Like any type of investment, the aim of investing in soccer cards is to sell for higher than you paid. There are various different ways to do this but it is not as simple as it sounds. If you are new to soccer card collecting and have dreams of becoming rich from it, all the power to you but let it be known, it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. This article will outline a few of the techniques you can use when investing in soccer cards while additionally giving some general advice to help you track your progress.
How I Like to Invest and What to Look For
Generally I like to play it safe when investing in soccer cards. This being, I don’t really take unnecessary risks and I tend to steer away from the hype. If you are confused about what I am talking about, don’t worry I will get to it and explain all the relevant terminology. The way I approach investing is a bit like a scatter gun approach – that is, I identify players that I like or have potential to be good players, and then I try buy large quantities at low prices. By large quantities I don’t mean of the one player necessarily, rather, I gather a large pool of players that have potential to go up in value and hold them longterm until I deem it a suitable time to sell (Hopefully at this time the value has increased). By following this approach I spread out my risk and increase the chances of having a player that unexpectedly blows up.
The players I see as having potential are usually young players who are yet to prove theirselves on the big stage. Ideally, I would be looking for rookie cards or stickers (if you don’t know the difference see my blog explaining the difference), but this is not a rule; there are plenty of cards that are not rookies that have potential to go up in value. Another criteria I look for is whether the card is numbered or serialised. This is indicated by a number on the card, this number tells the collector how many of this card have been made.
Here is an image of Chris Smalling from the Topps Showcase set. As mentioned earlier there is a number indicated on the card. Here we can clearly see this card says 50/50 – This means that 50 of this specific card have been made and the 50 on the left side of the equation indicated which number out of the 50 made it is. Thus, this is the 50th card of the 50 made.
These serialised/numbered cards are important for collectors because it indicates scarcity for this specific card. In very basic economics teaches us that supply and demand dictate the price of a good. Bringing Smalling into this equation, if 1000 people were after this card (Demand) and there are only 50 available (Supply), then naturally the price is going to become higher.
Numbered cards can really be a game changer when we get to the lower numbers. All newer products have cards that are numbered 1/1 – that meaning literally it is one of a kind. If it’s a big player you don’t need to be an expert to know that’s worth big money.
So far we have explained the importance of rookie cards or players with general potential to go up in value, and how numbered cards create scarcity. The way I operate is quite simple, I find players that fit this criteria and buy cheap with the hope of increased value in the future. The positive side to this type of investing is its safe with not much risk. On the negative side, it is very slow! By slow I can mean years before deciding to sell which I can fully understand may not be how other people like to go about things, but for me I really enjoy it so I can wait as long as I need.
The major benefit to this way of investing is by having a large pool of players the chance of having a player that will enter into hype is increased. Like any type of investing there are many different ways to approach it; I will outline other techniques later in the article. Before I do that, I will give the reader some insights into hype, when to sell and grading.
What is Hype and Why I Tend to Avoid it
In very basic terms, hype is something that is very popular and in demand. In the soccer card world, this could mean a player that is young and in great form – For example, Kylian Mbappe in the 2018 World Cup. The player doesn’t necessarily have to be young to be in hype but it is usually the case. If we consider the simple supply and demand equation I gave earlier, hype is a player that would be very high demand, and if there is low supply, that players value is going to go through the roof.
I tend to avoid buying players in hype because it exposes me to too much risk. That is I will be paying a very high price and there is no certainty that this card will go up in value. I see hyped players as a high risk high reward game. There is every chance that the player can continue to impress and substantially go up in value from the initial hype price, but there is also a chance, in my opinion a big chance, that the player won’t go onto meet the collecting communities expectations and the value eventually drops.
The hobby in its current state rewards players that go onto be superstars (Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic types) and realistically the chances of a player going onto these levels is very small. This takes us to the crux of what drives the price of youngsters: speculation. Basically people are gambling on the future and if more people know about the player with potential, there are more people gambling. It is very easy to get drawn into buying players that are setting the world on fire scoring goals for fun – and if you really like the player I’m not saying don’t buy them because thats what collecting is all about. In this article I am strictly talking about investing.
Whenever I have the urge to spend a lot of money on a young superstar I always think back to Michael Owen. If you are young, you may not know who he is, if so, I will enlighten you. Michael Owen was an explosive striker from Liverpool and in his young years, he was near unstoppable. No one could catch him and he knew how to put the ball in the back of the net. Owen was so good he won the Ballon d’or (World’s best player) at the age of 22! If the hobby was in its current state back when he was playing, his cards would have been selling for astronomical amounts – and rightly so! Fast forward to 2024 and Michael Owen cards are cheap. Following his impressive start to his career, Owen went on to have chronic injury problems and could never replicate his younger years. The reason I am telling this story is to highlight the fact you never know what can happen in soccer. Throwing huge money at wonder kids may pay off but it may end up like Michael Owen. The current players that are the highest value are Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland and I think its correct that they are very valuable. But as Michael Owen’s career has demonstrated, you never know what can happen, so spending big $ on cards is at your own risk
When to Sell
The hype section of my article indicated that most players that get hyped don’t end up fulfilling their potential. So naturally, based on probability, the best time to sell is when a player is in hype. Of course this isn’t the most exciting way to invest because the unknown is always exciting, but in my opinion, it is the most effective way. In my personal circumstance this isn’t a hard and fast rule. For example, I have some Haaland and Mbappe cards (which I didn’t pay crazy prices for) and in my opinion, I think they have room to grow as players, barring something exceptional happens.
This probably takes a bit of experience to make calls like this – and I don’t mean for Haaland and Mbappe, rather players who may make it big. As for me personally I have been been watching soccer for probably 20 years so I might have a better judge of these things as opposed to someone new to the scene. Making these calls is what makes the hobby fun for me. I am a huge soccer fan and it’s my own way of being a scout, identifying players early and watching them grow into bigger players. Like a scout of any football club, sometimes you decide to not go ahead with some players and trust others to sign for your team. It would be nice if everyone could make it into superstars but thats not the reality and it’s exactly how the soccer card market is and operates.
Overall, when deciding when to sell, if the player is in hype, it is usually the time. That is strictly speaking on an investing sense and if you are new to the hobby looking to make money, I would follow this advice. As time progresses you can start to be more creative and take more risks and I encourage it because thats where all the fun is. But before doing this, play it safe and come to grips with how the market operates. There is nothing worse for a new collector/investor than beginning and watching their money disappear in an instant. Play is safe and gradually increase the risks.
The purpose of grading cards is to give collectors an indication of the condition quality of the card. This encompasses a ranking (usually out 10) of a cards: surface, centering, corners and edges. If a card is in perfect condition these criteria will get a 10/10. Whereas if a card is damaged these criteria may get a lower rating out of 10.
There are various companies that can grade cards but some companies are more trusted by collectors than others. That is the collecting community has identified certain companies more reliable than others at giving the correct grades. The 3 most reliable companies at this point in time (2024) are Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), Beckett Grading Service (BGS) and Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC).
If a card gets a high grade – meaning the card is in excellent condition – it substantially increases the value of a card. This is because the collector has confidence that the card is in excellent condition where with an ungraded card, sometimes it is very difficult to tell if there is damage, especially if buying online. I won’t go into too much detail on the grading process in this article, but all you need to know is: if you have a card thats in demand that has been graded high, you will be able to ask for top dollar.
Other Ways to Invest in Soccer Cards
Sealed Product or Wax
Sealed product are physically sealed packs or boxes. The benefit to these are the contents of the product is unknown so collectors are willing to spend big money for the chance to unpack a super card. If you are investing this way it is very hands off and there is pretty much two ways to go about it.
The first way is to order as many of a product as you are comfortable or able to get, for example, Panini World Cup Prizm and then trying to flip them online for a profit and a short term gain. This technique works well when the product is in high demand and low supply, thus people are willing to spend high.
The second way, and in my opinion the better way, is to buy sealed product when you are able to and hold for the long term. The rationale behind this stems from the value of sealed product increasing over time. For soccer cards this has been a very solid trend and a safe way to get a good return on investment. Once again, it involves patience -which you have probably noticed is a common theme to this article – and some willpower to not open the box!
In my opinion the sealed product avenue is best suited to those who don’t have the biggest interest in soccer and are just in it for investment purposes. It is not necessary to have a big knowledge of the game it is simply a buy and wait – which is why I call it a very hands off approach. Of course it is always better to have some football knowledge because a player in hype might be in the boxes you are holding and that is always a great opportunity!
Box breaks are a deep dive into the unknown. A box breaker is someone who has a box or many boxes of sealed product and they sell positions in a box break with the goal of making more money than they paid for the box or boxes. The positions sold correspond to the contents of the box – usually a customer pays for a team, for example, Arsenal or England, and if any Arsenal or England cards come out of the box opened, that customer gets those cards posted to them. These positions can be very creative and now days (I really hate this by the way) people sell a single player as a slot, for example, Leo Messi. Box break positions can also be random, that is all positions cost the same price and at the time of “breaking”, participants are assigned a random position.
As an potential investor in soccer cards, you could decide to be on either end of the equation. That is you could be a box breaker or a break participant. Being a participant is very very high risk but very high reward. It usually is a money hole but also gives the regular collector that chance to get a card they could never dream of getting if buying on a marketplace.
Basically participating in breaks is gambling and often you will lose. But there is a chance you could get a life changing card! As I am quite risk averse, I don’t participate in breaks and wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. If you have been in the game a while and made yourself some money then I think it’s completely reasonable to enter some breaks – I’m not going to deny it is extremely fun!
I don’t know if this is actually a hobby term but I will take credit if it catches on! Basically star chasing is investing your money on the big established players or rookies that are in hype, getting them graded and then reselling for profit or holding longterm. The key difference between this technique and how I like to invest is usually this technique will disregard players yet to prove themselves and focus on the big names.
This is definitely a technique that works and can reap huge profits but it also needs pretty hefty investment. Usually this technique is employed by those who have quite a lot of money to spend and risk – and to those with balls of steel which is definitely not me! I am of the opinion that this is actually quite a safe technique to use if buying players that are already legends who have a legacy. For example, if you are spending big on Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, I don’t think you are going to lose money long term. But the initial outlay for a low numbered or rookie of these two players is massive and not feasible for the regular collector.
I have mixed feelings on this technique. If done with discipline I can easily see it being effective but when this spending starts to divert to the players in hype it can become a very dangerous game.
This is simply getting sealed product and opening it hoping for the contents to be valuable. A new collector might be staggered to see the prices for sealed product, it is really a substantial investment. On the flip side opening sealed product is maybe the funnest part of the hobby – delving into the unknown. All that being said it is extremely risky and your chances of pulling a substantial card are very low.
So low in fact, that the companies have to tell you the odds on the product itself. Next time you are holding a sealed box, take a look at the odds and see how small your chances really are!
If your thinking that buying and opening sealed product longterm are going to result in profits, I would strongly reconsider. The probability is heavily weighed against you and it is likely that you will just be burning through your money. That being said, there is always a chance you can pull at 1/1 Leo Messi and retire early! With my constitution, that is not a risk I am willing to take.
There are other ways you can approach investing in soccer cards but I will leave it there as I have covered the major ones. The list I have compiled isn’t to suggest collectors and investors are subject to one way of collecting. In fact, in most cases investors are a mix of all things listed.
If you are a serious investor, keeping track of your spendings and sales is a must. The easiest way to do this is through excel. Set up a simple spreadsheet with columns indicating: the card, price paid (including postage) and the price sold.
These three variables will help you track where you are with respect to expenditure and income. Of course it takes time and is boring, but in the long run you will thank yourself. It is very satisfying to get to the end of the year and seeing how productive you have been.
Of course you can add many more variables than I have listed but the three mentioned above are a must.
I tried to condense this down as much as possible and I am sure down line I can make more articles expanding on each section. I would say I think the way I approach investing is suitable for most beginners – buy low and sell at a higher price and aim for rookies and/or numbered cards. I won’t go as far as to say it’s the best way to invest but it sure is the safest. I would urge all people new to the hobby to very very cautious because it is very easy to get burned out there! Like anything that involves money, there are good and bad actors. Playing it safe to begin with is by far the best way to go.
I think a critical factor for success is actually enjoying what you are doing. If you are not into soccer it’s still possible to make money for sure, but if you actively watch games and keep track of the news you will be in a much stronger position as an investor.
I will end by saying investing isn’t the most important thing in the world when it comes to soccer cards. In fact, I am more of a collector than investor. But the purpose of the article was to indicate how to approach soccer cards from an investing point of view.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I would love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or get in contact with me on Instagram.