Pokémon cards are booming, and PSA is going global

Last year, U.S.-based card grading company PSAs Opened the first international grading agency in Japan. On May 11, it will accept card submissions from within the UK for the first time at the London Card Game Show. This follows similar heavy appearances by the company at card shows in Paris, France, and Toronto, Canada, in the two weeks prior.

Known as the world's oldest card grading machine, the company is trying to go global and make strides into a variety of international markets. All thanks to a yellow electric mouse.

You probably know that PSA has its roots in sports cards, and if you don't, the name PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) might give you an idea. Exponentially growing”, PSA has grown with it, expanding to accommodate a new wave of collectors: TCG fans.

Miller said PSA now receives more trading cards than baseball cards. Of the many existing TCGs, “by far the majority” of the cards PSA has received have come from Pokémon TCG fans.

“If you told someone at PSA in 2019 that Pokémon would be a bigger category than baseball, people would look at you like you were crazy,” Miller said. They have transformed from a niche category for card grading specialists to the fastest growing part of the business.

A big reason for this growth is the broad, global appeal of Pokémon cards. While baseball cards may not be as attractive once outside the United States, Pokémon has global appeal. “TCG is our largest category in Europe,” Miller confirmed. “so far.”

Miller explained that there would be no point in serving a global audience if PSA remained just a sports card rating company. It's “Pokémon's growth” that makes it “more attractive… to support international markets.” In 2023, in addition to setting up grading facilities in Japan, PSA will also open submission centers in Halifax, Canada, and Shanghai, China. In 2019, this scenario seems unlikely.

One of the challenges in making PSA a more international business is ensuring consistency across different tiers of operations. Ryan Miller said there was “some nervousness” about it at first, but the Japan, New Jersey and California offices were “all within one percentage point of each other” when it came to applying the scores.

He attributes this to a “rigorous training” system, in which the first Japanese graders had to spend six months in the United States to learn how PSA evaluates cards. “We sent one of the main Pokémon graders from Santa Ana to actually go to Tokyo to lead the grading room there,” he added.

Miller said seeing the new Japanese business succeed is one of his proudest moments at the company. “We had this assumption: If we build it, they will come – that's the saying,” he said. But he finds it “really exciting” to see the influx of new customers and the enthusiasm for the system among people who “were previously hesitant to join PSA” now that barriers such as overseas shipping have been removed.

However, there are still challenges with grading cards overseas. The main thing is the lack of precedent. “While the United States has decades of experience in card grading, we are still in our infancy in many international markets,” said Ryan Miller.

Miller sees PSA as part of the broader ecosystem necessary to make card collections successful in the market. In addition to a validator you can trust, you also need manufacturers to ensure a steady supply of quality cards, and a trustworthy marketplace where you can sell your cards.

“We will continue to play our role but also work with other industry partners to create an ecosystem that allows the card market to thrive,” he explained.

For more TCG content, check out the most powerful Pokémon cards.

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