2023?

2023 sports cards

Contributor: John Dudley

2022 took a financial toll on most everyone’s collections, but still brought a lot of highlights as readers of the newsletter saw last week. While waxing poetic about the past is fun, it is often better to look ahead to what the future may bring. I’m expecting a lot out of the hobby in 2023 and expect it to be an eventful year. This is a quick look at what’s on my radar for the year.

The Rookies

For better or worse, our hobby is dominated by the chase for rookie cards and 2023’s class looks great across the board. The boom years in the hobby were bolstered by all three major sports having exceptional rookie classes from 2018-2020. Most years have at least one sport that isn’t quite up to snuff though(2021’s baseball, 2022’s football). Luckily, 2023 looks to be a winner for all three.

Most of the time there is uncertainty around baseball, but it offers Adley Rutschman, Michael Harris II, Gunnar Henderson, and Vaughn Grissom. These players have already had success at the MLB level and should make the Braves and Orioles expensive to get in 2023 breaks and should all be featured in early-season products. 

The big question with baseball each year is which rookies will get in this year’s products and which will Topps hold back to headline the next year’s releases. We’ll have to watch the Opening Day lineups and early season call-ups to learn if we’ll get Anthony Volpe, Corbin Carroll, Jordan Walker, Ezequiel Tovar, and Andrew Painter. If we do, they will make this a rookie class to remember. The 2023 class has some big names at the top but it is really best characterized as an incredibly deep class. There are enough solid rookies that most boxes in any product will have at least one or two rookies you can get excited about. 

Football’s 2022 wasn’t the strongest due to a lack of hyped quarterbacks. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Will Levis are all predicted to be 1st round draft picks (and near the top of the round). This means the demand for 2023 products should see a steep increase from their 2022 counterparts. Levis vs. Young is a debate I’m looking forward to seeing for a long time. Levis offers all the physical traits scouts love but had a lackluster college career while Young stands 5’10” and is on the wrong side of 200 pounds but has a national championship and a Heisman to his credit. All of the top QBs in 2023 will drive demand meaning collectors won’t be helplessly latching on to the likes of Brock Purdy.

Basketball: Victor Wembanyana. ‘Nuff said.

Fanatics

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about Fanatics’ first year owning Topps (some good, some bad). Still, most collectors are in the same boat I am in that they don’t know how much of 2022 was business as usual from Topps and how much was Fanatics running the show. That won’t be the case in 2023 as all of the products should have been designed and planned under the Fanatics regime. 

I’m curious to see what direction they go with things. 2022 had three major miscues (Chrome, Sapphire, and Chrome Update). Topps had to institute a novel buyback program to salvage Chrome. Sapphire, even with J.Rod and Witt, saw Brooklyn and Stadium Club sell out on the Topps website before Sapphire sold out (or was pulled more likely). Chrome Update saw Topps have to issue partial refunds for “hobby boxes” and was plagued with quality control. 

At the same time, Topps gave us some wonderful releases in 2022. Cosmic Chrome was a pleasant surprise. Brooklyn might be the nicest product of the year. In last week’s article, I gave Topps Update the Product of the Year Award. 

I think quality and the reception of products will always have winners and losers. No company bats a thousand. The failures though all had one thing in common: collectors thought they were overpriced. The pricing of the three big failures made sense in the boom times, but collectors voted with their wallets when asked to pay $250 a box for Sapphire (a lovely product but not at that price).

The elephant in the room is the constant rumors of Fanatics buying Panini’s card operations. It makes sense as Panini has an asset with a known shelf life and only one real potential buyer. With the market down, I think the urgency to get a deal done is lower, but I think Panini will want to get more than just a few years of sales out of their remaining licenses. The one thing I’m not sure anyone can account for is the possibility of Fanatics going public which is gaining steam. The desire to boost 2022’s bottom line can also account for the glut of products forced out in December. I thought there would be a deal done by now, but I think it is getting less likely. The idea of Topps Chrome Basketball and Football will keep collectors dreaming though.

The Market and Pricing

The real question everyone wants to know is whether 2023 will be better for the sports card market. A lot of this is tied to real-world economic issues and concerns which would take a lot longer to delve into. Some though can be tied to a market correction. Hopefully, the period of correction In the sports card market is close to over.

On the bright side, players that had excellent 2022 seasons saw their cards go up substantially. As long as that continues, I don’t worry too much about the market long-term. Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of folks picking up big cards recently thinking that we must be near the floor of the market. 

I think 2023 is the year we see wax prices at least stay flat if not drop a bit. The singles market for basketball and football dropped 30% in 2022 using CardLadder’s indices. This means that collectors can pick up a lot more for their dollars in the singles market at the same time they are getting less out of their wax boxes. This will put pressure on companies to either lower prices or increase the quality and number of hits in their wax products. Fanatics already reversed course on a few of theirs in 2022 (Ginter X for $69.99 was a major drop in price and sold well). Retail products are sitting on shelves longer too.  In a vacuum, I’d say prices would drop for sure, but the companies have a variety of financial pressures including increased costs themselves due to inflation. I’m hopeful prices will at least stay the same though.

The Great Grading Price Wars

I thought I was being bold when I said we’d see under $10-a-card grading in 2023, but I was still shocked that SGC gave it to us in 2022 with their $9-a-card 2022 Bowman Chrome special. CSG has also been flirting with the $10 level with its recent promotions. I think this trend continues and 2023 will be the start of the Great Grading Price wars.

The volume of cards graded per month remains on a slight upward trajectory, but none of the grading companies should pencil in an increase in demand for grading. We’ve now got four companies that have high-volume grading capacity and a pretty set volume of cards needed to be graded each month. Without overall demand increasing, the companies will have to fight with each other for market share.

The first time PSA dropped their prices to $15 the other companies all saw massive drops in the number of cards graded. Since then, they’ve all been toying with various promotions. I think $10 was the Rubicon and SGC crossed it and there is no looking back. I’m not sure we get back to consistent $8-a-card grading, but I do expect multiple opportunities for under $10-a-card grading this year.

Wrap Up

Whether it is rookie chasing, grading deals, or the Fanatics’ takeover there is a lot to do and watch in 2023. What are you looking forward to the most? The least? Let me know in the comments.Also, if you haven’t checked out the insanely useful Card Shop Live app, what are you waiting for? It’s great for breaks, personal rips, singles, and hobby info. The breakers are all heavily vetted so no shenanigans here.

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