The National Sports Collectors Convention won't open until a week from now in Cleveland, but the show's Co-Founder and Director, Mike Berkus, is already there. With the industry's largest event on the way, there are still numerous logistics to work through each year, even though the International Exposition Center is a familiar host.
In the first of a two-art Q&A session with Sports Collectors Daily, Berkus talked strong early sales, the new case breakers pavilion and other topics.
Today, he answers our questions about the pre-show buzz, the dealers who will be investing a lot of time and money hoping to have a successful week, changes in how the show is promoted compared to those first two decades and something he's hoping to pull off next year.
MB: Yeah, might have something to do with LeBron and Johnny. What a windfall for this year’s National, the luck that 2014 would have these two players find a home in Cleveland. We have changed our theme to “Come Celebrate Cleveland Sports” in our 2000 radio & TV spots, our ads, and the huge amount of interviews requested. It’s great.
The heart of the show, though, it seems, are still the dealers. Many of them invest thousands of dollars to come and set up. How do you make sure they stand a good chance to make it worth their while? Are you sold out of dealer space and how many booths have been sold?
MB: We sell out every year and we are sold out this year. We have a governor of 500 exhibitor booths. This is by a vote of the National Board of Directors. We were over 700 booths but it’s fine with John and I, to let demand increase.
As for the respect that we have always felt for our national dealers, it is the dealers that started the show and you are the heart of the show. There is no question that my team will always value you. I know that many comic book dealers have complained that the San Diego Comic Con has turned it’s back on comic dealers in favor of their immense growth and Hollywood sponsorships. This will never happen under our watch, we will forgo growth if it means closing out space for our show dealers or relocating them in some distant area of the convention. Not going to happen, period.
We have had many offers that might have put us in a compromise with our base show dealers, none have ever been accepted as a possibility. If it seems that we market another segment of the show strongly, it’s because I want balance for the attendee. I picture the National as a huge, fun amusement park. I don’t question which ride is the most popular, I just want each person who attends the show, to enjoy their favorite ride. I know that each group can complain that autographs take money away from show dealers, the corporate pavilion gets too much attention, etc. The truth is, each part of our National makes up this huge amusement park and if we start removing one ride after another, second guessing which one was more popular, we wind up with an amusement park that has one ride (which wouldn't be much of a fun place).
As for advertising, we know that other events rely on emails and texting to existing collectors. This is not our style. We work with pro ball teams in every city, make huge buys in print, radio, TV, and internet. Huge efforts to connect with any group that will help fill the room. My biggest fear is that we failed in getting to the local and hobby markets. It keeps me up at night.
It’s a huge show and the most dedicated collectors usually find a way to get there but there have been complaints that the show schedule now rotates between just a few cities and runs the risk of not attracting the collector who makes it part of a family vacation—sort of a ‘been there-done that’ kind of issue. Are you concerned about that at all?
MB: Yes, we research every major city in the country for exhibit space. We need a large exhibit area on one floor (350,000 sq ft min), will reserve for at least 3 years out, and will not kill us with union regulations that are prohibitive to our exhibitors. We are not wanted by Anaheim, San Diego, Boston, St. Louis, New York, and San Francisco. All have been contacted, this past year. They want 10,000 room nights. We have 5000. They want decorator packages that would run each dealer $2000 each. They want taxes for five different reasons, and everyone of those listed above, would only honor a 24 month advance reservations. This does not work for anyone.
We need 3 years to make hotel room blocks, we are not paying $2000 per dealer, and we do not have 10,000 room nights that are requested. That is the simple answer. Once we got to the size we are today (1991), we became limited to locations. It’s a tough challenge every year but we continue to contact all major sites.
How has promoting the show changed over the years, especially now with print media having become more of a second tier player?
MB: Very challenging, it was push button to run 14 days of ½ page ads and hit the bars. No brainers. Now, we spend 6 months locating every alternate opportunity of exposure. It make it tough to tell our story, so we push everyone to the website. Any ideas, would be well received. HELP.
Any special plans in the works for the near future?
MB: I do wish we did something special. I just can’t figure out what. I know that a number of our exhibitors have grown to “after dark” events. That is great. My pet project for next year is “The National After Dark”. I want to formalize it like a Mardi Gras. That would be fun for everyone.