When it comes to getting their hands on boxes of the latest sports cards, today's collectors have plenty of options. Among those options are what are known as hobby boxes, and it's important for people who collect sports cards to understand how they are different from retail boxes.
Buying on the internet from stores or auction sites has never been easier, and many areas still have dealers or card shows within driving distance. Even large retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart carry cards.
The retailers' boxes are usually sold at common price points like $19.99 and $29.99 and tout the fact that they have a free bonus pack or cards inside. Except for small markings on the packs and boxes that clearly label them as "retail," they appear to be the exact same products for sale at card stores.
But the differences between hobby boxes and retail boxes are more than cosmetic. Many of the cards found inside retail packs and their hobby counterparts are indeed the same, but there are others that are specific to each type. Understanding these differences is crucial to collectors looking to make an informed purchase.
Common base cards are generally identical when a sports card set has both retail and hobby versions. That makes the primary distinction between the two the rate at which some insert cards - especially memorabilia cards and autographs - are found in packs. Many insert cards are much harder to pull in retail boxes, and in some cases they aren't included at all.
One of the first basketball releases of 2006, Press Pass Basketball, is an excellent illustration of this dichotomy. In its hobby version, collectors could find an autographed card in every six packs on average and one jersey card in every 30 packs. Contrast that with the retail version's ratio of 1:56 for autographs and 1:280 for jerseys and it's easy to see that inserts can be many times more scarce in some retail boxes.
In addition, rookie cards, which by definition are not insert cards, can be more difficult to find in retail editions of some products as well. For example 2005 Ultra football had rookies that could be found at ratios of 1:4 hobby packs and 1:5 retail boxes. Other sets have had even more profound differences, such as numbered rookies in hobby boxes and unnumbered rookies in retail boxes.