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Pokémon cards are booming, and it’s taking PSA global

Major card grading company PSA is expanding to international markets, thanks to the rise of Pokémon card collecting - an international pastime.

pikachu trophy card on a background of PSA card slabs

Last year, US-based card grading company PSA opened up its first international grading operation in Japan. On May 11, it accepted card submissions in the UK for the first time at the London Card Show. And in the two weeks before that, the company had a similarly large presence at card shows in Paris, France and Toronto, Canada.

The company, known as the best-established card grader in the world, is making efforts to go global, striding out into all kinds of different international markets. And it’s all thanks to one electric yellow mouse.

You’re probably aware that PSA has its roots in sports cards, and if you weren’t, the name PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) might clue you in. But since roughly the start of the pandemic, the card industry has seen massive exponential growth and PSA has grown with it, stretching to accommodate a vast new wave of collectors: the TCG fans.

According to Head of Strategy and International Ryan Miller, PSA now gets more trading card submissions than baseball cards. And amongst all the many, many TCGs in existence “by far the lion’s share” of the cards PSA receives come from Pokémon TCG lovers.

“If you would have told somebody at PSA back in 2019 that Pokémon would be a larger category than baseball, people would have looked at you like you’re crazy,” says Miller. They’ve gone from a niche category for the card grading expert, to the fastest-growing part of the business.

A big part of that growth is that Pokémon cards have widespread, global appeal. Whereas baseball cards might not be much of a draw as soon as you step outside the US, Pokémon has global appeal. “TCG is the largest category for us in Europe,” confirms Miller. “By far.”

If PSA was still just a sports card grading company, it wouldn’t make sense to serve a global audience, Miller explains. It’s “the growth of Pokémon” that’s made it “more attractive… to support the international markets”. In 2023, as well as setting up grading facilities in Japan, PSA opened submission centers in Halifax, Canada as well as Shanghai, China. In 2019, it appears, this simply wouldn’t have been on the cards.

One of the challenges in making PSA into a more international business is ensuring consistency across the different grading operations. Ryan Miller says there were “some nerves” about this at first, but that the Japan, New Jersey, and California offices are all “within a percentage point of each other” when it comes to applying grading scores.

He attributes this to a “rigorous training” regime, whereby the first Japanese graders had to spend six months in the US, learning how PSA evaluates cards. “We sent one of our lead Pokémon graders from Santa Ana, actually to Tokyo to lead the grading room there,” he adds.

Miller says seeing the success of the new Japanese operation is one of his proudest moments at the company. “We have this hypothesis that if we build it, they will come – that expression,” he says. But he finds seeing new customers come in, seeing people “who were previously hesitant to submit to PSA” warm to the system now obstacles like overseas shipping have been removed “really exciting”.

However, there are still challenges in taking card grading overseas. The main one is the lack of precedent. “Whereas the US has had decades of experience with card grading, we’re at the very beginning stages in a lot of international markets,” Ryan Miller says.

Miller sees PSA as one part of a wider ecosystem that’s needed to make card collecting successful in a market. As well as authenticators you can trust, there needs to be manufacturers to ensure a steady supply of quality cards, and trusted marketplaces where you can sell your cards.

“We’ll continue to play our role, but also work with other industry partners to create an ecosystem that allows the card market to flourish,” he explains.

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