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What's the Deal with Sports Card 'Breaking?'

zion williamson, tom brady, and Jason Dominguez

Sports cards are a hobby that have stood the test of time. The first ever baseball cards can be traced back to the 1860’s, and their evolution has continued throughout the history of sports. A card from 1909, the fabled Honus Wagner baseball card, was confirmed to be sold for 2.8 million dollars, and cards that are being opened even today are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars on markets like Ebay and Amazon.


People from the sports card community have a long history of ‘card breaking,’ as they like to call it in the industry. It can be explained as opening packs of cards to find extremely rare ones to be sold in the secondary market - or collected by die-hard fans of those players and teams.


With the global pandemic continuing to sideline sports for the short term, fans are looking for other ways to stay active in the sports communities. We have seen sports betting on NBA 2K (video game) simulations, betting on the Tiger King(!), and so many other strange and crazy forays into the betting world (you ever bet on the weather?!)

This new need for fans of sports betting and gaming to find other outlets, have landed many of them in the world of card breaking. 


How card breaking works:


In simplest terms, you head to a breaker website and they have a box of cards ready to break and you pay money for slots. These ‘slots’ are for specific teams, players, serial numbers, set numbers, and many other parameters that are specific to that break. You hit a card from a team(or parameter) you picked, you win that card.


Note: A CCG comparison would be if you and six friends split an MTG Booster box. One person got all the green cards, another all of the blue, and so on. It is a fair and simplified version of splitting up the box, but there is risk for everyone involved due to the chance of one or two people hitting the really expensive cards in the box, and everyone else is left with the less desirable cards in the box. Variations of this exist in all kinds of card opening communities.


I decided that I needed to actually participate in a few of these breaks before writing this article, so I found a break that suited my budget and jumped right in. I bought the slot for the basketball team, the Sacramento Kings at $44 USD for this break of Panini 2019-2020 Mosaic Basketball 7 Box Mixer. 


Each team slot is filled up with customers, and it is to be noted that each team does not cost the same. There were slots of up to $500 in this break for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies. This was due to the fact that there are a lot more desirable players from those teams in this set. Each team’s cost to the customer varies depending on a few factors including:


  1. Market value of the box: The higher the market value, the higher the average of each team will be.
  2. Size of collector bases of the team: The LA Lakers and New York Yankees will always have a higher intrinsic value due to the number of fans and collectors of those teams. The Florida Marlins and Cleveland Browns will have smaller fanbases, and thus, less desired cards.
  3. The value of the potential cards you could open: An example of this is Zion Williamson. Due to the price of those individual cards on the market right now, the New Orleans Pelicans team slots cost more than they normally would without a player like Zion.

Each break is recorded with both a hand camera as well as face camera on the person doing the break. This prevents any funny business, and makes sure that there is complete trust between the consumer and the breaker. Any trust lost here is detrimental to the integrity of the box break, and someone could potentially lose their entire business if they are deemed by the community to be conducting shady business.


The box is fully opened on camera, and each pack is displayed to the audience card by card. The anticipation of hitting players from your team is exhilarating, fun, and when you hit your favorite player on a sweet card, it feels GREAT! Yes, I hit a nice Buddy Hield card in this break much to my delight (Hitting a Buddy Hield in CCG terms would be like opening a really good rare that many decks would use. Not an expensive mythic rare, but still very exciting). 


The breaker goes through each box, each booster pack, and each card methodically and with the grace of someone that has handled cards for years. A booster pack never leaves the camera, all cards are displayed to the audience, and it’s captivating watching these packs open allowing you to see some of the coolest and highest quality sports cards ever printed. 


After the Break:


Once the break ends, that’s where the real work starts for the breaker. Think about this: around 30 teams in all three of the major US sports. So that’s at least 30 slots per break, multiple breaks per night, so that is a potential few hundred addresses to ship to! That being said, many times a person will fill up multiple slots per break (to get a better chance of winning a card), but it is still an overwhelming number of cards needed to be sorted and shipped to customers all over the world! 


Your cards are sorted and shipped to you by the team through USPS (many times shipping insurance is recommended!) in plastic protective hard cases, bubble mailers, and other protective supplies that are all needed by sports card breakers. 


Once you Receive the Cards:


USPS delivers your precious loot and you can finally open up that Buddy Hield card you’ve been waiting for! 


Some people use card breaking for the chances of “flipping,” or selling, the high dollar cards that they won in the card break on selling channels like Ebay and Amazon. Others, like myself, choose their favorite sports team in hopes that they receive highly collectible and desirable cards. 


However you decide you want to experience the world of card breaking, that is completely up to you. The barrier to entry is quite high right now due to the increased demand for card boxes during the pandemic, but there are a multitude of breaking sites both large and small. Whether you are a die-hard Mets fan(my condolences) looking for some of your favorite players, or a gambler looking to hit a 70k Zion Williamson, the sports breaking industry doesn’t look to be going anywhere. If anything, the explosion of popularity has just begun. 


Mitch Gross

Inked Gaming

You can find my usual Sacramento Kings ramblings at @mitchgross1 on Twitter