PSA and SGC Post-Acquisition: Friends or Foes? The answer is likely “Yes.” 

With the recent acquisition of SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Corporation) by Collectors, which already owns PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), the landscape of vintage card grading has undergone a significant shift, at least in theory. 

This development is invisible at the moment (it’s a done deal but not yet a totally closed deal). But it’s certain that Collectors has a strong interest in streamlining operations, if nothing else. This will likely cause some major shake-ups for both legacy card grading brands. How “visible” will these changes be for the average collector? Will PSA just subsume SGC? (I think no.) Will the brands cooperate? (I think yes.)

You have probably heard some wild theories since the acquisition, and I talk through some of those unsubstantiated rumors below. I also want to be optimistic–which is not my strong point usually. How might this new relationship benefit collectors like you and me (and not just Collectors)?

This blog post briefly explores the histories of PSA and SGC, examines their current market strengths, highlights some differences between the two grading giants. It also speculates on the future of vintage card grading in light of Collectors’ ownership of its two main grading brands.

Ultimately, the TL/DR version of this post is that I do think both brands will compete, survive, thrive, and cooperate in some interesting and beneficial ways. 

A Very Brief History of PSA and SGC

PSA: Established in 1991, PSA quickly emerged as the leading grading authority for sports cards, setting the standard for authenticity and grading in general. PSA created the market for card grading, really.  Its industry-standard grading process and authentication expertise earned it widespread acceptance in the hobby. PSA doesn’t just lead in market share–it dominates overall and in every individual space except early vintage and prewar, where the gap with SGC is surprisingly small. 

PSA has also been mired in controversy since actual “day 1”: their first graded card, a T206 Honus Wagner, is purportedly altered. Its COVID backlog resulted in cards being held for more than a year. Their practice of “upcharging” when cards grade higher than expected rubs many collectors the wrong way. And like every grading company, complaints of inconsistency are frequent. However, the greater volume of these complaints being directed towards PSA is likely just a function of their huge market share (over 90% as of this writing).

SGC: Founded in 1998, SGC entered the grading market as a competitor to PSA, though for many years functioned mostly as a boutique vintage grading shop with a specialty in prewar. That niche persists according to market share data. 

While initially facing challenges in gaining market share, SGC distinguished itself with its hallmark “tuxedo” (back and white) branding and has amassed a dedicated collector base who appreciate the aesthetic, the tough grades, and historically, good customer service and quick turns. SGC avoided PSA’s catastrophic backlog during the pandemic, and won many regular submitters in the process. 

SGC has also slowed as of late, with its “5 to 10 business day service” swelling to closer to 20 days as of this writing. SGC has recently made efforts to expand its presence into modern (TCG, modern card grading specials), and this market share drive is likely the culprit for the slower turn times. Quick turns seem crucial for SGC since that’s a big part of what won customers over from PSA and others–and annoying their vintage collector base by slowing service to accommodate 2024 Topps base paper could backfire. 

Current Vintage Market Share of Each Grader

Here’s where it gets somewhat interesting for vintage collectors. Although PSA grades roughly 7x more cards than SGC in total, in terms of 1950’s and earlier that gap is just less than 2x last month (and this trend is not isolated), according to Gemrate data. If we evaluated prewar only, the gap would be even smaller–though the total revenue is less significant due to the volume being so low compared to modern.

Some Key Differences Between PSA and SGC

There are some notable differences between the two brands. These are significant in the sense that some of them limit potential for cooperation going forward. 

Historically Higher Values for PSA, but SGC Closing the Gap:

PSA-graded cards have traditionally commanded higher prices in the secondary market, however, SGC-graded vintage cards have been increasingly fetching comparable values, signaling a narrowing gap between market perceptions of the brands.

PSA Set Registry:

Why does PSA command a premium, generally? The answer at least in part is set registry. PSA’s Set Registry program allows collectors to showcase and compete with their graded card collections online, which fosters a sense of community and competition among collectors. It is wildly popular which keeps the market for even high-grade commons active and competitive, for example. 

Slightly Different Grading Scales:

While both PSA and SGC use similar grading scales ranging from 1 to 10, SGC introduced the 9.5 grade, and there are other material differences in how cards are assigned grades. The different criteria also give PSA an “easier” gem with allowed 60/40 centering, for example. PSA also uses “qualifiers” (though they are infrequently assigned now, except for MK and MC, which are required if present). SGC just grades “down” instead of qualifying grades. Each brand has its unique sticking points. 

PSA Guarantees Its Grades:

Despite the “Guaranty” in SGC, it is PSA that offers a grading guarantee, allegedly assuring collectors that the grade assigned to a card is accurate and reflective of its condition. The Guarantee strikes some as empty (after all, it is PSA that determines if PSA’s old grade is accurate!), but presumably, this Guarantee would insure the owner against the possibility of slabbing a fake or altered card, as recently happened at SGC. 

Conspiracy Theories and Crazy Opinions

I have heard some fairly bold theories and predictions since the acquisition.

Flawed Theory #1: “Collectors bought SGC to kill them. Goodbye, SGC.” 

That strikes me as stupid. Buying SGC to kill them would be a really expensive way to pick up market share–especially since many SGC customers will simply never grade with PSA anyway. The SGC market would drift–some to PSA, but much would go elsewhere. And SGC is not known for innovation–it’s not like they are loaded with tech, patents, or processes that would substantially benefit PSA.

Flawed Theory #2: “You heard it here first–SGC will start using PSA slabs ASAP–as soon as next month.”

See #1 above. I doubt it. More likely, Collectors realizes that SGC has its unique strengths, that its branding is part of that strength, and that the market demands variety.

Flawed Theory #3: “SGC is slowing to match PSA–at the order of their new Collectors overlords!”

Again, still stupid. The goal is not to drive away current SGC customers–it is to attract them. Growing SGC market share helps the overall investment. 

OK, so what does the future look like for PSA and SGC? Two possibilities.

The Boring Proposal: 

One possibility is that both brands will more or less carry on as-is. Collectors will foster small efficiencies that are largely invisible to customers, but that enhance quality, turn time, and bolster the bottom line. Inefficiencies will be rooted out

Since PSA and SGC use materially different grading scales, it would be somewhere between unethical and impossible to do cross-brad crossovers for example (another wild suggestion I have heard)

The Fun Proposal:

You heard it here first–even though I’m just guessing. A combined set registry! Why not? At the very least, I do think we will finally see the return of an SGC set registry, perhaps sooner than later.

I don’t think PSA and SGC will ever “merge” grades, scales, slabs, labels, etc. There are just too many differences (actual, philosophical, logistical). 

I also think PSA will maintain its current PSA-only registry. There’s just too much at stake–and their loyalists have invested much in the concept. 

But a new cross-brand set registry would be really cool. This possibility is hampered by SGC’s rather incomplete population reports (due to undisclosed data losses over the years), but this can be solved with a reholder special resulting in new cert numbers.

Other Possibilities:

I guess all possibilities are other possibilities. Maybe I’m wrong and SGC will be subsumed sooner than later. But I really don’t think so.

Will PSA unveil a 9.5 and slowly start merging grading standards with SGC? That is possible. In a perfect world, there would be one leading grading scale and standard–and this would result in ultimate efficiency for Collectors as AI surely gains a foothold. They would much rather develop and refine one AI standard. 

No one can say for sure what the future of grading holds as it pertains to PSA, SGC, or for vintage in particular. But in my humble opinion, I do tend to lean towards thinking that even for SGC loyalists (like me), the future is exciting and bright. And if I’m horribly wrong, you can all share this post later, and maybe I’ll go viral! Happy collecting.

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