What is the Difference Between Hobby Packs and Retail Packs?

Whether you are new to collecting sports cards or you are a veteran collector, you may—and probably already have—come across terms including hobby pack, hobby box, hobby exclusive, retail packs, and retail boxes. But, what does it all mean?


indians_insert_cardHere at Sports’N’More we typically only carry only hobby packs of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, racing, and other cards. That is because we are a hobby store—that is to say that our store is dedicated to collecting and a lot of the things we do are done specifically with the collector in mind.


Retail sports cards are often available at the bigger stores like Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, and even some smaller retail stores and book stores such as Barnes & Noble. You might see these retail packs and boxes behind the counter, in a glass case kept under lock and key, or wildly strewn across pegs and shelf.


Many people are drawn to these retail products because they are readily available and the price is less than the cards at the local hobby card shop. However, even though the packs and boxes of cards might look similar, they are often very different.


Key Differences Between Hobby & Retail Sports Cards:

  • Price
  • Insert Ratio
  • Cards per Pack
  • Packs per Box


Retail cards are mass produced. They are made on the same stock and use the same ink as hobby cards. They are less expensive than cards found at a hobby shop, but there is a reason for it. Every year, companies such as Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer, and Panini sign contracts with major organizations including the NFL, NBA, and NHL. Players get a certain amount per card printed of them.


So, better cards and hot rookies actually cost more to make than other cards. That means that some very careful math is done by the card company as to insert ratios, size of the card set, print runs, etc. So, if you find a less expensive pack of cards—especially if it’s a new set of sports cards—that means that the cost to get those cards was less for the retailer. Simply put, they can charge you less because they were charged less. In many cases, especially with larger retailers, those cards are actually on a sort of consignment. The retailer didn’t put any money out to get them onto the shelves. Instead, the cards are put on their shelves by the card company and and the risk is assumed by Topps, Fleer, Panini, etc. So, how much risk the card manufacturer is willing to assume must also be calculated in when they are deciding what to put onto the shelves or retailers.


With hobby sports cards, the cards are bought up front. They are ordered several months in advance. Right now, I’m looking at next year’s Topps Baseball. Orders are due by mid-November 2013. However, the Topps Baseball cards don’t come out until May 2014. That means as a hobby store, I have to have a good idea of how many boxes of card we’ll need for our customers and be prepared to pay upfront for those cards. It can be a bit of a gamble and it is why Sports’N’More offers customers the opportunity to pre-order sports cards. If the customer wants to make sure they get the product ahead of time, we’ll do everything possible to get it into their hands. If the customer waits until the cards are sitting on the shelf, it is a first come, first serve basis.


Now, hobby baseball cards and other hobby sports cards are more expensive than the retail version. There is a reason for that. Remember, before I mentioned how cards from different players cost different amounts? It is also true that the process used to make var


ious insert cards including memorabilia cards, prism cards, holographs, foils, etc. cost more to make. So, you might have a 1 in 4 chance of getting an autograph card in a hobby pack. Meanwhile, in a retail pack, for that same set and same autograph card, it might end up being more like 1 in 12. It’ll be three times hard to get that chase card in a retail pack. And, that’s just one example.

Hobby cards often have a symbol or text on the packs and boxes to signify that they are hobby cards. Look for that. It’s important.


A card set might be 250 cards, but only the first 200 are available in the retail set. Or, maybe that last 50 cards is excruciatingly hard to get via retail packs, but not more difficult to assemble than the base set with hobby packs. Hobby packs and boxes might have special insert cards that are simply not available in the retail packs and boxes. If you like the laser cut, memorabilia cards, and other nifty inserts available, your best bet is to go with the hobby packs of a set. Hobby cards usually have more cards per pack as well. A retail pack might have 9 cards in it while a hobby pack might have 12 or 13. You might see special deals on retail only boxes where you can get 13 packs for the cost of 12, but those still retail packs. Also, you can usually only find open retail boxes. You can’t buy a sealed box. With hobby boxes, they come sealed, you often have the option to order them that way (especially if you pre-order), and it is common to get an oversized card or some other special card loose in the sealed box of hobby cards.


Review of Benefits of Hobby Cards:

  • Better Insert Ratios
  • Possibly Has Base Cards Retail Does Not
  • Possibly Insert Cards Retail Doesn’t Have
  • Usually More Cards per Pack
  • Can Buy Sealed Boxes


If you want to have a look at some hobby packs or boxes, see what is coming out and what is already out, stop of by the store at 7349 Lakeshore Blvd. Mentor, OH 44060. If you’re trying to complete a set or looking for hard to find chase, insert, or rookie cards, there is a good chance we can help as well. We have an extensive selection of singles and we’d be happy to help you complete or further your collection.


Contact Us or Call Us Today (440) 257-8944.

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