Thinking of running your own sports card show? Here are some things for promoters to ponder.
Fifteen years ago, you could find a sports card show in just about any city of 20,000 or more on just about any weekend.
Some cities have no show at all anymore. Others have only the occasional event at the mall. It’s not all bad. Many smaller shows were an embarrassment and a ‘thinning of the herd’ was needed. Now, though, some collectors find they have to drive 2-3 hours or more to find even a small show to attend.
If you’re ready to step up to the plate and become a show promoter, there’s no need to start with big plans. Holding a sports card show isn’t difficult if you’re willing to start small, but to generate enough attendance to make it worthwhile and some momentum for your next one, you’ll have to work at it.
Your first order of business will be to reach out to dealers within a 40 or 50-mile radius, asking if they’ll commit to your show. If you don’t have a list of names, post on internet message boards or do online searches for collectors and dealers in your area who might know of some candidates. You might have to utilize a local newspaper ad to find dealers or serious collectors with enough inventory.
Once you have some interest, you’ll obviously need a place to hold the show. Many local hotels have conference or banquet rooms available to rent. VFW or Legion halls are sometimes available. It’s where the card show really started a few decades ago. Small venues, available cheap—sometimes even free of charge if you’re willing to ask around or have a connection.
Select a place that’s reasonably easy to find with plenty of parking. If you can’t find a free location, ask about the cost of renting the room and decide how big it needs to be. The size of the room will depend in part on the number of tables you’ll be setting up. Hopefully you’ve found at least six or seven dealers or collectors willing to spring for a table. Holding a show with only two or three dealers won’t leave a great impression with attendees unless those sellers have a huge selection of material. Make sure you have a mix of specialists among your vendors—some who offer newer cards, others with vintage and maybe some who sell unopened material.
It’s best to start with a one-day show at first. Your costs will be lower and the commitment not as great.
Along with the room rental, you’ll need to decide how much advertising to do. You’ll want to have a display ad running in your local newspaper at least a couple of days before the show—preferably more than once. You’ll probably spend a little on other promotional materials and at that point, you’ll have an idea of your costs and can probably tell your potential table holders what you’ll be charging them to set up. It’s OK to make a profit, but a first-time venture won’t likely produce many who are willing to fork over $100 or more. Try to keep the cost reasonable and you should be fine. Even if the show is a bust and the dealers don’t sell much, they won’t feel ripped off. It’s entirely possible your first show will lose a little money.
Once you have selected a date, start working on flyers for the show and promotional announcements you can send out to local media. The smaller the community, the more likely they’ll read your public service announcement on the air or publish it in the paper. Find out whom to send it to. Don’t just drop it in the mail and hope. A ‘community calendar’ coordinator or other such feature is the place it should go, unless you’re willing to buy airtime for an ad. If your local radio station has an interview segment, you might try to see if they’ll talk to you. It’s great publicity. Put up flyers at local grocery stores and ask if your local schools will allow you to post one. Talk it up on internet message boards. Your local Chamber of Commerce and visitor’s bureau might also want to know it’s going on so they can post it in their newsletter, email blast or ‘coming events’ promotion.
If you’re holding the show at a location that has a marquee, such as a hotel, ask if they’ll put your event on it in the days leading up to the show—and while your show is taking place. Also make sure the location manager knows how you want your tables set up in the room, unless you’re willing to do it yourself a couple of hours before you open.
Don’t charge admission. Not until you’re big enough to make it worth someone’s while to pay to get in. Offer free wax packs and door prizes. You might even consider a live auction later in the day if you think the show will be a hit based on the interest leading up to it. Such things will set your show apart from those that may have been held in the community years before—and failed.
You might also consider aligning with a charity. This, too, will help attract media attention rather than a strictly for-profit venture. Turn over some of your proceeds to them with no strings attached. Put a ‘fishbowl’ at the front of the room or ask for a dollar donation at the door. If you’re lucky enough to be able to entice an autograph guest who may not be well known but is willing to come for little or no cost, you can charge a few dollars for the autographs and donate the money.
Make sure once the show is over, you’ve settled your account with the show host and clean up after yourself. If the show worked, they might be glad to establish a relationship with you for future events.
The night after the show, sit down and make a list of what you did right and what you did wrong. Jot down some ideas that you will want to implement next time. Then grab a good night’s rest. You’ve created something from nothing—and done your part to promote the hobby.