What Is A Sports Card Insert And Do They Hold Value?

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An insert sports card is a card from a subset within a main set release.

Every sports card set that’s released will have a regular numbering system; Inserts are extra cards that are not part of that numbering system, and they also have a unique design and theme.

I’ve covered everything you need to know about insert cards, below.

Table of Contents

Insert Cards: A Background

The sports card hobby is an often changing landscape, and in modern times, many collectors have moved on from just the base card world, with a push towards rarity, variation and uniqueness – insert cards and low-numbered parallels are more prevalent than ever.

Insert subsets have their own separate numbering system, different from the main set that they’re in, although some insert cards might not have a number assigned to it.

They’re usually found a lot less frequently in packs than base cards.

They’re essentially randomly inserted into a set’s packs at a specific ratio that changes depending on the product; So for example, if a set specifies a 1:20 ratio, that means on average 1 of every 20 packs will contain a card from the insert subset.

So let’s say you go and get yourself a Panini Prizm football hobby box, and you open one of the 12 card packs inside the box, which happens to contain an insert; You’d have 11 cards from the base set Prizm checklist (of say 400 cards for example) and then 1 insert card from a separate list of a 10 card Prizm subset.

Is An Insert Card Different From A Parallel?

Yes, an insert card and parallel card are two different things.

As I’ve covered just now, an insert is part of a separate subset, within a set, with its own numbering system and unique design and theme.

Whereas a parallel is like a rarer variation or alternative of a base card from the main set itself, with a very similar design, but with some slight differences, like a colored foil detail, for example.

A parallel will be assigned the same number from the set as its base card (but not referred to as a base card).

Although numbered parallels (which have a limited and set print run) will also include their serial number. So if a parallel is limited to 15 copies, and you have the 4th, the card will include the base number from the set (same as the base card), and the ‘4/15’ serial number.

It’s worth noting that many inserts have their own set of parallels, which is an alternative to the standard insert design.

Let’s take a look at the example below from the 2020 Panini Absolute Football set:

Patrick Mahomes Panini Absolute 2020 Cards

On the left of the 3 cards, you’ve got the base Patrick Mahomes card, which is #1 in the set.

In the middle, you’ve got a green parallel of that base card, which is also #1 from the main set.

On the right, you’ve got the Patrick Mahomes Kaboom insert subset card, which is #KPM, and separate from the main set – It’s one of the 50 different Kaboom cards in the subset. The Kaboom insert cards were inserted at a rate of 1 per case in 2020 Absolute.

Are Insert Cards Valuable?

Like anything to do with the value of a sports card, the value of an insert depends on multiple factors.

Some inserts are worth huge amounts of money, and some are not worth much at all.

The factors that contribute to an insert’s value include the product (and its popularity), the rarity of the insert, the player that’s featured, and obviously, as always, the condition of the card.

Many inserts from the 90s and 00s can be worth a good amount, again depending on which player is featured.

Some of the more popular modern insert lines, like Panini Kaboom, which is featured across many different sports, like football, basketball, baseball and soccer, are not only very popular, but usually also very rare – So Kaboom inserts that feature the hottest new rookies, or the legends of the sport (think Brady, Jordan, Ronaldo etc.), are usually worth mega-money.

Another example of a popular and valuable insert subset is Panini Downtown, which are some of the most sought-after football cards.

Are Inserts Rare?

The rarity of an insert sports card depends on the ratio they’re inserted into boxes and packs, which is specified for a particular product.

Some insert lines are much rarer than others, but it changes from set to set.

Are First-Year Inserts Considered Rookie Cards?

Technically speaking, a first year card from an insert subset is generally not considered a true rookie card.

However, it depends on your definition of a rookie card – Some collectors seek a player’s first year cards as their rookies, so could consider an insert as a rookie card.

Are Autograph And Relic Patch Cards Considered Inserts?

Yes, autograph and patch cards are typically considered insert cards.

They aren’t part of a product’s base set numbering system, and stand alone as their own subsets, which fits the definition of an insert.

In the days of sports cards before autograph and patch cards were a thing, traditional insert cards were often the main chaser in a box.

In the hobby today, collectors tend to chase the higher-value autos and patches over many of the more traditional style insert lines, but all are technically considered inserts.

Picture of Jason Clarke

Jason Clarke

Jason is a lifelong sports fanatic and a huge fan of the NBA and NFL. He's long been a collector of sports cards - For over 20 years in fact. He collects various different sports, as well as some non-sport cards. He has a particular soft spot for 90s basketball inserts. Find Jason on X (Twitter): @jason_clarke91.
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