Sports Card Grading Costs Double
The value of a graded sports card has never been higher, and it only continues to rise.
As a reminder, there are two major third-party grading services that have demanded top dollar over the recent years: Becket Grading Service (BGS) and Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA). Watch for newcomers like Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA) to take shots at the market, but PSA and BGS are the big two for now.
Is now the time to grade your cards?
The Rise of Card Grading Demand and PSA
PSA had the toughest job of any of the grading companies: create a need.
When the company was launched in 1991, sports cards had crossed over from play-things to collectibles with some value. However, collectors were not convinced they should hand over their cards to a third-party company for a number grade. They wondered: where was the value in that?
The value, as it turned out, quickly became apparent.
In 1998, the online reseller eBay emerged, allowing people to sell their personal items. As a result, collectors from around the world were connected like never before. With more sales potential, a greater value was placed on having a graded card—this set a standard for comparison.
Correspondingly, PSA began to explode. Check out these estimates:
- From 1991-1998, PSA graded 1 million total cards.
- From 1999-2019, PSA graded 1 million cards annually.
- In 2020, PSA passed the 2 million annual card mark.
By these numbers alone, the company’s growth is evident, and as sports cards are now treated more like modern art—especially the short prints and variations within the hobby—the price tag for grading has risen.
Grading Cost Inflation at PSA
Like most services, PSA prices have risen over time. However, the rise was greater than you would expect through inflation. The sharp rise is the result of increased demand, driven up by tens of thousands of collectors submitting cards.
Throughout the company’s history, pricing has been broken down into smaller subsections based on service level, card value, and the number of cards submitted. PSA has tried out several pricing mechanisms, including the very popular membership options.
The one constant, however, is that the prices are constantly trending upwards.
Several price hikes have marked PSA’s pricing structure. What collectors consider the first of these recent increases came January 1, 2019, before the “sports card bubble” even started. During this change, as reported by Sports Collectors Daily, the following changes took place (2018 vs. 2019 prices):
2018 PSA Grading Service Prices
- BULK (100 CARDS OR MORE) $8 (50-99 CARDS) $10
- REGULAR $20
- EXPRESS $50 (max value $1,999)
- SUPER EXPRESS: $125
- WALKTHROUGH: $300/$500
- PREMIUM ($1000-$24,000 VALUE): $900
- PREMIUM PLUS ($25,000-$99,000): $1,500
January 1, 2019, PSA Price Increase
- BULK (100 CARDS OR MORE) $8 (50-99 CARDS) $10 – UNCHANGED
- REGULAR $20 – UNCHANGED
- EXPRESS: $75
- SUPER EXPRESS: $200
- WALKTHROUGH: $500
- PREMIUM ($1000-$24,000 VALUE): $1000
- PREMIUM PLUS ($25,000-$99,000): $3,000
- PREMIUM ELITE ($100,000 OR HIGHER): $5,000 – NEW SERVICE
The most notable parts of this price increase were the additions of high-end services. These new services acknowledged the raised ceiling for sports cards and roughly a 50% price increase on all other services.
Then, in 2020, despite raising prices only a year earlier, PSA tweaked the services and raised pricing again. This was the price structure at that time:
October 2020 PSA Price Increase
- VALUE: $10 ($199 maximum value)
- VALUE ULTRA-MODERN: $15 ($199 maximum value)
- REGULAR: $50 ($999 maximum card value)
- EXPRESS: $75 ($2,499 maximum card value)
- SUPER EXPRESS: $200 ($4,999 maximum card value)
- WALK-THROUGH: $500
- PREMIUM: $1,000
- SUPER PREMIUM: $2000
- PREMIUM PLUS: $3,000
- PREMIUM ELITE: $5,000
The change that brought about the most pushback was raising the “regular” rates from $20 to $50. Considering these are cards valued at less than $499 in value, this makes up a large percentage of the cards PSA receives.
March 2021 PSA Price Increase
- VALUE: $20 (maximum value $499)
- VALUE ULTRA-MODERN: $25
- REGULAR: $100 ($999 maximum card value)
- EXPRESS: $150 ($2,499 maximum card value)
- SUPER EXPRESS: $300 ($4,999 maximum card value)
Beckett Offered a Reasonable Alternative…For Awhile
As PSA’s popularity soared, other companies emerged to compete in the marketplace.
Most notable was Beckett Grading Services.
While Beckett had been publishing price guides for the hobby since 1984, the company didn’t offer grading until 1999.
For the large part, Beckett entered with a flat fee and didn’t adjust it much until 2017. In that year, changes were acknowledged in a letter from Jeromy Murray, the company’s VP.
“We don’t require a membership or require you to pay a grading fee based on its value after grading,” he wrote. “We have always had a flat fee for grading, and that flat fee has not been adjusted in years.”
Beckett Increases Grading Prices
However, he explained why that had to change: “It’s never a customer favorite to increase prices, but with the product and services we provide, we had to adjust those rates in order to keep up with the submissions and services you require.”
Much like PSA, these price changes were nearly a 50% increase on all services and prices. Also, much like PSA, another increase followed suit in 2020, and another in 2021.
Following the most recent increase, the BGS prices and services are as follows (for grades with subgrades. If you’re using BGS, get subgrades!):
- PREMIUM: $250
- EXPRESS: $150
- STANDARD: $50
- ECONOMY: $35
If you’re comparing the PSA prices with the current BGS prices and raising an eyebrow, you’re not alone.
BGS has simplified the grading levels and structures, sure, but the prices are very high at the low-end of the value spectrum. However, for the time being, it seems $250 is the most you’ll pay for a BGS slab regardless of the value of your card.
After the recent change, another price rise could be expected from PSA, but only time will tell.
This chart shows the dramatic rise in price, especially recently:
|Submission Type/ Date of Pricing||PSA 2018||PSA 2019||PSA 2020||PSA 2021||Beckett
(subgrades- no subgrades)
|Regular Per Card Cost||$20 (Max $500)||$20 (Max $500)||$50 (Max $999)||$100 (Max $999)||$50-30|
|Value (10 cards and up)||_||_||$10 (Max $199)||$20 (Max $499)||_|
|Bulk (100 cards and up)||$8-10||$8-10||_||_||_|
|Premium||$900 (Max $24,000)||$1000 (Max $24,000)||$1000 (Max $24,999)||$1000||$250-125|
|Express||$50 (Max $1,999)||$75 (Max $1,999)||$75 (Max $2,499)||$150 (Max $2,499)||$150-100|
So…When Is the Card Grading Price Rising Again?
BGS’s new pricing and service structure leave many questions unanswered.
PSA might raise prices again as the demand continues to be greater than they can meet, leading to delays.
Other grading companies are emerging that can create ripples. For example, CSG from the Certified Collectibles Group and the visually-appealing HGA and its color-matching slabs and guaranteed delivery times.
If one (or both) of these new companies can gain enough traction in the industry, they could help push back against BGS and PSA’s rising prices.
But, regardless of what becomes of all these situations, there’s a bottom line that is nearly certain for collectors worldwide: to maximize the value of your collection, card grading is a neccesary evil.
Grading can be really expensive, so always shop around and figure out the best ROI for your grading investment. Nonetheless, having your cards slabbed will protect, preserve, and maximize their value for years to come.
And as the market continues to rise, bringing prices along with it, there may never be a better time to grade than right now.