What Does RPA Mean In Sports Cards?

When you first start collecting sports cards, it might be difficult to learn all of the different terminologies.

“What does RPA signify when it comes to sports cards?” or “What is an RPA Card?” are both typical questions among newbie collectors. Fortunately, the answer to these questions is not that difficult.

What Does RPA Mean In Sports Cards

Definition Of RPA

RPA is a commonly used term amongst sports card aficionados! That’s because they’re one of the most prestigious kinds of cards. So, what exactly are RPA cards?

RPA is an acronym for Rookie Patch Auto. This is a more common phrase in basketball and football card collections, and it refers to a rookie card with both a patch and an autograph.

This means you are not getting a simple card with an autograph, but one that comes with a part of a baseball jersey on it. These cards frequently have a serial number on them too.

But what is it that makes them so desirable? Are all RPAs the same? Keep on reading below so you can make an informed decision when purchasing your next (or first) RPA card.

The Death Of Base

Nowadays, “base is dead” seems to be heard on repeat.

To keep pace with the ever-increasing demand, numerous products are printed non-stop. What is more, some collectors regard certain parallel cards (the colored, rarer duplicates of the basic cards) as “dead.”

Several manufacturers tend to print cards in all colors of the rainbow, a decision that some collectors appreciate, but one that others actively disapprove of by pursuing the rarest or most recognized varieties, such as the silver cards.

Although many believe there is still room for lower-end enthusiasts to pursue basic rookies, it has been noticed that more and more collectors and flippers are gravitating towards the rarest rookies on the market.

If that is truly the case, then what could be rarer than an RPA card that has not only an autograph, but also a jersey patch, and a serial number on it?

What Factors Influence The Value Of An RPA Card?

Serial Number

Many collectors find cards with a serial number extremely appealing, even if the print run is large and it is a nobody’s card. The reason why they are so appealing is that you know just how rare they are.

As you can imagine, owning a card that is one out of ten is going to be worth way more than having one that is one out of a thousand cards.

The first and last prints in the run are also popular with collectors, while the jersey numbers—particularly famous jersey numbers—are typically the most expensive.

To give you an example, a Miguel Cabrera card with the number 24/100 will be much more valuable (and sell for more money) than any other card in that collection.

On-Card Signature

Today, athletes sign an immense number of cards and it is simpler for Panini or whoever sells the cards to supply the player with sheets of stickers that can be autographed.

By doing so, the manufacturer may store the cards for a long time should they desire to do so, and the player is free from any further issues like having to deal with endless bundles of cards that must come and go (and be signed) now and then.

While this sounds like a win-win scenario, the collectors are not part of this equation and are certainly not winners too. With this method, the cards simply don’t appear as good.

They look less clean, they are not as sleek, and they also feel somewhat busier. That is one of the reasons why many people only collect autographs that are on cards rather than stickers.

Patches Worn At Games

When you buy a Rookie Patch Auto card, you might get it delivered with an enclosed message in the box saying that there is no specific person, game, or event affiliated with the included legally licensed card.

This practically means that the patch in the card could be, what we call, a “napkin” patch, i.e. nothing more than a napkin.

What Does RPA Mean In Sports Cards

Nevertheless, since even the supposedly “player-worn” merchandise might not have been worn by the players, the best thing to do is to avoid sellers and statements that are trying to sell you things that are “not associated with” places and faces.

Colorful Patch

Time to talk about the patch itself!

Collectors naturally enjoy rad patches, so the multi-colored ones are always the most favored!

Patch cards with a single color on them don’t truly interest most collectors. Furthermore, the rarity of the rainbow patches raises their worth.

Graphics, Designs, Laundry Tag & Logos

Adding cool graphics and design on the patches makes them even greater. Now, imagine getting that Miguel Cabrera RPA with the team’s logo on his patch.

The laundry tag comes next.

Cards that come with a laundry tag are uncommon since there is a limited supply, but you might also be one of those who simply do not find them interesting or simply don’t think they’d look good on your collection display.

Last but not least, the logos or shield cards are the best of the best, selling for millions of dollars in most cases. Therefore, if you are a newbie, it’s best to leave those for later!

Authentic RPA

This phrase might not sit well with some, but high-end collectors need to use it.

Back in the day, there was only a single set of RPAs per player every year, and they were designated with the number /99, in luxury brands like National Treasures.

Nowadays, these businesses offer more RPAs in addition to the /99 collection. These are valued far lower and aren’t thought of as the player’s real RPA.

Pick the ones you can afford for yourself. Even though a real RPA is certainly preferable, that does not mean that the other RPA cards are useless. Regardless of their price and number, they are still rookie patch auto cards.


If you’re now in the collecting game, getting an RPA is a great first step. They certainly have that extra uniqueness to them, whether they are “authentic” or not. Just make sure you don’t fall victim to any fraudulent sellers!

Bruno Breen

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