The National #5 | Looking for a Perfect 10

Top four grading companies strive for on-site greatness

Date: Jun 12, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: 2023 Bowman Draft, Cleveland, Education, Greg Bates, Luke Miller, Paul Skenes, Peter Steinberg, Pirates, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, The National
Length: 1847 Words
Reading Time: ~10 Minutes

Enjoy our fifth story in a series to help collectors prepare for the 44th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, which will be held in Cleveland from July 24 to 28. We will introduce a new topic each week leading up to the show.

This week, we look at what the four leading third-party grading services have planned on-site at The National. Don’t miss next week’s story, where we find out about the plans for the always-busy Breakers Pavilion at the show.

Collectors using third-party grading services are at an all-time high.

According to GemRate, the four leading companies in the industry — PSA, CGC, SGC, and BGS — combined to grade 1.78 million cards in May 2024. That shattered a record.

With the year’s biggest show on the horizon, it only makes sense that the companies plan to make a big splash at the National Sports Collectors Convention.

Topps RIPPED checked in with top staffers from each of the four grading companies to get a sneak peek at what they have planned for Cleveland.

PSA Leading the Way

Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) has been at the top of The Hobby’s Mount Rushmore for grading for decades.

After encapsulating 1,369,953 cards in May alone, PSA has a comfortable lead over its competitors.

PSA will have on-site grading at The National. But the price points won’t be announced until closer to the show.

Nat Turner, CEO of Collectors — the parent company of PSA — is looking forward to executing what the company has planned this year.

“There will be a big emphasis on vaulting and helping people monetize their cards through eBay this year,” Turner said. “So, when you submit stuff, you can instantly have it auctioned. Just helping people get liquidity from their cards.”

A new on-site activity PSA will roll out this year is having a breakers’ studio at its booth. Breaking companies will be ripping products throughout the show, and any hits will be taken back for grading.

“It’s nice, because you don’t get a raw card back in return. You get a graded card in return for whoever bought into the break,” Turner said. “That’s ultimately what people want. The vast majority of the people grade the stuff they’re getting in breaks anyway, so you might as well cut the step off for them.”

This year, PSA will be launching its grader notes aspect starting only on higher service levels. Graders will leave notes as to why a card received a certain grade. Turner isn’t sure if this service will be available by the time The National hits.

PSA has taken measures to ensure it will make the grading experience as easy as possibly for its clientele.

“We had some improper planning on line management last year,” Turner said. “A lot of people were confused on where to go. So, this year we have a better, more efficient flow for customers where it’s hopefully going to be more obvious where to go.”

Turner, who is a big collector himself, is excited heading into The National because it feels like a normal year.

“When I took over the company, which was 2021, that National was outrageous,” Turner said. “We were closed, and had a 13 million-card backlog. It was the only grading we did that year that you could submit new cards. 2022 and 2023, we were still kind of getting our feet under us with the new capacity and scale in the hobby. This year, we’re more confident in our operation. Our turnaround times have gotten incredibly consistent, which gives us confidence going into The National that someone gives us a card, they’re paying us whatever amount of money to get it back in a certain amount of time, we’re able to meet those expectations now.”

CGC will Authenticate Autos

When the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG) acquired James Spence Authentication (JSA) in April of this year, CCG added a key piece to its company.

JSA is known as one of the best autograph authenticators in the space — an area that was missing within the CCG chain. JSA doesn’t just authenticate cards; it also works on baseballs, footballs, bats, jerseys, any item that contains an autograph.

Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), which is owned by CCG, will debut its JSA autograph services at The National.

“We have not yet had the ability to authenticate autographs on cards,” said CCG President Max Spiegel. “We will be launching co-branded CGC/JSA authentic autograph labels for people who submit autographed cards. That one we’re super excited about.” 

Expanding to become a full-service grading company is helping the CGC brand thrive.

“Whether you have autographed cards, you have cards you want to go get autographed, you have cards that you want to get graded, preserved, and encapsulated, we just want to be able to offer the entire suite of services,” Spiegel said.

CGC will also have its regular card grading taking place at The National. The lowest price point the company will offer is $20. The fee will scale up with higher value cards.

“I suspect that is going to be cheaper than any of the other big four grading services, from what I’ve seen,” Spiegel said. “Our strategy is to make it really easy to submit to us. We want to make it really affordable to submit to us. Then we want to give you the most accurate grading and the best holders. Between those components, we think that’s a really compelling offer.”

CGC will also be accepting submissions at the lowest tier levels to bring back to its Sarasota, Florida, headquarters.

CGC, which launched its grading services in February 2021, has seen its grading operation really take off. According to Spiegel, it is grading and encapsulating about 200,000 cards per month. In the last four years, that figure is at six million cards.

“We’re really well equipped to handle huge volumes,” Spiegel said. “Overall, the Certified Collectibles Group, we do 10 million collectibles every single year.”

SGC Elects Not to Grade On Site

At the 2021 National, Sportscard Guaranty (SGC) opted not to grade on site or accept submissions because of its massive backlog.

SGC had a presence at the ’21 show, but it didn’t want to disrupt its day-to-day operation from its Boca Raton, Florida, home office and bring in graders, proofers, and encapsulators. SGC CEO Peter Steinberg decided not having on-site grading at this year’s National is advantageous to his staff and dedicated customers.

Steinberg, who takes turnaround times very seriously, said it’s better for the grading community to lean more on bringing submissions back to Florida.

“As of now, the plan is to certainly be accepting cards for take-home submissions,” said Steinberg, who said details haven’t been finalized. “In large part, the reason we chose to go with a take-back model, rather than the grading on site is largely just due to our experience at the 2023 National, where we set unbelievable records for submissions on the take home side of things. The vast majority of our collectors elected to actually have their cards taken home, rather than paying the premium. The thing that we kept hearing at the booth was, ‘Why would I pay more when I have five business day turnaround times on the standard level?’ So, I think SGC’s lightning-fast turnaround times certainly feed that hunger that exists in the hobby for near immediate results.”

SGC, which was acquired by Collectors in February 2024, will have a booth at this year’s National. Steinberg encourages people to stop by.

“I think collectors could look forward to not only virtually seamless submission process that we are very happy to assist with, but in addition, it’s really meeting the team,” Steinberg said.

SGC has scaled its operation since last year. In July 2023, it graded 95,000 cards; in May 2024, that number rose to 174,000.

“The growth of the company year-to-date is spectacular,” Steinberg said. “We set record numbers of submissions at The National last year. We’re expecting to blow those numbers out of the water, based on the rising popularity of the brand.”

BGS Aims to Return to Prominence

After a shakeup in its brass the last few years, Beckett Grading Services (BGS) is trying to put its foot down as one of the leaders in the grading space.

Vice President of BGS Luke Miller is planning to attract customers to the company’s booth with some special offers for on-site and take-home grading services.

“We will be, I think, making our announcement in the coming weeks with those prices and what that will all look like,” Miller said. “But there will be special show prices for on-site grading, encapsulation. We’re doing some authentication. A flat price for show signers. We’ll have take-back service discounts for people that just want to submit orders and have us take them back. We’ll be doing our raw card review and graded card review on site, as well as doing re-casing and re-labeling for people who want to do that.”

BGS is looking to enhance the customer experience. One new feature BGS will be implementing at this year’s National is a virtual queue. Collectors interested in getting their cards graded at the BGS booth won’t have to waste a big chunk of time waiting in line. Customers at the BGS booth will be able to scan a QR code, sign up, and will have their spot in line saved.

“It should make it easier on people to be able to enjoy the show without having to stand in a line all day, which is a good thing,” said Miller, who moved to BGS in November of last year from its sister company, Southern Hobby. “Through the announcement that we’ll be making that will go up through email and on our website, where people will be able to sign up for appointments in advance and fill out submission forms in advance to cut down time they’re spending at the booth. All the stuff they can do prior to coming (to our booth) will only help enhance the experience.”

The market share in the grading space has shifted in the last few years. BGS has gone from grading the second highest number of cards per month to dropping down to fourth. Miller wants to back BGS back into the conversation as the top third-party grading company. “I think there’s been a lot of speculation around us in the sports card world,” Miller said. “I’m excited to get there and show people that we’re still one of the biggest names in grading. We’ve listened to the customers, and we’re working on fixing their customer experience. The backlog thing was an issue; we’ve got that fixed. Turnaround times are running on or ahead of schedule for the most part.”

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