The well-worn PSA vs. SGC debate took a turn earlier this year. It’s old news now: as announced at the end of February 2024, PSA‘s parent company Collector’s bought SGC. Let’s cast aside the wild speculation about the future of SGC (which runs the gamut from “status quo” to “gone in a year”) and just focus on the present. But if you need some back story, Cardhound analyzed the acquisition earlier this year.

It’s a valid question: why did Collectors seek out and purchase SGC? After all, they grade about 8 times more cards than SGC in a typical month. The answer (in my humble opinion)? Vintage.

Gemrate data for June 2024 illustrates PSA’s “problem” in the vintage space (if you can call anything about 75% market share problematic).

June 2024 Totals

First, let’s parse total graded inventory a bit. PSA graded 377k TCG last month–it is now their single largest category when compared to any individual sport. That’s a lot of Pokemon!

SGC has been trying to make inroads into TCG but graded just 10k TCG cards last month. Personally, as an SGC-only collector, I just don’t think modern cards look great in the “tuxedo”–and this is especially true for flashy TCG cards. CGC does very well in TCG, and even seemingly-irrelevant Beckett graded 3x as many TCG as SGC. I think it’s a losing battle–but no one asked my opinion!

Of note, Beckett and CGC are approaching irrelevance for sports cards in terms of volume. It has been such a spectacular fall for once-mighty Beckett, and CGC has mostly bungled the sports category. Beckett has seemingly moved on to manga, comics, VHS, etc. Sports is a 2-company category.

As usual, PSA out-graded every other company combined, and graded almost 10x as many total cards as SGC: 1.16m vs. 147k. PSA’s volume represents a 16% increase year over year, and SGC boasted a 53% improvement. But with such a disparity in total volume and market share, why would SGC even get Collectors’ attention? Let’s take a deeper dive and focus on vintage.

PSA’s Vintage “Problem”

Here’s where things get interesting: Let’s drill down into the data to isolate vintage sports.

In June, PSA graded roughly 718k sports cards. SGC graded 136k. As you can see, once we exclude TCG, the gap narrows considerably, from an 8x advantage to a still-enormous 5x.

To really get to the root of the “problem” (aka, in my opinion, the reason that Collectors bought SGC), we need to start with sports cards graded by era, and then do some numbers crunching.

SGC: Vintage Market Share Leader?

We can define “vintage” in lots of ways, but for the sake of argument, let’s look at “1950s (&earlier)” on Gemrate’s chart. This category accounts for 1.8% of PSA’s total Sports volume, and 10.8% of SGC’s Sports volume. The category also holds almost every truly iconic baseball card ever made. So let’s do the math:

PSA graded 718k sports cards in June. 1.8% of 718,000 = 12,924 vintage cards 1950’s and earlier graded.

SGC graded 136k sports cards in June. 10.8% of 136,000 = 14,688 vintage cards 1950’s and earlier graded.

So, while PSA dominates both the TCG and Sports categories overall, when it comes to true vintage, SGC actually graded more cards than PSA in June. I’m not sure how often this has happened, but it is a recent trend, for sure.

What Does This Mean?

As we march forward in time, PSA’s market share grows exponentially vs. SGC. For example, if we include all sports cards 1960’s and earlier, PSA already regains a slim margin (of about 6,000 total cards graded). 1980’s and forward, it’s no contest. But on close analysis, true vintage is the only category PSA does not own outright. And Collectors likely understands that winning over SGC vintage customers is a losing battle. For vintage, PSA and SGC are like Coke and Pepsi: it’s one or the other for most collectors, not both, and the loyalties are often fierce. Did Collectors buy SGC to kill them? Surely no–they wouldn’t necessarily capture that market share anyway!

In the meantime, PSA continues to innovate, recently unveiling new and improved slabs and grader notes. SGC has been quiet, with most enthusiasts still longing for a set registry! Will SGC keep pace with PSA’s innovation? And if not, can they hold onto the top spot for true vintage? Time will tell, but I do think that SGC is here to stay in vintage.