In the third installment of our “Data Debates” series, in which we aim to help newcomers understand the process of evaluating supply and demand and identify which cards are overvalued vs. undervalued, we venture outside of America’s “big three” sports (baseball, football, basketball) and compare the Lionel Messi 2004 Panini Mega Cracks #71 vs. the Wayne Gretzky 1979 O’Pee Chee rookie cards. Remember that this is my point of view, and you should always do your research before investing.
Lionel Messi has spent his entire 19-year career playing forward for La Liga club Barcelona as well as Argentina’s national team and is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Messi has won 6 Ballon d’Or Awards (the top individual award in soccer—the first player to win it four years in a row) and 6 European Gold Shoes (leading goal scorer).
With Barcelona, he has won a club-record 33 trophies, including 10 La Liga titles, 4 UEFA Champions League titles, and 6 Copas del Rey. He is La Liga’s all-time top scorer and record holder for most goals scored in a season. His 169-lifetime assists are #1 all-time in La Liga with #2 (Xavi) far behind, tallying 43 less.
As the Argentina national team’s captain, Messi led them to three consecutive finals (2014 FIFA World Cup, 2015 & 2016 Copas America). He is their all-time leading goal scorer and led them to an Olympic gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics. After the 2014 World Cup, Messi took home the Golden Ball – presented to the best player in the tournament.
Off the pitch, Messi is amongst the most famous athletes in the world. In 2019, Forbes magazine ranked him the world’s highest-paid athlete, and Time Magazine ranked him amongst the 100 most influential people in the world for two consecutive years (2011 & 2012). He currently has 99.6 million Facebook followers (3rd highest for any athlete), 166 million Instagram followers (also 3rd highest). According to a 2014 survey by sports research firm Repucom in 15 international markets, Messi was familiar to 87% of respondents, making him the second-most recognized athlete globally.
Wayne Gretzky (aka “The Great One”) is recognized as the greatest hockey player of all time, and there is no debating that fact.
“The Great One” is the leading scorer in NHL history, with more goals and assists than any other player. As a matter of fact, he has more assists than any other player has total points. He is the only player in history to score over 200 points in a season (and he did it FOUR times). He scored over 100 points in 16 seasons, including 14 in a row. Winner of 4 Stanley Cups as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky also made a Stanley Cup Finals appearance as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. He has an NHL record 9 Hart Trophies (MVP) and two Conn Smythe Trophies (playoff MVP),
At the time of his retirement, Gretzky held an absurd 61 NHL records, and his #99 was retired league-wide, the only player ever to receive that honor. He was immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame upon retirement, with the NHL waiving the customary waiting period in his honor.
Off the ice, Gretzky was an endorsement machine and had a litany of deals in place with global brands like Coca-Cola, Dominos Pizza, Sharp Electronics, and Upper Deck Trading Cards. He is even well known in the card collecting industry for his $451,000 purchase (and a $1.27 million sale) of the infamous “Gretzky Wagner” card.
PSA Pop Report:
Lionel Messi: PSA 10 (20) 9 (34) 8 (45) 7 (21) 6 (34) 5 (9)
Wayne Gretzky: PSA 10 (2) 9 (88) 8 (735) 7 (1060) 6 (1070) 5 (815)
BGS Pop Report:
Lionel Messi: BGS 10 (0) 9.5 (67) 9 (94) 8.5 (76) 8 (26) 7.5 (11) 7 (5)
Wayne Gretzky: BGS 10 (1) 9.5 (11) 9 (56) 8.5 (118) 8 (254) 7.5 (254) 7 (350)
Most recent PSA 10 sale: $21,500
Most recent PSA 9 sale: $12,000
Most recent PSA 8 sale: $7,200
Most recent BGS 9.5 sale: $40,401
Most recent BGS 9 sale: $14,099
Most recent PSA 10 sale (2012): $94,163
Most recent PSA 9 sale: $49,999
Most recent PSA 8 sale: $8,500
Most recent BGS 9.5 sale: $83,100
What I find most interesting in this debate is the discrepancy in prices between PSA 8s and PSA 9s when comparing the two cards.
PSA 8 auctions are closing at around the same price, despite there being so many more Gretzky PSA 8s (735) in population compared to Messi’s PSA 8’s (45). The most recent sales at this grade for Gretzky was $8500 compared to Messi’s $7200.
However, when moving up to PSA 9’s, there are more than twice as many Gretzky’s in the population (88) compared to Messi (34), yet the most recent PSA 9 Gretzky to sell at auction closed at $49,999 on 7/31/2020 compared to $12,000 on 6/3/20 for a PSA 9 Messi.
When breaking down the two athletes in terms of global collectibility and name recognition, there is not much of a comparison. Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time, and this is no slight to him. Still, as we pointed out earlier, Messi is the #3 athlete on the planet in terms of name recognition, and he has a much lower population of PSA 9 cards in the market compared to Gretzky. The number of hockey fans pales in comparison to the number of soccer fans globally. While card collecting has mostly been dominant in the United States, which is where Gretzky played, the rise of soccer in the US could create a spike in the value of soccer cards in the coming years.
The fact that PSA 8 Gretzky cards are selling for slightly more than Messi’s despite a population over 16x the size makes very little sense, so PSA 8’s Messi would seem to make a fantastic investment. However, the real chase here would be getting your hands on a PSA 9 Messi, as there are less than half as many of them in the population than the Gretzkys and are selling at less than 1/4 the price.
If I’m investing in one of these cards, the choice would seem to be an obvious one. Give me Messi in a landslide. Now you may be thinking, “what about the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate?”. That’s for an entirely different day!