It doesn't seem possible but the bulk of this story was originally written several years ago, just prior to the 2008 show in Chicago. "The National" is back for another go-round starting Wednesday at the I-X Center so we thought we'd post it again and add a few more hints to help you get the most out of the industry's biggest show. It's been around for going on since 1980, when a group of dealers and collectors created the concept and held the first one at the Los Angeles International Airport Marriott. If you've never been to one or if it's been awhile, here's some advice for attending the National Sports Collectors Convention.
Tips for having a fun (and productive) time:
The National can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. If your show-going experiences are limited to local events--even some of the larger ones--it can short-circuit your reasoning capabilities rather quickly.
- Get there at least 45 minutes before the doors open if you don't buy a VIP pass. There might be a big line and even though it'll move quickly, it's nice to get inside before the big crowds move in.
- Wear comfortable clothes with pockets and invest in a good, comfortable pair of shoes. The floor is not forgiving. Chances are you'll be doing a lot of walking and be so engrossed in the show you won't notice your feet start to ache. Bend over enough tables and your lower back will scream. Ask for a chair if you're going to be spending some time at any one particular table. Hopefully the dealer has a couple of extra.
- Bring a large canvas gym bag or rolling suitcase type cart. If you're coming to buy or have items to sell, you'll have a better time if you're organized and not throwing your stuff in a cheap paper bag. It can also hold a few snacks so you don't have to pay the hefty prices at the snack bar.
- Have a strategy in mind and do not expect to see everything. Determine your goals. Grabbing a program is a good idea. It'll have a list of dealers and, hopefully, their locations on the floor by booth number. Prioritize what you want to accomplish. If might allow you to have some time just to look around at the end of your visit.
- Don't spend all of your money at once. You may come with some objectives and a want list but you'll see something that says "buy me!" almost immediately and you'll be tempted. Allow for one or two impulse buys but stay the course and you'll be happier when it's time to go home.
- If you're coming with items to sell or consign, take care of that first. You don't want to be walking the show floor all day, carrying a big bag around. Besides, if you want cash to spend at the show, you'll feel better about spending it if you actually have it in hand. Keep in mind, too, that some dealers want fresh inventory early in the show. For most, it will be their biggest sales weekend of the year and they'll be anxious to turn a profit on what you sell them.
Don't bring junk, hoping to sell it. Dealers don't want stuff they can buy in bulk. Don't bring low grade vintage unless you've got Babe Ruths, Mickey Mantles or something printed prior to 1953. You can ask to trade but dealers are there to sell. If they can gain an advantage by trading with you and acquire something they can move, it's possible but don't hold your breath or get nasty about it.
- If buying cards or other memorabilia is your priority and you're not sure which dealer might have what you need, take a couple of aisles and scout out the inventory. It's OK to tell dealers what you're after and if they can't help you, a good one will point you in the right direction.
- If you see something at one table and aren't ready to buy, write the table number down so you don't forget where you saw it. Trust me on this one.
- If you're going for autographs, get in line early. We've seen some massive lines at the National--even at $200-250 a pop--and many folks are carrying a half-dozen items. You don't want to waste your entire day standing in line waiting for your eight second visit with Randy Johnson.
- Try to stay awhile--preferably at least a full day. It's hard to accomplish a lot at the National if all you have is a lunch hour or two. Parking, buying your ticket and walking around takes up time. There will be millions of cards at this show. You don't have to see all of them, but if your goal is to fill want lists, do a little investing and bargain hunt all at the same time, you're going to need at least one full day to see even 200 of the 700+ booths. Three days might get you around to see everyone and allow you to bargain hunt.
- Go on Thursday. Wednesday if you possibly can invest in the Sneak Peak ticket. There will be a lot of dealer to dealer sales on Wednesday --and even before as dealer set-up takes place. If you're after bargains, especially in high grade, vintage material, there will be some there later in the week, but you'll have your best shot at getting something good if you can beat the crowds that will show up later.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a discount, but be smart about it. Most dealers will offer some kind of a break, but your best bet is to think in terms of quantity. Tell them exactly what you're interested in and ask what kind of price they would give you if you bought those items. Smart dealers will post their discounts in black and white. Unless you're spending a few hundred dollars, don't try to talk those folks down any further than what they've posted. It makes you look cheap.
- Just look. Maybe you can't afford that T206 Eddie Plank or the 1910 catcher's mitt. But have you ever seen one before--in person? Enjoy all of the really cool pieces of history, many of which will be on display at the auction house booths. Grab their catalogs too. You'll need some reading material for the trip home.
- If you bring a want list, consider putting it on a tablet or smart phone via one of the many apps that are out there. You're less likely to lose it. It'll always be there for you, even if you go to another show later in the summer, and you won't take up as much room when going through dealer boxes or binders. They appreciate that and so do the other customers standing next to you trying to get into the same box.
- If you do bring a rolling cart or bag, stick a small box or two in there to hold single cards along with some top-holders. Some dealers won't have their cards in them when you buy and you don't want them sliding around all day.
- Cash is king but bring a credit card. Many dealers will accept them and if you do make a large purchase, it's better to put it on the card (assuming you know you can pay it off quickly) and save your cash for dealers who don't accept plastic.
- Bring a kid--at least for one day. You think you're overwhelmed? Watching kids try to process all of the sights, sounds and free card opportunities is a hoot. They will drive you nuts trying to see everything...but it'll be the most fun you'll have at the show. If you don't have kids, just watch and listen for awhile--and be glad the next generation still cares about this stuff.
Want more? Here's another article we posted in 2010.