January 2023 Card Grading Trends: Baseball Up, TGC Dives And SGC Continues To Be A Tough On Grading
Blame that post-holiday hangover, if you will, but grading activity has dipped in January 2023. We aren’t talking about any kind of catastrophic collapse in volume here. It’s merely 2%. Actually, a full 5% if we are talking PSA only.
But only time will tell if that is related to the recession concerns or if it’s just a seasonal blip. How does it compare to last year? January 2022 was flat and showed no real change from the previous December. And the month had a pretty robust end, encouraging the folks at GemRate.
But, of course, that was a different time. Back then, PSA was sitting on a significant backlog and trying to catch up. Nowadays, they are forging full speed ahead and processing new grading with a reasonable turnaround.
Ah, what a time to be alive. But don’t worry; not everything is done. Some submissions are booming. Like what? We answer that question in our guide to sports card grading trends for January 2023.
Sports card grading trends: Top categories
What has been going on at PSA in January? Here are the full numbers for the cards submitted at the largest grading company. There are some very interesting trends.
|Submission Type||Estimated raw numbers for January||Movement from December to January|
The most immediately noticeable factor is the TCG nose dive. 17% is a considerable number, especially when talking about the volume PSA has been handling. That is a decrease of well over 50,000 submitted units.
It is nowhere near enough to dent the domination of TCG at the top of the charts. But we are constantly watching to see if the top category slips up.
Baseball up, basketball down
But TCG’s misfortune is reversed when we get to the national pastime. As we get closer to baseball season, we see a healthy interest revival. Fanatics will undoubtedly be happy to see the robust interest in their (so far) key sport.
Likewise, basketball had been undergoing a mysterious slump in 2022. And if you expected a renewed interest in NBA cards as we head to the All-Star game in February, you will be sorely disappointed. There was a slight downtick in already flagging numbers.
Football didn’t fare any better heading into the Super Bowl. If you are wondering, there was a slight rise in football submissions in January 2022. Basketball too. So, there is a lingering weakness in these two sports.
Another interesting phenomenon: hockey has passed soccer by a comfortable distance. But that may just be situational. Hockey season is heating up, and fans of the beautiful game suffer from World Cup withdrawal. As a hardcore soccer fan, I know that times are tough, and it’s hard to go back to following regular league games and collecting cards.
Top grading companies in January 2023
We have seen the trends within PSA. But what about between the large companies? Here is the raw data for the four biggest grading companies for the month:
|Grading Company||Total Units Graded||Movement from December|
Once we factor in the numbers for CCG, the lower TCG numbers for PSA submissions start to make more sense. The 19% increase in submissions to the TCG specialist grading company helps explain at least some of the 17% drops in the more prominent company.
Of course, because PSA is so much bigger, it doesn’t account for the entire shortfall. But a more significant portion of Pokémon submissions may go to CCG. That would certainly fit into the plans of the smaller company to become the TCG go-to.
And finally, some good news for the folks over at Beckett. BGS submissions have shown the highest rate of growth in January. Just when it seemed like the efforts to clear the backlog and provide competitive pricing was going nowhere.
Will BGS soon be in a position to retake the second-place spot among sports graders from SGC? Watch this space.
Card Grading by decades 2023
We always try to keep an eye on the balance between vintage and ultra-modern in grading. Here are the latest figures on that:
|The 1950s and Earlier||1.8%||0%||12.9%||0.9%|
There is a clear trend across the board toward grading ultra-modern. The post-2020 cards are increasing significantly in popularity. PSA has seen a jump of 3% in the share, which is almost at a staggering 50% of all submissions. But it isn’t just PSA. Even SGC, once known as the vintage specialists, jumped 3% to 46.5%.
That is around the same proportion that PSA was last month (actually a bit higher). It’s that age-old story of out with the old and in with the new. The vintage stuff is simply losing popularity.
The emerging balance of power between PSA and SGC is particularly fascinating. While SGC has made inroads with ultra-modern, PSA remains the primary address for the 1990-2020 era.
But with cards older than that, SGC retains the trust of serious vintage collectors. As a result, almost 13% of SGC’s business falls into the 1950 and earlier bracket. Meanwhile, for PSA, it is only 1.8% of submissions.
Gem rate trends for January 2023
One of the ways card grading companies build their reputations is through their gem rates. A company that gives a lot of tens may provide an incentive to grade with them in the short-term.
But in the longer duration, they may be undercutting the value of their cards and lower the levels of submissions. Here are the lastest numbers on that:
|The 1950s and Earlier||0.1%||0%||0%||0%|
This month’s numbers strengthen the differentiation trends separating the big grading companies. PSA got a little bit tougher this month, with a drop of one percentage point for ultra-modern gemming. But what is more interesting is the continuing trends at SGC and BGS. Both seem determined to differentiate themselves from PSA but in opposite directions.
Where SGC is going
SGC has long established itself as far tougher than PSA in that regard. But they continue pushing in the direction of making gems legitimately rare. Last month the ultra-modern gem rate for the Florida-based company was 32%, and it had been hovering around a third for a while. However, in January, that went down by an entire 4%, to 28.2%.
So, while PSA gives over half the ultra-modern cards a 10, SGC is pushing it down toward a quarter. The policy seems intentional. They are betting that scarcity will raise the value of their 10s, which will give them an advantage over their rivals.
And when you look at earlier periods, the difference is even more pronounced. For example, you are more than five times more likely to gem when sending in a card from 2000-2009 to PSA than SGC. We will see how this strategy plays out in the long term. After all, these numbers mean that sending cards to PSA is far more worthwhile (especially from those periods).
Where BGS is going
Meanwhile, BGS is raising its gem rate. The differences with PSA are not extreme, but they are becoming starker. Their ultra-modern gem rate is almost at 60%, as opposed to 53% over at PSA. Of course, we need to keep in mind that a gem for Beckett includes Beckett 9.5 as well as 10s. But there is a definite trend towards more forgiving grading. However, the differences between the two companies are negligible when you go further down the chart.
Most graded players and characters January 2023
Let’s take a look at the most popular subjects of grading cards. In this overview, we have begun to look at the most popular athletes and TCG characters. We do so first separately and then make a combined list. So let’s get started.
Most graded athletes
First, the top ten athletes:
|Athlete||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
Despite retiring twenty years ago, MJ remains the most-graded athlete in any sport. Pretty impressive. The secret to his success is the combination of the depth and value of Jordan cards.
He is one of the few athletes where many of his base and later inserts are worth a good deal. But his cards are readily available, unlike his equivalents in other sports, like Mickey Mantle.
And it is easy to see why. The indications from last season are that he is a more complete (and flashy) player. So, collectors are betting that Julio will jump from a spectacular rookie to a genuine superstar next year.
In another exciting development, the crop of young quarterbacks got a bit of a boost in January. Justin Fields and Joe Burrow performed well and broke into the top ten.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good a month for Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert. However, the market for Lawrence will probably heat up next season, considering his strong finish to the season.
Most graded TCG characters
What about the TCG scene in January? There is a familiar (very, very familiar) face at the top. However, there are some exciting developments as well.
|Character||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
|Blue-Eyes White Dragon||1,900||-42%|
The top four are identical to what we saw in December. But there are some developments. First, as you can see, all of the top ten characters had a weaker month in January than they did during the last month of 2022. Some of that can be explained by a switch from PSA to CCG, which is capturing a larger share of the Pokémon market.
But there is no question that it also reflects an overall slackening of the TCG market. It is worth noting that there was a similar weakness in the market in January 2022. So, it may just be a blip.
Something else of note. Last month, it seemed that YU-GI-Oh! Cards were making a charge at the charts, breaking the Pokémon monopoly. We wondered if that would continue. But not much sign of that this month.
Blue-Eyes White Dragon remained in the top ten but lost a lot of ground. Meanwhile, the Red Eyes Black Dragon card, which absolutely popped in December, disappeared from the charts.
Combined character and athletes list
If so, we have seen a relatively strong month for sports and a weak one for TCG. How does that alter our combined list? Let’s see:
|Character or Athlete||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
The TCG cards may be performing a bit worse than they did in the past. However, not enough has changed to upend the combined charts. Charizard and Pikachu continue to outperform any athlete significantly. But below the top spots, the sports dudes continue to dominate.
It appears that one of the things keeping sports down is the lack of a young football or basketball youngster who truly gets the hobby excited.
When Brady is the top football player and Jordan the top basketball, it does not bode well for the young stars. However, baseball is doing better as Julio Rodriguez generates truly impressive numbers.
Top sets for January 2023
What about sets? Let’s see what was popping up in the first month of 2023.
|Card||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
|1999 Pokémon Game||12,600||-19%|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo||11,300||0%|
|2021 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Vmax Climax||9,800||n/a|
|2022 Pokemon Sword & Shield Silver Tempest||8,900||+226%|
|2021 Pokémon Sword & Shield Evolving Skies||8,200||-14%|
|2022 Pokemon Sword & Shield Lost Origin||7,000||-12%|
|2022 Pokémon Sword & Shield Brilliant Stars||6,800||-16%|
|2021 Pokémon Celebrations Classic Collection||6,700||-19%|
|2019 Pokémon Japanese Sword & Shield Vmax Climax||5,500||-34%|
|2021 Pokémon Sun & Moon Hidden Fates||5,400||+6%|
Is the seemingly omnipotent 1999 Pokémon Game finally under threat? Losing almost 20% since last month, the gap between the top spot and its long-time contender, the 2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo, has narrowed significantly.
Unfortunately, the only thing keeping it on top is that the number 2 hasn’t gained anything.
We also have a new entry with a bullet. The 2021 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Vmax Climax set has jumped to third place. We will be watching to see if that is a fluke or if we have a new heavyweight on the list.
But it’s not alone. 2022 Pokemon Sword & Shield Silver Tempest gained tremendous popularity last month, growing by over 200%.
This was a good sports month overall. We can see that in the top set charts. Let’s take a look:
|Set||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
|2021 Panini Prizm Basketball||11,300||-6%|
|2021 Panini Donruss Optic Football||8,500||-15%|
|2022 Topps Update Baseball||7,900||+88%|
|2022 Bowman Prospect Autographs||7,900||+220%|
|2021 Panini Select Football||7,200||-5%|
|2021 Panini Prizm Football||7,100||-11%|
|2020 Panini Select Football||7,000||0%|
|2021 Panini Donruss Optic Basketball||5,800||-7%|
|2021 Upper Deck Hockey||5,400||-3%|
|1986 Fleer Basketball||4,600||0%|
Sure, the top set lost some steam. 2021 Panini Prizm Basketball may start to fade now, considering its rookie crop is good but not absolutely top-notch. But we have a couple of surprising baseball gainers in January. First, the 2022 Topps Update Baseball has jumped into the top three.
Also, a lesser-known Bowman release, 2022 Bowman Prospect Autographs, had fewer than 7,900 submissions this month. It makes sense because it’s one of those releases where many cards are gradable.
A combined list of sets
This month we will begin to rank the sports and TCG sets together as another way to measure their relative strength.
|Set||Number Graded In July||Change from June|
|2022 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Universe||43,100||+73%|
|2021 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Vmax Climax||16,100||+128%|
|2021 Japanese Pokémon Promo Card Pack 25th Anniversary Edition||15,700||+180%|
|2021 Pokémon Sword & Shield Eevee Heroes||11,500||+120%|
|2023 Pokémon Sword & Shield Crown Zenith||11,3000||-20%|
|2022 Japanese Pokémon Sword & Shield Incandescent Arcana||11,100||+155%|
|2019 Japanese Pokémon Sun & Moon Dream League||10,600||+159%|
|2022 Panini Prizm Football||9,700||-39%|
|1999 Pokémon Game||8,600||-5%|
|2023 Japanese Pokémon Sv1a-Triplet Beat||8,200||+24%|
Looking at the most graded sets gives us the best viewpoint for the lessened dominance of Pokémon releases in PSA. TCGs still take up most of the top spots but not exclusively. And overall, five out of ten of the top sets are sports now. We will be tracking this over the coming months.
Top cards graded for January 2023
What about the most popular single cards in January? We will examine both the top sports and TCG items for your entertainment.
|Card||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
|2022 Topps Update Julio Rodriguez #US44||2,000||+102%|
|2022 Topps Update Bobby Witt Jr. #US100||800||+90%|
|1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Star Rookie #1||700||-6%|
|2020-21 Upper Deck Cole Caufield #201||700||+43%|
|2001 Upper Deck Tiger Woods #1||600||+35%|
|1996 Topps Kobe Bryant #138||500||-2%|
|2022 Topps Chrome Wander Franco #35||500||+15%|
|2021 Panini Prizm Cade Cunningham #282||500||-1%|
|1996 Fleer Decade of Excellence Michael Jordan #4||500||+147%|
|2022 Bowman Chrome Prospects Elly De La Cruz #BCP50||500||+35%|
The absolute dominance of Julio Rodriguez in the plans of baseball collectors is in full bloom right now. Submissions for his Topps Update card have more than doubled since last month.
It has more than twice as many submissions as the second most popular sports card. The dude is entering Charizard territory right now. And it looks like we have a clear second emerging among the young baseball stars.
Bobby Witt Jr. has jumped out of nowhere to take second place. Bobby looked decent for the Royals last year, but nothing like the tremendous performance of Rodriguez. But collectors are making a bet that he will jump ahead in 2023.
We have already seen that TCG had a pretty weak month, but with Scarlet & Violet preorders on the horizon, that could soon change. So how did that influence the charts of the most popular cards in this category?
|Card||Amount Submitted in January||Movement from December|
|2022 Pokémon Japanese SVP Promo Pikachu Scarlet & Violet Pre-Order #1||3,300||n/a|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo UPC Full Art Charizard #262||2,500||+16%|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo V Sword & Shield Full Art UPC Charizard #261||2,500||+15%|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo V Sword & Shield Full Art UPC Charizard #260||2,400||+15%|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo Special Delivery Charizard-Holo PC UK #75||2,100||-18%|
|2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo Charizard Champions Path Elite Trainer Box #50||1,300||+19%|
|2022 Pokémon Go Radiant Charizard Base #2||1,100||-31%|
|2021 Pokémon Celebrations Classic Collection Charizard-Holo #4||1,100||-22%|
|2021 Pokémon Celebrations Classic Collection Blastoise-Holo #2||1,000||-28%|
|2020 YU-GI-Oh! Rush Duel Japanese Victory Pack Legendary Red Eyes Red Eyes Black Dragon JP001||1,000||-53%|
Despite the general slackening in numbers, we have a new number 1! After months of dominance from the 2022 Pokémon Swsh Black Star Promo UPC Full Art Charizard, that old favorite has finally lost pole position. So instead, we find a new Pikachu entry from the 2022 Pokémon Japanese SVP.
Final thoughts on sports gaming trends for January 2023
January 2023 has been a very interesting month for card grading. First, we see TCG taking a hit, at least at PSA. Meanwhile, CCG has gotten more robust in that market, explaining some (but not all) of the shortfall.
Meanwhile, baseball is getting stronger as the season gets near. A lot of the growing market for baseball is driven by enthusiasm for Julio Rodriguez, but other young players are also popping up. In addition, the NBA and NFL youngsters are generating less excitement, and submissions are suffering accordingly.
Another interesting trend is the differentiation between grading companies. SGC is embracing the label of grading hard-asses, while PSA and Beckett are easing up and allowing more gems to switch through.