Photo: Thimo Pedersen
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The most graded athlete at PSA in September was Shohei Ohtani, with just under 28,000 cards graded.
Pikachu laughs at those numbers. In his best Matthew McConaughey voice, he says, "You gotta pump those numbers up. Those are rookie numbers."
Charizard is cackling fire too. In September, over 46,000 Pikachu cards and 40,000 Charizard cards were graded at PSA per data from GemRate, which we'll quote frequently over the next 3-5 minutes.
Trading card games have become a juggernaut in grading volume, and a dichotomy of trends is forming between TCG and sports cards. PSA has set all-time monthly records for TCG grading volume in each of the last three months, contributing to a third quarter that saw TCG volume grow 92% year-over-year. Meanwhile, the company's sports card grading volume declined 13% year-over-year in the same period. The contrasting growth has driven shifts in grading mix. TCG represented 48% of cards graded in September. Last September, that figure stood at a mere 26%.
It's not just PSA.
In September of 2022, SGC graded only about 1,500 TCG cards, accounting for 2% of all cards graded. This September, those figures reached 10,000 cards and 9% of volume. September of 2022 saw Beckett grade 17,800 TCG cards, accounting for 31% of volume. This year? 30,500 cards and 50% of volume. You'd spot similar results in the preceding months too.
Which game is driving the surge?It's not a trick question. It's Pokémon.
The gargantuan franchise remains as relevant as ever, accounting for all 10 of the top 10 most graded TCG sets at PSA in September. Importantly, four of those sets are 2023 releases, while only one of them was produced before 2019 (the OG 1999 Pokémon Game, of course). Nearly a year after its release, the 2022 Pokémon Japanese Sword and Shield vStar Universe set continues to add nearly 40,000 cards to its population per month. Sets from the Sword and Shield series, which debuted in late 2019 and 2020, have driven significant grading uptake in both American and Japanese cards; 8 of September's top 10 most graded sets were Japanese.
To better understand the scale of Pokémon's dominance, consider this. Among 2022 sets, the most graded TCG set is the Japanese Sword and Shield vStar Universe, with nearly 296,000 cards in the population. There are 17 Pokémon sets from that year with over 10,000 cards graded.
How many non-Pokémon card sets from that year have exceeded 10,000? Just two.
The most graded non-Pokémon set is "One Piece Japanese Romance Dawn," with 22,500. It's difficult to overstate the strength of the Pokémon franchise, and these numbers put that strength in a sobering context. Ready to sober up even more? The total amount of 2022 basketball cards graded by PSA is 141,201, less than half the total of just one Pokémon set.
Year-over-year softness in sports card grading volume accompanies the reduced frenzy for ultra-modern cards. Gone are the days when collectors rushed to find an acrylic home for every Prizm base card. The economics simply aren't what they were in the days of massive backlogs and climbing card prices. Still, things aren't dire: graders are processing tens or even hundreds of thousands of sports cards per month.
If you're a grading agency, though, when it comes to growth, there's no alternative. You gotta catch 'em all.
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