When he started the Nashville Sports Cards and Collectibles Show four years ago, Jeff Roberts was just hoping to have some fun. A collector at heart, he missed the days when he could regularly take a relatively short drive and spend a couple of hours browsing the aisles of a good card show and talking with fellow hobbyists.
The show he and a friend started at Lighthouse Christian School in Antioch, TN in February 2013 was a modest affair: nine dealers, eighteen tables, one day, no autograph guests and a very small advertising budget. There were two gyms in the school. The smaller one was almost too big.
“I think if I was doing it for a living I would have quit,” he said.
But he kept working at it. Friends and family members helped set up a website and social media accounts. Dealers did well enough to return and collectors, it seemed, were grateful for a fresh place to buy cards.
“The first year we had a little growth; up to 25 tables per show.”
Dealers kept coming. Word of mouth advertising brought more collectors through the doors.
“The second year the show began to grow monthly until we maxed out at 55 tables in the small gym.”
An architect by trade, Roberts had designed a hit show in the shadows of the Music City.
Two shows are now held each month, year-round. Twice a year, though, the show moves to the larger gym at the school and Roberts brings in autograph guests while Beckett Grading and James Spence Authentication take submissions. Those events, held in February and September, have turned Nashville into what might be the largest one-day show in the country.
The turnout last month makes Roberts shake his head in wonder at how quickly the show blossomed. In seven hours, 862 people showed up despite some snowy weather, visiting the 120 tables manned by 65 dealers.
“If we had the room, I could have sold 170 or 180 tables,” he said.
The lines for autographs from Pro Football Hall of Famer Raymond Berry and former 30-game winner Denny McLain were long.
While the Nashville metro area area now boasts a population of more than 1.8 million people, the show has become more than just a local attraction.
“We draw both dealers and collectors from Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, Mississippi and Michigan,” Roberts revealed.
“Before the start of last year’s NFL pre-season I had a collector come inside saying that I would not believe who was coming in the show. It was Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan. He was a real nice guy that took time to have his picture made with lots of dealers and collectors.”
While the large turnouts have been gratifying, Roberts has tried to keep the show small enough that dealers can be successful and a personal touch can be maintained. He hires a member of the school’s maintenance staff to set up tables and he and some family members orchestrate the process of folding them up after the show is over. Over the last couple of years, he’s seen an increase in the number of young collectors who come with a parent.
“I have been told by many dealers and collectors that how we treat everyone, kind of like a big family, is a major reason our show has grown,” Roberts said. “We provide free pizza for the dealers and try to give kids packs or prizes at our show. Sometimes we will have a drawing for a free table for a dealer. We never charge admission. Another reason for growth is we are consistent on the weekends of our show.”
The Nashville Card Show is held on the second and last Saturday of every month. Updates and information are posted on the show’s Facebook page.
“Our 55+ table show we averages 30-35 dealers and each show sells out usually a month or more in advance. We on average have six to eight vintage dealers per show and three to four times a year we will have ten to twelve vintage dealers. At the 120 table shows we have had on average of 20-30 vintage dealers and a total of 65-70 dealers.”
The next Nashville show will be held March 25.