Sports Card Grading Trends In September 2022

We will be bringing you the latest trends in the sports card grading world every month. There is no better way to know what is hot and what is not.

Following these numbers will also allow you to avoid investing in cards that are over-graded and, therefore, likely to fall in value. To keep up to date, read our guide to sports card grading trends in September 2022.

In September 2022, there was plenty of activity in the field. The popularity of grading continues to rise unabated. September saw an 11% increase in submissions to the top companies. A significant overall increase. We get our numbers from GemRate, and thank them for the wonderful work they do for the hobby.

Top categories in sports card grading

When we last reported on grading trends back in June, TCG cards looked utterly unbeatable. They had been dominating the charts for months as the most popular category of all. But things have changed, man. Yes, TCG remains the most popular. But baseball has been giving it a strong run for its money.

There is a possibility that TCG grading has peaked. In September, the number of graded items did not rise at all from August. Meanwhile, baseball had increased by no less than 31%. Indeed, in the first few days of October, baseball is outdoing TCG by a sliver. The gap may increase as playoff baseball gets into full swing this month. That is also good news for baseball, which has languished behind basketball for years now.

We can also learn something from the football and hockey figures. Both are in that early season/ immediate pre-season excitement phase. However, despite that fact, they are languishing behind the competition.

Football remains firmly embedded as the third-placed sport, and hockey remains behind soccer, which has also seen a nice increase in submission volume.

Here are the rounded PSA numbers divided by category:

ProductTotal submissionsChange

What grading companies are on top right now?

The increase in grading volume went mostly, quite unsurprisingly, to PSA. They hit an all-time monthly record of 1.08 million submissions a month. Yup. An incredible number. That is a rise of no less than 21% from August. The average per day was 36,131 cards submitted.

SGC lost some ground. However, they are located in Boca Raton, Florida. Therefore, Hurricane Ian forced the rising company to close shop for a few days. That likely explains their 8% decrease in an intense month of submissions for their competitors.

But the biggest story of the month is Beckett. The traditional no. 2 company has been declining for months now. They were bogged down by a significant backlog and did not have the vision or funds of PSA to deal with it effectively. Therefore, the Texas company was struggling for a while.

However, they have recently made some money moves, placing BGS firmly back in the saddle. They relocated to larger facilities, brought in a new CEO, and offered a 20% discount on all services. Their purchase of Due Dilly is another sign that Beckett is back.

Correspondingly, the company has seen a 55% increase in submissions. While that still places them in an uncharacteristically low fourth place with 63,000, the company appears to be on an upward trajectory.

CompanyNumber of submissionsChange
PSA1.08 million+21%

What card eras are being graded more frequently?

The ultra-modern stuff is always dominant, especially with PSA and BGS. However, the proportion of vintage to current cards is instructive of the popularity of vintage submissions. So, what did we see in September?

Let’s compare the submissions with August and see. Two graders are worth watching closely regarding vintage, PSA, and SGC. So, we will examine trends in both.

First, the big guys at PSA:

DecadeSeptember 2022August 2022
The 2020s39.9%27.1%
The 2010s22.7%25.5%
The 2000s 11.8%11.1%
The 1990s13.4%19.6%
The 1980s4.4%6.2%
The 1970s1.4%2.1%
The 1960s4.8%6.6%
The 1950s1.6%1.9%

There is a pretty notable decline in vintage submissions for September. The biggest fall is in the 1960s cards, where the volume was cut by about a third. The descent continues into the junk wax era, and we see similar declines for the 80s and 90s. Of course, the is a significant rise in the ultra-modern category.

After all, that is how percentages work. But notably, the increase is only seen in the 2020s, while the two completed 21st Century decades are relatively static. So, we are seeing a serious increase in submissions in ultra-modern baseball, football, and hockey for the upcoming seasons. I believe the proportion of vintage will go up a bit next month as the excitement wears off.

What about the more vintage-oriented SGC? They have tried to market themselves as an option for ultra-modern as well. How well has that worked?

DecadeSeptember 2022August 2022
The 2020s45.%42.4%
The 2010s14.5%14.0%
The 2000s6.0%5.4%
The 1990s7.3%7.0%
The 1980s4.9%5.3%
The 1970s3.9%4.2%
The 1960s7.5%7.5%
The 1950s and earlier10.5%14.1%

Right off the bat, the most noticeable thing is that SGC now has a higher proportion of ultra-modern than PSA. If so, it has successfully shaken off that reputation as a vintage-only grader. We also see that it is a far less popular option for junk wax-era cards than its PSA competitors.

However, SGC continues to be highly popular for cards from the 1960s and 1950s and earlier. Keep in mind that the absolute numbers for these categories are still more significant for PSA because its volume is close to 20 times bigger.

Within the SGC categories, there is far more stability than in PSA. The most dramatic shift is in the 1950s and earlier category, which went down significantly from August to September. But, again, the primary beneficiary was the ultra-modern category.

Who’s grading at Gem more frequently?

The hobby has a long-standing argument over who is a more generous grader. We now have the numbers to answer that question with more authority than ever. This list gives the percentage of gem-rated cards for each grader.

What does that mean? A gem for PSA is a 10. For SGC, it is a 10 or a pristine rating. For Beckett, it is a 9.5 or higher. Meanwhile, for CSG, it is a 10 or a perfect rating.

The 2020s55%63.5%36.1%31.2%52.6%
The 2010s49.3%52%32.7%27.5%28.1%
The 2000s22.6%21.4%10%8.8%9.9%

Except for the 2000s cards, BGS is significantly more generous than PSA. CSG and SGC are the hard-assed in the business. Something that is confirmed by their reputations. The relative generosity of PSA is another reason they are the submission kings.

If you send your ultra-modern cards to the big guys, you have a better chance to get a gem. And, of course, their 10s fetch a better premium than the other brands. So, the numbers argue for a PSA submission.

Most graded sets

It is no surprise that the 1999 Pokémon Game is at the top spot. It has been there for a good eight months and often before that. So, it continues to be a dominant set. However, like with TCG overall, there is some slackening here.

There was a 26% decrease in submissions for the 1999 Pokémon Game compared with August. That may seem like an aberration. Maybe it is. But there are severe losses for all Pokémon-related series this month and significant corresponding gains for the big ultra-modern sports releases.

Just take a look at the chart:

ProductGraded in September 2022 (thousands)Change from August
1999 Pokemon Game15.4-26%
2021 Panini Prizm Football15+165%
2020 Panini Select Football12.7+547%
2021 Panini Mosaic Football11.3+379%
2021 Pokemon Sword & Shield Shining Fates11.2-39%
2021 Panini Donruss Football10.5+994%
2020 Panini Prizm Football9.7+349%
2016 Pokmon XY Evolutions8.4-47%
2020 Pokemon Sword & Shield Vivid Voltage7.6-50%
2020 Panini Prizm Football7.1-14%

The contrast between the massive gains of some of the most popular sports releases and the losses all TCG releases received this month is evident. Is it a trend? I looked over the data for the past few months.

For several months now, TCG hasn’t been growing. September is the first month where we see signs of a crash in its grading popularity. If I had to make an educated guess, Pokémon will continue to recede in growth but at slower rates. This is definitely a development to keep an eye on.

We can talk about a weakening trend in Pokémon all day long. But Charizard will just yawn. The famed lizard continues to tower above all the athletes. Pikachu ain’t doing too badly, either. Here is the chart for September:

Player or characterNumber graded in September (thousands)Change from August
Michael Jordan26.8-19%
Shohei Ohtani17.2+665%
Tom Brady14.6+101%
Justin Herbert 14.4+109%
Kobe Bryant13.1+5%
Joe Burrow12.1+120%
Lebron James10.6+3%
Lamelo Ball10.2+160%

We can see that neither Pikachu nor Charizard suffered from lesser popularity in September. I checked, and Mew gained 10% as well. So, the less popular characters are taking the brunt of the TCG decrease.

There is an exciting movement among the athletes as well. Particularly fascinating is the arrival of Shohei Ohtani on the list. I’m not sure why it took collectors this long to go all in on Ohtani. But his second season straight of a history-defying pitching/batting combo season put him among the top collector targets. Indeed, in September, Shohei enjoyed an absolutely massive increase of 665% in cards submitted.

It was also interesting to see LaMelo Ball jump back into the top ten. The player is already entering his third year, but collectors seem more excited about him than any of last year’s rookies. He has overshadowed both Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, who both fell out of the top ten. A strange development, but that is also an opportunity. If you are high on Cade Cunningham or the others in this (I believe underrated) rookie crop, now may be a good time to invest.

Top sports cards being graded

It is always interesting to see what people are grading, and the list of top-graded cards certainly shows us that. However, the list is a lot more. It’s also a cautionary tale. Considering the influence of high population numbers on card value, it tells us what cards to avoid.

Massively over-graded cards will have inflation of gem-rated cards. That will lower the value of yours. So, take note of what you find on this list.

CardNumber graded in SeptemberChange from August
2020 Pokemon Swsh Black Star Promo Charizard V Champion's Path Elite Trainer Box #502.8-47%
2022 Topps Wander Franco #2151.5+832%
2018 Bowman Shohei Ohtani #491.5+3,863%
2021 Panini Donruss Trevor Lawrence #2511.2+1,211%
2021 Panini Donruss Trey Lance #2541.2+2,578%
2019 Pokemon Swsh Black Star Promo Charizard GX Hidden Fates Tins #SM2111.1-19%
2018 Topps Shohei Ohtani Pitching #7001.1+1,428%
2020 Panini Prizm Anthony Edwards  1.1+616%
2021 Panini Donruss Mac Jones1.1+627%

The top cards are, as expected, the most prestigious base cards for the most promising young players in the top sports. But let this be another reminder that investing in base cards just isn’t the play anymore. The massive number of Wander Franco and Anthony Edwards graded rookies guarantee they will have super high pop numbers.

Therefore, you can’t expect they will enjoy a high value if you believe in these players (and why wouldn’t you), look for autos and low-numbered parallels instead.

The relative weakness of the TCG market may indicate a longer-term trend. Sure, baseball will not be able to compete with Pokémon for long. The MLB is going into the offseason soon, and as we know, Charizard doesn’t need time off before spring training.

Still, the lack of growth for TCG may be significant. Basketball has been stronger than baseball in recent years. Therefore, there is a good chance that NBA cards could return to the top of the charts when the season gets full swing. That is something worth keeping an eye on.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is a former history and political science professor at UCLA. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary. Shai also worked as a diplomat and journalist on three continents.