The Ethics in Sports Cards Pt. II

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If you read my first article on the ethics in the sports cards industry, you will remember that I put a lot of emphasis on the unethical practices on eBay.  It is a topic that I could probably write another article or two very easily. But deceptive sellers and whiny buyers aside, there are other aspects of card collecting industry I’d like to focus on.

Most card companies divide their products into two forms of distribution: retail and hobby. “Retail” refers to those packs and boxes of cards sold at national retail locations such as Wal-Mart, Target, and other national, big brand and commercial stores. These cards allow companies like Topps to reach a broader audience, offering a variety of products and sets.

Retail has its pros and cons.


  • much easier to find and purchase
  • often cheaper
  • more options


  • offers little in the terms of hits (auto and jersey cards)
    • The other cards in terms of inserts and numbered cards are normally not worth mentioning
  • unimpressive hits

The bottom line is that retail is cheap, but it does not offer much for the seasoned collector.

Retail boxes that the card companies send to retailers from which to sell individual packs, will usually have 1-2 hits per box. Just for context, hobby boxes usually yield four to five hits per box, but can be as high as six to seven and as low as three. The price of retail packs are usually $2-$4 where hobby packs normally start at $4 and can get as high as $10 depending on the set and odds of hits.   The market for retail cards have created a new breed of collector; the pack searcher.

Pack searchers are some of the lowest forms of collectors the hobby has to offer. They have way too much free time on their hands and morals that rival some Wall Street Bankers. In short, a pack searcher is someone who will walk into retail store like Wal-Mart and Target and start searching all the packs in the card section till they find the one they believe contains the autograph or the relic. They will then put all the packs that don’t contains hits back and purchase the ones that do, leaving no hope or chance for an honest buyer to get lucky. To put it in perspective, it would be like someone with the ability to look at an entire roll of scratch tickets and only purchase the ones they knew were winners, giving the roll of losers back to the store for them to sell.

Pack searchers will go to extreme lengths to find that one magic pack. I’ll admit that I have personally (gently) squeezed the odd pack to gauge its thickness. Relic cards are thicker than normal cards, so the belief is that the super thick pack is the one with the hit. However, card companies will usually put thick pieces of cardboard about the same size and weight of these cards to fool and mislead pack searchers.

But pack searchers have become smarter, believing there are other ways of getting around this.   Bending a pack by grabbing opposite corners (such as top left and bottom right) at the same time is a common technique they use. The logic is that cardboard will bend given with the pressure and it will be easy to move, while relic cards are harder to bend and will offer more resistance. This is horrible as since cardboard will give so will the normal cut cards including autographs, thus an unfortunate collector will receive a pack full of cards with bends and creases in them.

The furthest extreme I have come across is collectors who will sit in the middle of the store, dump every pack out, pull out a digital scale (designed for weighing gold) and literally weigh every pack. Since jersey and relic cards weigh more than regular cards and the cardboard, they will purchase the packs that have more weight. Thankfully, card companies like Upper Deck is asking its social media fans to send any pictures or reports of pack searchers they observe in retail stores. They plan on using this to educate stores like Wal-Mart and Target about pack searchers and to make employees aware of it so they can stop this in the future. We can only hope other companies will follow suit.

Hobby shops are a much harder place to do pack searching as they are smaller, educated collectors are on the look-out, and the odds are so high in getting a quality return that even purchasing 2-3 packs would all but guarantee you a hit.

I can clearly recall my first encounter with a pack searcher. It was inside a Newbury Comics — which is a national retail store that sells hobby packs. The employees often do not care as people search the packs. I walked in and saw a middle-aged man searching the packs doing the bend test I mentioned previously. I walked up and started looking and immediately noticed what he was doing. Standing 6’6 and weighing close to 300lbs, I called him out for it and said “Hey, get out of here, pack searcher!”  He dropped the pack and ran out (more like briskly walked). I purchased the pack he was looking at just so he couldn’t find it, should he double-back. Not that I condone his behavior, but I did pull a numbered autograph rookie in that pack.

I think, while holding buyers, sellers, and collectors to a high code of ethics is important, we should also hold the corporations who produce our cards to a similar standard. I am not a big fan of the huge gap in quality between retail and hobby packs and boxes. While I don’t mind supporting small businesses and paying more for a better quality item, hobby stores are hard to find and their hours can be rather short. I am not asking that they add hobby into retail but it would be nice to see slightly better odds or some better quality than a one color jersey card where the jersey swatch is smaller than a dime and the card is unnumbered. The biggest Achilles heel of ethics for card companies I believe are the redemption cards.

Look for the third part of my series coming soon.  If you have any questions or wish to contact me you can do so by sending me an email to:

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