This guest post came through our Article Submission Program. Thoughts and opinions are those of the author.
COVID-19 has altered our lives in ways that go well beyond sports cards. Collecting is a hobby – COVID is life and death. I think that distinction is enough for this article. But COVID has impacted the hobby in a very specific way – delays in card grading, a major aspect of modern-day collecting. Stay-at-home mandates have crippled operations at the industry leader in grading, PSA. As I write this, PSA has partially reopened but is still not at full capacity. Per their website, turnaround times for Regular Service are presently 73 days. This service level was billed at 20 days pre-COVID but often hovered around the 30-day mark (at best). It is now almost FOUR TIMES GREATER than the standard 20-day turnaround. “Bulk” submissions were completely suspended for weeks but have recently reopened and are being rebranded as “Value” submissions, with varying guidelines in what seems to be an effort to streamline incoming orders amidst a presumed backlog of open bulk orders. Bulk, or Value subs, are listed on the PSA website at a turnaround time of “100+ days,” with an emphasis on the “+.” That’s tough. The cash flow generated in selling graded cards will be affected, hitting hobby bottom lines hard. Thousands upon thousands of sports cards are sitting in a warehouse at PSA – untouched, ungraded, and unsold or unadded to personal collections.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
With PSA at a halt (and yes, they were already sluggish before) what to do now with our cards? Thankfully for collectors, PSA has legit competitors. BGS, of course, though their operations have also been impacted by COVID. And since BGS sales prices are comparable to PSA, this study dismisses them only on the grounds of not being an intriguing comparison, and nothing else. If you like BGS, then stick with BGS. My focus for this article – SGC vs. PSA – is born of the growing belief that “SGC is closing the gap with PSA.” Couple this with the fact that SGC has been FULLY OPERATIONAL throughout COVID, and it’s no surprise that collectors are being swayed to sub cards with SGC that they would otherwise be subbing with PSA (or BGS).
SGC “Regular Service” turnaround times are stated at 20 days on their website and cards seem to be coming back to collectors at or ahead of this schedule. As it pertains to timely grading, SGC is held up as a beacon of hope in these COVID hobby times. From popular Facebook groups to prominent YouTubers (I see you PSA Collector!) to Instagram posts and comments, there is a growing movement to grade with SGC. With PSA down for the count and collectors’ burning desire to have their cards in-hand to make the beaucoup bucks flooding the hobby despite present economic uncertainties, SGC seems to make a lot of sense. But does it make “cents?”
“Card in-hand” – that’s the main argument to seek an alternative to PSA during this crisis. If collectors want the hobby cashflow that graded cards bring, it’s a no-brainer. It’s an argument that PSA cannot win, definitely not now, and not even pre-COVID. SGC turnaround times cannot be beaten. They’re also cheaper – regular service is $10 per card versus $20 per card with PSA. I’ve subbed multiple times with SGC since my re-entry into the hobby in early 2019. The customer service was excellent (they actually answered the phone!), the turnaround time was on-point, and my cards looked beautiful in their slabs.
Amidst the recent SGC buzz, I saw a collector in one of the Facebook groups state that collectors are losing only “10 to 15%” selling SGC vs. PSA. Another quantified the difference in ROI as “nickels and dimes.” And fellow collectors backed these statements, via comments or likes, justifying the belief that it’s time to sub with SGC. At those numbers, I’m with you – give me my cards, I’ll absorb this modest bottom-line hit. But my personal experience told me it’s not that close, so I felt compelled to take a deeper dive. Let me share with you my own experience in trying to sell my SGC graded cards, and then we’ll take a look at recent “Solds” of a few popular cards, SGC vs. PSA.
Long before the pandemic, I wanted BADLY to believe SGC could be an alternative for collectors crippled by the often frustrating lag in PSA grading. In the midst of my own agonizing PSA wait this past summer and fall, I decided to take the leap and sub with SGC. Three times, actually. Turnaround times were as billed – I was psyched to have my cards back so fast! My 2018 Topps Update Ronald Acuna US250 sparkled in its SGC slab. It was unique and beautiful. Majestic. “Who among us had the guts and vision to sub such a card with SGC?” I thought. “No one,” was my answer to self. “I am a pioneer, and I will single-handedly change the grading game!” I have many delusions, and this one ranked up there with the best of them. I thought I was ahead of the curve, onto something big. I was the shift I presently hearing so much about.
The reality: return on investment with SGC was slow. Real slow. And it was much less than I was getting on my PSA cards. In mid-October, I priced the Acuna to sell at $55 via eBay “Buy It Now” (no offers). Full disclosure: it came back a dreaded SGC 9.5, so I was already behind the PSA 10 8-ball (selling at $100+ late fall). I was banking on the shrewd collector who thinks they could reslab it with PSA, get the PSA 10. And it looked so nice in that black slab! But while it looked hot, it didn’t feel hot when I was trying to flip it. This popular card, at SGC 9.5, sat in my eBay store for weeks. Eventually, I posted the card on my Instagram account – and I had to really work it to sell. Story, feed, story, feed. This went on for days, maybe weeks, I can’t remember, but it was too long for a card of this caliber. It finally sold in mid-November at $45, or less than the price (at the time) of a PSA 9.
But what if my Acuna had come back SGC 10? I would have done better, right? Quick flip, nice return? Let’s look at recent comps. This card is everywhere you look in the hobby – Facebook, Instagram, eBay, you name it – but I still see ONLY FIVE SGC 10s Sold since April 15 (not counting one SGC 10 “Pristine”) at an average price of about $145 per. On the PSA side? Since just May 1, over FORTY PSA 10 Acunas have sold, at an average of $200 per. Not a huge difference in price, but what do we think about the difference in the number of Solds? With PSA down and an SGC battle cry across the hobby, why aren’t collectors grading this very common and popular card with SGC? Why don’t we see more SGC Solds than the numbers stated here? WHY IS IT NOT EVEN CLOSE? One can only wonder. Or, you can look at the PSA markup of $55 per, just shy of a respectable 40% vs. SGC – add to that the ASTOUNDING number of VERY recent Solds – and conclude that the added dollars and much quicker flip are the apparent reason collectors are sending this particular card to PSA in droves (Pop 11,579!), along with many other cards. Makes sense/cents to me.
SGC AND PSA CARDS ON EBAY
Similar stories for my SGC 10 2018 Topps Update Gleyber Torres US99 (not US200, fair enough). AND my SGC 10 2019 Topps Chrome Pete Alonso #204. I was selling these cards in the midst of the baseball playoffs (early to mid-October), and they were GEM MINT SGC 10!! They should have been easy to sell. At PSA 10, they would have been off my eBay shelf soon after listing, as is the case with many of my high-grade PSA listings. In fairness, Alonso did move relatively quickly. I sold it on Instagram within seven days of receipt from SGC for $45, still well below PSA 10 average Solds at that time, of $65-$75. Gleyber US99 sat in my eBay store for months before I finally took a Best Offer of twenty stinking dollars in mid-March!! In fairness, it is presently selling for only $30 in PSA 10. So while I didn’t lose a boatload of cash at SGC 10 on the Gleyber (or the Alonso), I did lose 25-50% on both and Gleyber took an extremely long time to sell.
As I stated earlier, according to my fellow collectors, they are losing only “10-15%” or “nickels and dimes” on SGC cards vs. PSA cards. I don’t believe it. Besides the SLOWER flip, my personal experience also revealed a wider sales price gap. And now, with the urge to sub once again with SGC growing by the nanosecond in the midst of this pandemic and subsequent PSA grading crisis, I felt compelled to put my prior personal experience aside and dig a little deeper, look at some of the numbers. The prices are not as drilled down as some might like, but I feel it’s enough for this quick study. Take it as you wish. All “Solds” are per eBay.
Let’s start with a very popular card – 2018 Panini Prizm Luka Doncic (Base) #280. In April, a handful of SGC 10 Luka’s sold for an average of $250-$300. That same card in PSA 10 sold for $450-$500. Almost double. Not 10-15%, but 75-100%. Nickels and dimes? Seems more like hundreds and hundreds.
Silver Luka? Apparently, collectors don’t believe they will lose only “nickels and dimes” with an SGC graded silver Luka – NOT ONE SGC SOLD OR LISTED IN THE LAST 30 DAYS. But there were eight PSA 10 sales in THE LAST WEEK (!!), hovering around $2K per. Go Luka. Go PSA.
Zion(base)mania! I counted 12 SGC 10 Solds of this popular base Prizm card in the last 30 days, with the last Sold on April 29th. I’m not counting the SGC 10 “Pristine” Solds, of which there were two, $750 and $760 – good luck getting that grade. The average price of the 12 SGC 10 (non-Pristine) Solds was roughly $385 per. IN THE FIRST FIVE DAYS OF MAY ALONE, there were 23 PSA 10 Zion base Prizm rookies Sold at an AVERAGE of $610 PER! That’s $225 more than the most recent SGC 10 Solds average, an almost 40% markup. And PSA is STILL dwarfing SGC in listings, despite being at reduced operating capacity for most of April. The very recent influx of PSA Zions also suggests the PSA COVID slowdown is already becoming a thing of the past. So tell me, as it pertains to Zion, why would any collector sub with SGC? Because of the faster turnaround time? Am I really looking to leave deferred money on the table, for 40% less now? Not me, but to each his own.
Here’s another quick comp. The last three 2018 Prizm (base) Lamar Jackson #212 Solds from last week: SGC 10 vs PSA 10. SGC 10: $350, $360, $321 (auction), $345 per on average.
PSA 10: $625 (auction), $595, and two “Best Offers Accepted” at $600 list. If I call those $550 each, that’s $580 per on average. You lost another 40% on this card, or $235 per, grading this card with SG
“SGC IS GOOD FOR VINTAGE”
SGC is “good for vintage,” right? Another collecting adage. Let’s take a look.
1981 Topps Joe Montana #216. Purists, please allow me to classify this card as “vintage” just this one time! Thank you. This card is scarce in a grade of 10 with either company, SGC or PSA (pop 107!), so I looked at SGC 7 to SGC 9 and compared it to the same for PSA. In the last 30 days, I found only four TOTAL SGC Solds. SGC 9 x 2, sold for $470 and $431. One SGC 8 sold for $130. And an SGC 7 sold for $85. In stark contrast, I found THIRTEEN PSA 9 Solds since April 13th! I also found FIFTEEN PSA 8s! I stopped on April 13th, though I’m sure there are at least that many in the earlier part of April. That’s a total of 28 PSA Solds since April 13th vs 4 SGC Solds in the last 30 days. A ridiculous disparity for this classic card. This is in line with my personal experience – SGC slabs do not sell at an even remote rate of PSA slabs; therefore, collectors won’t grade with them, hence fewer listings. Pardon if I’m stating the obvious, but the present SGC “movement” has me questioning what is obvious to my fellow collectors. The sold listings on those 28 PSA Montanas? The fifteen PSA 8s averaged around $175, so you’re not losing much there when compared to the single SGC 8 that sold in the last 30 days, but it’s a minuscule comp sampling, and you’re still losing 25% on that one SGC 8. But the thirteen PSA 9s averaged around $710, with a high of $950 and a low of $660! Compare that to the $450 average of SGC 9, and you’re losing roughly 60%, or $260 on this particular card, SGC vs. PSA. That’s a considerable amount of dollars left on the hobby table.
Let’s go back further to a truly vintage card: 1965 Topps Mickey Mantle #350. I picked this card because Mantle is hobby royalty and there are a good number of comps, SGC vs. PSA. I focused on grades SGC 4 to SGC 8, compared to the same for PSA. In the last 30 days, I count 7 SGC Solds in this grade range, most of them at SGC 5. Average Solds of these SGC 5s was roughly $250, with an SGC 7.5 selling for a solid $1475 on March 15. Three PSA 7 sales averaged $975 – substantially less than the single SGC 7.5. But three PSA 4s averaged $290, higher than the $250 average of the SGC 5s, and three PSA 5s did an average of $350 or better, $100 higher than its SGC 5 counterpart. An almost 30% markup for this card when sold in a PSA slab.
The numbers don’t lie – PSA graded cards are getting you substantially more ROI than “10-15%” vs. SGC graded cards, and SGC may NOT be “good for vintage” after all.
Here’s another SGC theory out there in the hobby: “Use SGC for PC and PSA for flipping.” This! So let me grade my PC Zion with SGC and I’ll grade my Zions for a flip with PSA. Therefore, I have a Zion in my PC that’s worth ALMOST HALF a PSA Zion?!?! Why would I do that? This argument, “SGC for PC” makes no sense or cents – you are devaluing your PC, especially for a card with substantial value.
SGC AND PSA CARDS ON EBAY
Back to the “card in-hand” crowd and the argument that ANY return is better than NO return. This is the main driver pumping SGC at the moment, the motivation behind the claim that SGC is emerging fast. People – and especially collectors – by nature, are not patient. They want the quick buck now, rather than wait for the greater reward later. But what if you are that rare breed, the patient collector? What if you are someone that wants the best ROI, and you’re willing to wait to realize the optimum return? If you are, the data suggests that grading with SGC is not the answer for you. Heck, I’m writing this and diving into the numbers because I, MYSELF, AM CONSIDERING ANOTHER SGC SUB AT THIS VERY MOMENT! And after looking at recent Solds, it’s clear to me that if I do go with SGC, I cannot, will not sub any of my big cards. Not a Luka, not a Zion. The results can be catastrophic with cards of this caliber, especially if it doesn’t Gem.
Which leads to this idea of the need to “flip now while the market is hot,” whether it’s general market heat or heat for a particular player. The sports cards market is volatile and certainly fluctuates – I’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. But how does anyone know that NOW is the height of X player’s card? I’ve sold cards that continued to rise beyond my sale. Sometimes, though much less often, I’ve sold and it drops. But in general, over the course of my first full year back in the hobby, the market, especially for graded cards, has been trending up, up, and up. Even COVID hasn’t slowed it. So here’s the question: is it better to have an SGC slabbed card 4 weeks from today at a substantially decreased value, or wait for 3 to 6 months for the more valuable PSA slab? I’m okay with the latter. Not every collector is, and I get it. But the idea of my cards appreciating in a PSA storage room, yielding a substantially greater ROI vs. SGC when I finally get them back, that’s a win for me, every time. Maybe there will be a player or two where I’ll say, “Man, if only I had that SGC 10 four months ago,” but in general, that will NOT be the case and therefore the “need to flip now while the market is hot” mentality is a WEAK argument for going with SGC. The market will likely be just as strong when PSA gets my cards back to me, if not stronger. Go ahead and sell your SGC 10 Zion now for $385. I’ll sell my PSA 10 Zion in 6 months – closer to the season, mind you – for close to DOUBLE that number, and probably more.
(NOT) CLOSING THE GAP
Here’s a fun one – before you sub with SGC, ask yourself this simple question: how many SGC graded cards do I buy? Personally, I have purchased ONE SINGLE SGC CARD for my PC. Only one. An SGC 7.5 1978-79 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabaar #110. At $12 via eBay Best Offer, how could I pass it up? I liked the card and the player, I liked the price, I bought it for the PC. But otherwise, I don’t buy SGC for flip or PC. Do you? If the answer is no, why do you think someone else will want to buy them from you? You can tell me that “one’s man trash is another’s treasure,” and I’ll respect that. But if MY answer is “I don’t buy SGC” and YOUR answer is the same, it probably speaks strongly to the market for these cards, and is another simple measure to substantiate the fact that SGC has a long way to go before catching up with PSA.
TO SGC OR NOT SGC, THAT IS THE QUESTION
As you can safely assume from reading this, while I’m tempted to get a quick batch of graded cards in my hands asap, I won’t be subbing with SGC. I’d rather spend the extra dollars and go with a BGS group sub (Sappy’s is a good one) or pick a few higher value cards and sub-Regular Service with PSA, and hope for the best as it pertains to turnaround time. At present, I have a 184-card bulk sub at PSA, which logged into the system back in late December. It was in “Research” pre-COVID and then COVID hit and PSA closed. I assumed it would be even longer than usual (ugh!) before getting this sub back, but in the midst of writing this article, that 184-card sub has moved into “Assembly.” Despite word to the contrary on the hobby street, there is activity at PSA, and based on the sheer number of PSA 10 Zions suddenly hitting eBay, that activity is ramping up quickly. So I’m going to stick with PSA for now. And not because of the “great” customer service or the “quick” turnaround times, but because it is still BY FAR the industry standard and I want the best return for my cards, always.
Based on my personal experience with SGC’s service and the present chatter in the hobby, there are certainly positives there, and maybe SGC will find a way to eventually close the proverbial gap with PSA. But from what I can see, that’s not happening anytime soon, and I can’t afford to lose the hobby dollars waiting for it. I’d much rather wait for PSA and realize the greatest value for my cards, for flip and PC, no matter how long that wait is.
Great article! A lot of talk in The Hobby about SGC these days. Do you have anything you would like to add to help the community regarding SGC vs. PSA? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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