Skip to content
A Beginner's Guide to Collecting Sports Cards

A Beginner's Guide to Collecting Sports Cards

What do Le Bron and Bulbasaur have in common? Both of them saw trading cards with their image spike in value during the global pandemic, with $5.2 million becoming the highest price ever paid for a single basketball card. If you have been thinking about jumping on board the trading card craze, do you know where to begin?

Sports cards are a great entry point and you can get started with a low budget and little effort. Read on as we give our guide to collecting sports cards. 

How to Start Collecting Sports Cards

The first step in collecting sports cards is to choose the type of card you will collect. Your first and foremost choice should be with something that you love. If you are in this to make money alone, then the task will be laborious and you may find that a lot of doors are closed to you. 

Part of collecting is being part of the trading community. This could be at conventions or online. When you step in from outside with a bargaining face on, people will simply keep collecting within their own group. 

Essentially, don't pick sports you don't love or know a lot about. Instead, try Pokemon cards or Magic the Gathering. There are plenty of other things you can invest in. 

What Makes Trading Sports Cards Desirable?

Once you know what you want to collect, you can begin looking for rare and sought-after cards. There are a number of factors that can influence the desirability of a card. 

Rookie Cards

Rookie cards are extremely sought after. They depict the first year of a player's career and the first time they appear on a card. As no one ever knows how successful this rookie will really be when they do become huge stars, the cards rocket in value. 

In the old days, you may have seen just one rookie card for each player. However, there are now multiple cards and series depicting players. As such, many rookie cards have come to be marked as such with a small logo or emblem. 

Who Is On It?

Of course, the person on the card makes a huge difference to the desirability. Popular players inevitably get the most attention. However, it is not always the case in modern card collecting. 

This is because many of the top players get lots of cards made of them, to bring in buyers. As such, they may have extra special additions or numbering to make them even more sought after. This means you may have lots of cards made of a popular player, some of which may be worth almost nothing while others could be extremely valuable. 

Also keep in mind that in any sports, offensive players tend to be worth more than defensive ones. It is just the nature of the game. A striker's soccer card will probably be always more popular than a defender, for example. 

Parallels, Base, Insert, and Subsets

Another factor that can add to the value is the number of variants a card may have. These can be broken down into parallels, base, insert, and subsets. 


Base cards are the regular cards. They make up the rank and file of any card collection. They do not have any special markings, though some of them may be rarer than others because fewer have been printed. 


A parallel is similar to a base card and will feature that same picture and a similar design. However, one element will be changed and the parallel cards will be produced in limited numbers. Designs may include different colors, textures, embossed prints, or shiny and holographic coatings. 

Insert and Subsets

A subset is a whole new design of cards often placed in regular packs. They will have limited numbers, and are easy to spot as they have different layouts, designs, and images. Each individual card is an insert. 

Buying in Bulk

You don't have to spend time hunting down individual cards, though many people would say that is more fun. In fact, lots of collectors prefer to buy in bulk. There are a few ways you can do this. 

The first is to buy sealed packs. For many people, this is the ultimate nostalgia fix. You may find collectors have a few of these to display alongside their individual cards collection. 

Some people decide to buy these sealed packs and open them to see what is inside. Their value is often determined by the age and rarity of the card packs themselves. 

Often the term sealed wax is used. This refers to a box of smaller card packs often in its sealed plastic wrapping. 

Purchasing Full Sets

Another way to buy in bulk is to purchase a complete set. These are often already complete, with all the cards in the run. Sometimes, if a set has a rare card, it can be cheaper to buy the whole lot rather than purchase the individual card. 

Where Do I Get Cards?

Collectible sports cards can be bought from a number of sources and retailers. You will find the most fun is from going and hunting down the rare and elusive ones. 

Hobby Shops

You can pick up newer editions packs from most hobby stores. These are generally the type of places that sell comic books, actions figures, and other collectibles. Some may even have a few specialist older ones in stock. 

Attend Shows

One of the most rewarding ways to collect cards is to attend trade shows, cons, and events. In these instances, you get to physically see older cards and talk with the people selling them. Very often, you can find things you never even knew existed. 

These events vary in size and frequency. They may be attached to other events, such as comic cons or specialist card sales markets. It will allow you to build up a network and that will be invaluable to the long-term collector. 

Second-Hand Sales

Antique fairs, pawnshops, garage sales, and flea markets are all places where cards might pop up. While they may not be specifically for cards, these are the places you are most likely to find a hidden gem and grab a bargain. Make sure you dig deep and don't be afraid to ask people if they have any sports cards in their stock. 


These days, most people's sports card collection is bought online. It gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to build a network with other collectors while casting your eye further afield. However, this distance also makes it easier to get scammed. 

A great place to start is on social media. You can follow accounts and join groups with other collectors. They are often a great source of information and you can learn a lot from them. 

Popular auction sites will also have a number of cards for sale. By looking at their sold listings, you can also get a pretty good approximation of the current value for an item. 

Storing Your Cards

Once you have your treasured and rare collectible sports cards, then you need to store them safely. This prevents them from exposure to the elements and accidental damage. All of this could devalue them significantly. 

A great way to do this is with plastic wallets. Make sure you sleeve all your cards and not just the most expensive ones. You have no way of predicting what will become rare in the future and should give them all the same care and attention. 

Placing them in a specially designed folder gives extra protection. Not only does it have a rigid cover, but the spine also prevents the cards from being bent or creased. A binder like this also makes it easy to organize them and lets you see which ones are missing from your collection.

Once you have done this, keep the cards in a cool, dry place away from any possible sources of moisture. As the collection grows in value, you may want to consider getting them locked away and insured. 

To Grade or Not to Grade

There are mixed opinions when it comes to grading any collectible, be it comics, toys, or sports cards. The process involves sending off your item. It is then sealed in a protective case and giving a rating regarding its condition. 

Higher condition ratings are obviously more desirable. There are certain companies that grade items for certain niches. For example, some companies may specialize in baseball cards, others may grade comics and such forth. 

Many people believe grading protects the buyer, especially when trading online. It gives a concrete assurance that the product is in the condition you have stated it is. Grading items also protects the item physically, keeping it from taking damage. 

Arguments against it are that grading is a means to inflate the value of items. Condition and how it is determined, and thus price, is in the hands of a few small companies. You will often find graded items commanding a much higher price than others in the same condition without grading. 

Grading is entirely up to personal preference. However, you should know that graded items, while selling for more, are very niche. Once you grade something, you are only ever going to sell it to graded collectors which may be a smaller pool. 

You may also not get the grading you want. Anything lower than an 85+ grade will not be worth the expenditure, as it is not in mint or near-mint condition. 


Just as there are many positives that can bring up the value of a card, there are also many that can bring it crashing down. In addition, like any financial operation, there are plenty of scams involved in the card trade you should be aware of. 


One of the most likely factors to bring the worth of trading sports cards down is an injury. You may spend time finding all the rookie cards for the hottest new property in the NBA. If they have a career-ending injury in the next season, then your money is wasted. 

You have no way to predict this. Risk is also part of the factor that positively impacts the value, so it is a hit you just have to take. Minimize it by spreading your bets on different players and types of cards instead of concentrating on just one. 

Fake Cards

For more valuable cards, people will take the time to fake them. Unfortunately, if you are buying online you really don't have time to see them in person until they arrive. Therefore you need to safeguard your purchase. 

If you are on auction sites make sure you only buy from sellers with great ratings. Sticking to a social media or online community helps negate this, as you can talk to other sellers to see who may have used the person before for sales. 


One of the other sports card collection scams is with shilling. This is when people use auction sites to put in high bids. This drives up the price in what is an unregulated market, making people think it is actually worth more than it is. 

Online auction sites also have lots of different methods people use to scam you. From giving fake tracking numbers to sending out items in a worse condition than described, you need to stay alert.

Collecting Sports Cards

Now you know how easy it is to begin collecting sports cards, get on board! Set a budget, know your niche then start shopping. The best place to begin is by talking to other collectors. 

This article was brought to you by Breaking Bangers, the number one stop for trading cards. We have a huge range from sports cards to popular culture. Click here to see all our helpful videos and start collecting today!

Previous article 8 Expert Tips for Collecting Pokémon Cards