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Avoid Making This Mistake When Buying Soccer Cards

Avoid Making This Mistake When Buying Soccer Cards

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Don’t you just love it when your friend messes up on his taxes or puts the wrong oil in his car and then tells you all about it?

Even though these anecdotes might seem ridiculous, they actually do help a ton because you’re able to learn from the mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future. Better him than you, right?

Or, in the case of buying the wrong soccer cards, it’s better me than you. Yep, I spent about $4,000 on the wrong cards last year. So, I’m here to help you make better decisions. I’ll get to what I did and what I should have done in a second. But first, some context. 

In order to be a successful sports card investor and actually make money flipping cards, you have to be creative. You gotta think outside the box, take risks and make plays.

For the majority of us, it’s far easier to follow and understand the most commonly transacted cards in the three major U.S. sports — basketball, baseball and football. But when it comes to growing card markets like soccer, it’s much harder to spot obvious investing mistakes.

Right player, wrong card. Photo courtesy of Paul Hickey

As I started buying soccer cards about a year ago to flip later, I learned one major lesson the hard way: buying the right players can’t make up for buying the wrong cards.

Panini has licenses for Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and FIFA World Cup. Within these brands, a number of sets are produced. Within each one there are a fair amount of short-printed inserts. My assumption was, “If it’s a Panini-produced insert of an internationally known player like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé or Ansu Fati, it must be valuable.”

The mistake I made was going out and buying a bunch of singles, specifically inexpensive inserts of the aforementioned players from overseas Panini sets like Este, Adrenalyn and MegaCracks, assuming that they would be short prints.

My play wasn’t a horrible premise: many seemingly rare insert cards of great players and rookie cards of up-and-coming studs simply didn’t have the comps. My theory was that if I acquired raw cards of the legendary players and popular prospects, and had them graded, that they would sell for a minimum of 2x or 3x the grading fee because of their rarity and the fact they were slabbed by a reputable grading company like PSA or SGC.

What I learned was that, when there is a lack of comps for certain cards, you have to spend time educating your prospective buyers on their value or potential value.

This unknown territory for the buyer decreases their confidence to pull the trigger. When you have to explain this stuff to people, there is inherent skepticism and, ultimately, a lack of perceived value and an unwillingness to buy.

Just because they are “rare” Panini cards, doesn’t mean they’re valuable. And the same can be said for Topps brands like Match Attax and even Topps NOW.

Because familiarity levels are still somewhat rather low with soccer cards compared to the three major U.S. sports, it’s easy to mistake many soccer cards for being investable when they’re really not.

So, some $300 in raw cards and more than $3,000 in grading fees later, I’m still selling off these rare (but low-ceiling) cards. Instead of making $100-$200 per like I projected, I’m struggling to simply get the $30 SGC grading fee back. 

Using only Lionel Messi as an example in the chart below, this is now I’d do it if I had the chance for a do-over. Note: the two far-right columns represent a number of different ways I should have spent the total dollar amount at the bottom of the third column.

Star Card I BoughtCost
(including grading)
Cards I Should Have PurchasedRecent Sell Price of Missed Card
Lionel Messi2011-12 Panini UEFA Champions League Sticker$35.00Lionel Messi 2014 Prizm World Cup Silver Raw$785 (raw last sold May 2021)
2015-16 Este Sticker$35.00Lionel Messi 2006 Panini World Cup Base PSA 10$739.50 (PSA 10 last sold March 2022)
2017-18 Este Sticker$35.00Lionel Messi 2014 Prizm World Cup Matchups Insert (with Ronaldo) PSA 9$675 (PSA 9 last sold on Feb 2022)
2011-12 Adrenalyn
Balon de Oro
$35.00Lionel Messi 2017 Select Field Level Prizm /99 PSA 10$1,452 (PSA 10 last sold on Feb 2022)
2014-15 Adrenalyn
Balon de Oro
$35.00Lionel Messi 2022 Leaf Art of Sport Auto /3$850 (raw last sold on March 2022)
2012-13 Este Stars Sticker$35.00Lionel Messi 2021 Leaf Pro Set Auto /4$1,399 (best offer accepted at under this price on Feb 2022)
2017-18 Este Stars Sticker$35.00
2018-19 Adrenalyn Balon de Oro (x2)$70.00
2019-20 Adrenalyn Balon de Oro Card$35.00
2020-21Adrenalyn Balon de Oro Excellence Card $35.00
2020-21 Adrenalyn Balon de Oro Card$35.00
2020-21 Adrenalyn FIFA 365 Living Legend$35.00
2018 Adrenalyn Russia World Cup Card 13$35.00
2018-19 Base Adrenalyn Card 63$35.00
2019-20 Base Adrenalyn Card 68$35.00
2019-20 La Liga Este Stars Sticker$35.00
2018-19 La Liga Este Stars Sticker$35.00
2018-19 Este Top Bombers Sticker$35.00
2019-20 Este Serie Oro Sticker $35.00
2020-21 MegaCracks MGK Elite Card$35.00
2018-19 MegaCracks MGK All-Stars$35.00
2019-20 Base MegaCracks MGK$35.00
2020-21MegaCracks MGK Top Mega Goles Edicion Limitada$35.00
2020-21 MegaCracks MGK Elite$35.00
2020-21 Base MegaCracks MGK$35.00
2020-21 Este Serie 10 Sticker$35.00
2020-21 Base Este Sticker $35.00
2018 FIFA Russia World Cup Sticker – 288 Grey Back (x3)$110.00
Total Spent on Wrong Cards$1,090Total Missed Out On$5,900.50

Ugghh, death by a thousand cuts. Rather than having 5-10 rare assets, I have more like 50-75 questionable ones.

What I should have done before buying these cards was examine how else I could have spent the same amount of money around the soccer-card landscape, ensure recent comps were easy to find and use that data to challenge my initial theory and make the best investing decisions.

But looking on the bright side, I did pick the right players (Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe, Pedri, Fati and even Yunus Musah). At least I can slowly scrap my way back to zero.

Maybe, if you listen to me and avoid learning the hard way, I can feel like something good came out of my goof-ups.

I can certainly understand wanting to invest in a player and dipping your toes in the water with inexpensive cards, but don’t make the same mistake I made. When investing in sports cards, buying the right players can’t make up for buying the wrong cards.

Paul Hickey is the creator of the Sports Card Investment Report at NoOffseason.com, and the host of the Sports Card Strategy Show. He can be found on Instagram at @sportscardstrategy and on Twitter @nooffseasoncard

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