax cards. The odds of getting a PSA 10 are so much higher than an SGC or BGS that it seems ridiculous. You are over 6 times more likely to gem with PSA in the 1980s and more than 17 times the odds for the 1970s.

That means the value of vintage SGC 10s will end up being very high. But getting one seems next to impossible. Meanwhile, PSA is surprisingly generous with vintage cards. That may end up walloping the value of PSA 10s long-term.

What athletes are currently the most popular among the card-grading crowd? Here are the top ten:

PlayerThe number of cards gradedChange from November
Michael Jordan19,100-19%
Shohei Ohtani9,900+12%
Julio Rodriguez8,900+101%
Kobe Bryant8,300+5%
Tom Brady8,200-6%
LeBron James8,000+26%
Aaron Judge8,000+40%
Trevor Lawrence6,700-12%
Ken Griffey Jr.6,200+2%
Justin Herbert6,100-21%

The most notable new face is Mariners slugger Julio Rodriguez, who has more than doubled in submissions. His appearance close to the top of the charts, alongside the boosts for Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge’s numbers, show some real excitement for the coming baseball season.

As we move closer to opening day, we can expect more momentum in that direction.

Football and basketball weaknesses?

One surprising thing I noticed is that none of the best young NBA players are on the list. Only the big-name legends are on the list. That must reflect the boredom of the midseason. We assume we will see some of the younger players jump up the charts around the playoffs, depending on who does well.

Perhaps something similar will happen for NFL cards. All of the quarterbacks in the top ten have lost ground. Justin Herbert took the biggest hit with a drop of 21%.

Tom Brady went down as well, and it’s hard to believe his poor playoff performance with help value in any way. But the playoffs are on right now, and the heroes will likely gain over the next two months.

Having said that, there is no doubt that football and basketball show a surprising weakness. Baseball has recovered the sports top spot, even though it is the off-season. And you can see evidence of that in the grading top ten.

The health of Julio Rodriguez’s market parallels the far weaker performance of top-performing rookies in other sports. We will keep an eye on this dynamic over the coming months.

The top character and athletes for December 2022

What do the combined TCG and sports star list look like? Here you go:

PlayerTotal Number of Cards GradedMovement from November
Charizard42,000+12
Pikachu29,000+19
Michael Jordan19,100-19%
Mew15,900+2%
Shohei Ohtani9,900+12%
Julio Rodriguez8,900+101%
Kobe Bryant8,300+5%
Tom Brady8,200-6%
LeBron James8,000+26%
Aaron Judge8,000+40%

When we combine the numbers, it’s easy to see that the top Pokémon characters are still more popular than any athlete. Unfortunately, however, the TCG cards don’t have as deep of a bench, so to speak.

Beyond the big three, the other characters simply aren’t that strong. For example, Umbreon ranks fourth among the characters and has half as many submissions as Mew in December.

Top sets graded for December 2022

In the past, Gem Rate would rank the top sets from sports and TCG in the same list, and we would compare their popularity. Now they have begun to release two separate charts. We will do both.

It’s important to see how the categories compare to each other to understand better where the hobby is headed.

TCG

SetTotal Graded In DecemberMovement from November
1999 Pokémon Game15,300-3%
2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo11,400+93%
2021 Pokémon Sword & Shield Evolving Skies9,500-4%
2021 Pokémon Celebrations Classic Collection8,200-23%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Brilliant Stars8,100-5%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Lost Origins8,000+52%
2021 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Vmax Climax7,900+17%
2021 Japanese Pokémon Promo Card Pack 25th Anniversary Edition7,000+54%
2021 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo6,800-10%
2022 Pokémon Go6,500-12%

2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Lost Origins was released in September and enjoyed a massive increase in submissions for December. But the new arrival that made the most waves in the charts was the 2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo.

It has a lot of room to grow. The product was released in October and already has had 20,600 items graded. Its 2021 predecessor has over 30,000 graded cards. So the popularity of this release is consistent.

However, the 1999 Pokémon game remains the most popular TCG release of all time and continues to outperform the newest releases. The 614,000 cards graded from that classic set is a staggeringly high number that won’t be challenged soon.

Sports

SetTotal Graded In DecemberMovement from November
2021 Panini Prizm Basketball12,100+72%
2021 Panini Donruss Optic Football10,000+11%
2021 Panini Prizm Football7,900-11%
2021 Panini Select Football7,600+23%
2020 Panini Select Football7,000+1%
2021 Panini Donruss Optic Basketball6,200+101%
2021 Upper Deck Hockey5,600+9%
2020 Panini Prizm Basketball5,200-7%
2021 Panini Mosaic Football5,000-8%
1986 Fleer Basketball4,400-26%

We had a feeling 2021 Panini Prizm Basketball was primed for a leap this month. The big jumper this month is the 2021 Donruss Optic Basketball release.

The set is a bit of a late bloomer. It was released back on September 5, 2022. But this month doubled, and we can expect it to stay in the top ten list for a while.

Scottie Barnes and Cade Cunningham cards will likely be popular for the next few months, taking the 2021 basketball sets up with them.

Combined rankings

What happens when we combine the rankings for sports releases and their TCG counterparts? Let’s take a look:

SetTotal Graded In DecemberMovement from November
1999 Pokémon Game15,300-3%
2021 Panini Prizm Basketball12,100+72%
2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo11,400+93%
2021 Panini Donruss Optic Football10,000+11%
2021 Pokémon Sword & Shield Evolving Skies9,500-4%
2021 Pokémon Celebrations Classic Collection8,200-23%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Brilliant Stars8,100-5%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Lost Origins8,000+52%
2021 Panini Prizm Football7,900-11%
2021 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Vmax Climax7,900+17%

Pokémon sets now makeup 7 out of 10 of the highest-graded sets. However, two of them are pretty high on the list, with 2021 Panini Prizm Basketball coming in a strong second. But the other sets are a long way off, unseating the 1999 Pokémon Game at the top of the charts.

Top individual cards graded for December 2022

Finally, let’s look at the most commonly submitted individual cards for December 2022. First, let’s check out the rankings among sports cards:

CardAmount submitted in DecemberMovement from November
2022 Topps Update Julio Rodriguez #US44999n/a
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Star Rookie #1751-2%
2018 Bowman Shohei Ohtani #49610-9%
1996 Topps Kobe Bryant #138573+12%
2022 Topps Now Aaron Judge #1012557n/a
1990 Fleer Michael Jordan #26556-33%
2021 Prizm Jalen Green #306519+69
2021 Cade Cunningham #282514+35%
1980 Topps Ricky Henderson #482511-7%
2021 Upper Deck Moritz Seider #469508-6%

326

Baseball ran rampant in December. Six out of the top ten cards are baseball ones, as well as the entire top five. The entry of two new cards is the most interesting part of this chart. First, the Julio Rodriguez rookie card has shot out of nowhere to the top. This is an exciting development showing great, and likely justified, enthusiasm for the young slugger.

Meanwhile, the entry of the Topps Now card commemorating Aaron Judge’s 62nd homerun in the 2022 MLB season is also an interesting entry. Will this card have value in the long term, or is it such an obvious investment that those grading it are wasting money? Time will tell.

TCG

Individual Pokémon cards far outperform their sports card equivalents. If we combined them into a single chart, none of the sports items would make the top ten. Here are the top ten TCG performers for December 2022:

CardNumber Graded In AugustChange from July
2022 Pokémon Japanese SVP Promo Pikachu Scarlet & Violet Pre-Order #14,300+45%
2022 Pokémon Japanese Sword & Shield Incandescent Arcana Full Art/Altaria #743,900+19%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Incandescent Arcana Full Art/Braixen #692,800+17%
2023 Pokémon Japanese Sv2d-Clay Burst Iono #912,700+47%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Vstar Universe Full Art/Elesa’s Sparkle #2462,500-24%
2022 Pokémon Simplified Chinese Sun & Moon Lillie Gif Box Full Art/ Lillie #52,500+21%
2023 Japanese Pokémon Sv1a-Triplet Beat Magikarp #802,400+1%
2022 Pokémon Japanese Sword & Shield Dark Phantasma Full Art/Pikachu #732,300+45%
2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Vstar Universe Full Art/Charizard Full Star #2122,300-3%
2023 Pokémon Japanese SV-P Promo Umbreon YU Nagaba X Pokemon Card Game Campaign #672,100+175%

327

While Pokémon cards continue to dominate, there is a new and exciting entry into the chart. A YU-GI-Oh! entered the top five with a massive increase of 1667%. The top ten, both for TCG and generally, tend to be dominated entirely by Pokémon cards.

Therefore, it will be pretty interesting to see if other TCG cards start to creep in or if the Rush Duel Japanese Victory Pack Legendary Red Eyes Black Dragon card is an outlier.

December sees the continuation of some trends of the last few months. Pokémon continues to return to strength after some weakness earlier in the year. But the entry of a card from a different TCG into the top ten raises questions on whether we will see more diverse entries in that category in 2023.

Meanwhile, in sports, basketball and football are showing concerning weaknesses. Considering we are in the midst of the playoffs and the young NFL rookies are tanking, it raises questions. But the strongest sport this month, by far, was baseball.

There is definite excitement surrounding the coming season in the hobby. It appears that Julio Rodriguez is the focal point for the hopes of baseball collectors everywhere.

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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