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The Hobby Vs. Retail Sports Card Conundrum: Which is Better?

4 min read

For several years now, there’s been a huge debate over which sports card boxes to buy. Should I buy hobby boxes or retail boxes? Which ones are a better value? Which has the best resell potential. Those are the key questions to that debate and here’s the answer. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. It all depends what you’re looking for. If you’re chasing auto cards and low serial numbered cards, hobby is the best way. If you’re looking to complete base sets and collect on a budget, retail is the best. Both have their pros and cons, but ultimately it depends on what type of collector you are.

Let’s look at hobby boxes first. The huge bonus with buying hobby boxes is a more extended circulation of better valued cards, but the autographs won’t necessarily be worth equal or more than what you purchased the box for. They will exceed value in some boxes, but not every one. With that said, you’re still guaranteed more autos than retail blasters and there’s are far greater chance you’ll receive more low numbered and short print cards. The biggest con with hobby boxes are the price. New releases are usually upwards of $100. Usually, the amount of cards you receive doesn’t justify the price of the box. If you’re an auto collector or looking for more rare cards, the price is worth it, but if you’re one that just buys a box in hopes of selling everything for profit, it’s a gamble. Again, just because the circulation is better, doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of players are better. If the box only contains one or two auto cards, it’s likely that it won’t amount up to what you paid for the box.

Retail is on a whole different level. Unlike hobby boxes, they’re relatively cheap. If you’re a base card collector hoping to complete sets, it’s a better value since most boxes have a good quantity of cards in them. Circulation of auto cards of better players are much lower, but they are out there. You won’t find many (if any) cards numbered 1 0f 1 in blaster boxes and it’s rare to find any cards lower numbered or numbered at all. The majority of retail boxes that guarantee auto cards in each box, are usually filled with more basic auto cards of lower tiered players. So while you can get lucky with some really nice cards, retail is more suited for set collectors. 

Here’s a comparison between 2017 Panini Contenders football hobby box vs. retail:                                   

Hobby Box Configuration:                  

Price: $110 (average)                                     

18 cards per pack, 6 packs per box       

6 autographs                                             

9 Game Day Tickets inserts                  

6 each of Old School Colors and School Colors inserts                           

3 each of Collegiate Connections, Passing Grades, and Rush Week inserts                                                         

Retail Box Configuration:                   

Price: $19.99 (average)                       

6 cards per pack, 7 packs per box        

2 autographs                                           

4 Game Day Tickets                                  

4 each of School Colors and Old School Colors inserts                           

1 each of Collegiate Connections, Passing Grades, and Rush Week inserts                                                           

3 other various inserts

The hobby box of contenders obviously has more autos and a better ratio of autos from better players. It also will have more short prints and lower number cards, but the blaster box has incredible value especially with base cards (which I complete a set of every year). For me, buying retail makes more sense in this case as I would come near completing the set by purchasing five retail boxes for the price of one hobby box. However, this example would fluctuate depending on the brand of cards you decide to purchase as everyone has a different configuration.

Another reason (and big reason) collectors choose hobby over retail is security. If you buy packs over boxes, you’ll definitely come across packs that have been manipulated by a pack searcher, but that’s hardly ever the case with boxes so that claim is irrelevant when it comes to buying boxes. As long as it’s sealed, you’re good to go, but check to see if it’s sealed from the factory. Also check other boxes to see if it’s sealed the same way. While it doesn’t happen as much with hobby boxes in card shops, you better believe it does happen there as well. Card shop owners are good, honest, and hardworking people, but there are some that would stoop to the level of searching hobby packs and maybe reselling a box after finding the case hit.

Again, whichever one is best for you goes back to it being about what you collect. Collectors come in as many ways, shapes, and forms as the card products themselves so there isn’t a true right or wrong answer. So as for value, it depends on what you collect.