On Wednesday, Topps released its third installment of their Major League Soccer card series after taking over the licensing agreement from Upper Deck who held the license from the league’s first card set in 1997 to 2012.
In 2014, Topps released both the standard MLS set and the first ever MLS set under the company’s Chrome line of cards (second time in history MLS released two card sets in the same year after Upper Deck released a 2011 set under their SP Authentic series). The 2014 Topps MLS saw a considerable rise in popularity on the open market (eBay, COMC, etc) compared to the 2013 including a rise in the average sale price for more premium cards. The Chrome set released later that year did not see as considerable of an open market bump with a major reseller of MLS cards not even showing the 2014 Topps Chrome MLS set on their website.
With this being the first time I can talk about MLS cards following the launch of Spor Repor just over a week ago, I thought I’d share a bit of analysis and tips on this year’s set of cards for those who might be potentially looking at collecting for the first time with this set so you don’t make the same mistakes I made those years ago when I began to collect MLS cards.
1) AVOID THE EARLY BIRDS
Hooray, a new set of MLS cards has been released! You know what that means? A bunch of crazy card collectors giving in to the hype of the new release by spending money left and right trying to get all of these great cards.
Any smart seller knows the best time to sell cards from a new set is immediately after a release because most buyers are unable to gauge the proper market value for the card and end up putting too much heart behind their purchase. As the old adage goes, something is only worth as much as what someone else is willing to pay for it.
Last year, a 2014 Topps MLS Conor Casey 1/1 black printing plate sold for $200. The only person in the world who should spend that much for a Conor Casey card and have an excuse that isn’t moronic is his mother.
The best card I’ve ever bought was in fact from the 2014 Topps MLS set (a Tim Howard /5 Brazil parallel autograph cause you know, he set the record for most saves in a World Cup match against Belgium and all) but it was six months after the set was released. If the card isn’t 1/1, simply wait. And, if it is a 1/1, then do some research and find out what 1/1 in the past have actually sold for and go into the bidding process with a limit that you do not break. It won’t be the end of the world cause the winner might but it up on eBay a few weeks later.
2) NOT ALL PLAYERS ARE CREATED EQUAL
MLS players rise in value more like a skatepark half-pipe than players in most sports. In the same way that a select few players earn massive Designated Player contracts, the same holds true with MLS cards.
The current price for a hobby box of 2015 Topps MLS is hovering just under ~$100. News flash, that isn’t because people are chomping at the bits to land a Chris Wingert or Jordan Stewart autograph card. It’s set that high because in this country, where people believe they’ll win the lottery one day because someone has to, people want that David Villa (who’ll arguably be the highest-priced player in the 2015 set following the departure of Robbie Keane from the set) or Clint Dempsey card. Side note: Don’t expect any Landon Donovan autos in the near future with Upper Deck holding an exclusive contract agreement with him.
Some sellers who live off the stupidity of others will however price a premium Wingert card, say #/10 autograph, closer to his NYCFC teammate Villa than they should, preaching the rarity of the card and ignoring how good the player actually is.
For example, a #/10 base autograph in the 2015 set should not sell for more than $20 for players like Wingert. For someone like Dempsey however, his #/10 are worth easily more than $50 and on a good day worth more than $100. Don’t give in to seller’s who think a Chris Klute #/10 is worth $30 even though he was by no means a star for Colorado last season because, as I did, you could land a #/5 for him for $15 two weeks later. As it turns out, that seller just accepted an offer for less than $16 on that card after all these months about being adamant it was worth $30.
3) KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ONE TYPE AND THE OTHER
In the 2015 set, there are a total of 11 different types of cards you can get in the set. These range from base cards that fill almost all of the packs all the way up to 1/1 autograph relic cards which, in this set, will sell for the most on the open market. Why is that though?
Other than the obvious reason of rarity in my last example, collectors gauge different types of cards with different values much like players who have the same type of card. Gone are the days where everyone collected cards with the goal of getting a complete set for their favorite team or the entire set altogether. In today’s age of collecting cards, never buy a box with the intent of getting a complete base card set out of it. Only buy a box for the hits (autographs, relic cards, etc).
Here’s a list of this year’s different type of cards and their value respective to each other (I’m ignoring the different parallels in this case) :
11. Base Cards – No brainer. Buy in complete sets.
9-10. Gameday Heritage/MLS Minis – Standard insert cards. Buy in complete sets
8. Presence of the Pitch – Insert cards exclusively found in hobby packs. Buy in complete sets.
7. Base MLS All State Variants – Hard insert card to come by. Don’t have a serial number or any additional stuff on it like an autograph or relic.
6. Kits of the Game relics – Card with a small piece of game-used jersey in a similar shape to the MLS logo. Not seen as valuable as an autograph.
5. Admired Alumni Autographs – Those still two player autograph set does involve Brian McBride and Preki, it is unclear how many of each card were made without a serial number which lessens the value.
3-4. Base Autographs/MLS Personalities Autographs – Base autographs are by far the most collectable in the bunch as they are very appealing to both casual and hardcore collectors due to the various price points based on the parallel. MLS Personalities is essentially the same as the base autos but instead of players currently on the pitch, it involves three former MLS/USMNT players now off the pitch: Claudio Reyna, Jeff Agoos, and Taylor Twellman).
2. Presence of Pitch Autographs – Zero dud players (except for maybe Mike Magee) in this set. While they don’t have serial numbers like Admired Alumni, each card does have only one parallel, a 1/1, which makes it more valuable than a base autograph and their numerous parallels.
1. Autograph Relics – Combines both an autograph card and relic card into one.
4) LASTLY, STAY AWAY FROM THE CARDS I WANT
Biggest tip I can give you. I’m not going to tell you the players I want out of fear you might jack up the price just to get under my skin. Same holds true with most every card collector and cards they want. Far and away the most mental collectors I’ve seen on eBay are Philadelphia Union collectors.
Meanwhile, great news for Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, and Montreal Impact fans. I have yet to see anyone in my nearly three years of collecting MLS cards that have actively collected any of teams (same was true for Chivas USA). For example, a 2014 Topps Chrome MLS Jose Mari /10 base parallel card sold for $1 recently. That’s right, one buck. To put it in perspective, cards for players with more aggressive fan bases like Philadelphia or Seattle go for over $15 with the average across the league being just under $10. Then again, come resale time, it might be a bit harder to move a DeShorn Brown card than you think.
As a rule of thumb, USMNT players are most collectable. After that you have Philadelphia, Seattle, and Portland who have avid fan bases that really like their players so bidding wars ensue. Next you’ve got RSL, Toronto, and NYRB who have diehard fans but not enough actively collecting on eBay so not every card will have multiple bidders vying for it. Then at the bottom you have Montreal, Houston, Colorado, and surprisingly Chicago whose cards rarely, if ever, see a bidding war unless it is a really rare card and involves a well-known player like Sean Johnson and Jack McInerney (both in the USMNT fold at some level).