Footy cards have been around for over 100 years, but today, collecting them is more popular than ever! The latest releases sell out almost immediately, and limited edition inserts fetch hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars straight of the pack!

It can make things a bit disheartening for the average collector, who wants to acquire cards of their favourite players, with the potential for it to increase in value, but without shelling out their entire life savings! Enter rookie cards.

A rookie card was originally an American term, referring to the sports card of a player that came out when they got drafted as a rookie in their chosen professional sport. But not every player gets a card in their first season, and some players “rookie card” doesn’t exist until several years into their career. But that FIRST card is considered their rookie card, and attracts a premium, especially when that player goes on to have a stellar career!

Note, a rookie card is considered the first release from a mainstream company. So if your local bank puts out a bunch of cards of a first year player, this technically isn’t their rookie card. Likewise, it must be part of the common set, not an insert or subset. Ironically, this means the Select “Rookie Card” cards aren’t actually considered rookie cards. That being said, they are still a popular and collectable limited edition card, which offer an excellent investment.

a rookie card is considered the first release from a mainstream company

In an era where lots of people focus on just the insert sets, rookie cards are a great opportunity to pick up potentially valuable cards at very cheap prices. Once a box of cards is opened and the inserts placed in penny sleeves and top loaders, the common cards pile up as a waste of space that the owner wants to get rid of. Frequently you will see common cards on sale for $1 on eBay or other online auction sites, and many times this will include rookie cards!

Richmond star Dustin Martin first appeared in the 2010 Select Prestige set. If you want to buy his Draft Pick Signature insert it will set you back over $400. Even his Rookie insert will leave you $100 lighter in the wallet. But his actual rookie card, the common release, can still occasionally be picked up for $1 or $2. It is already being valued at around 10 times that amount!

Likewise, the rookie card Gary Ablett Jr appears in the 2003 Select XL release. As recently as last year you could find it on eBay for a dollar. Now we are seeing it sell for $30-$40 as people start to realise this first card of one of the all time greats is actually quite a prize!

What are some of the best rookie cards of the 21st century?

  • 2000 Select Millenium Adam Goodes
  • 2001 Select Authentic Jonathon Brown
  • 2002 Select Exclusive Nick Riewoldt
  • 2003 Select XL Gary Ablett, Chris Judd & Luke Hodge
  • 2004 Select Ovation Dane Swan & Dean Cox
  • 2004 Select Conquest Sam Mitchell & Nick Dal Santo
  • 2005 Select Dynasty Eddie Betts
  • 2006 Select Champions Lance Franklin & Brett Deledio
  • 2006 Select Supreme Marc Murphy, Jobe Watson & Dale Thomas
  • 2007 Select Champions Scott Pendlebury & Joel Selwood
  • 2008 Select Classic Tom Hawkins & Cyril Rioli
  • 2009 Select Champions Jack Riewoldt
  • 2009 Select Pinnacle Patrick Dangerfield
  • 2010 Select Prestige Dustin Martin
  • 2011 Select Infinity Nathan Fyfe
  • 2014 Select Champions Tom Mitchell & Joe Danier
  • 2015 Select Champions Marcus Bontempelli & Lachie Neale
  • 2015 Select Honours Patrick Cripps
  • 2017 Select Footy Stars Daniel Rioli
  • 2018 Select Legacy Aaron Naughton

Older common cards already hold considerable value. This is because there were no inserts back in the day, and also these older cards are more scarce. But now rookie cards from that era are attracting an even higher premium. The 1973 Leigh Matthews card attracts a price of $50-$80 these days and a 1968 Royce Hart card goes for around the same. Get one in near mint condition and you’re looking at double that.

Fast forward to today. There are plenty of opportunities in today’s market to acquire the latest stars rookie cards at low prices. While everyone is scrambling to get a Bailey Smith On The Rise card from the 2020 Select Prestige set for $20 or more, his “rookie card” from the 2020 Select Footy Stars set is sitting on sale for $1. While it makes sense the insert card is worth more since it is limited to only 350 cards, the potential growth of the rookie card is much higher.

If you love collecting but you don’t want to spend too much while still having the chance of your cards turning into a valuable investment, the rookie card option is a great one. Make a list of the top 50 players of the last 20 years, do your research and find out which year and set their rookie card is from, and see how many you can collect.

You’ll be surprised how many you can pick up for just a few dollars!

Good luck and don’t flick your cards (I miss the 80s).