There have been card shows in school gyms and cafeterias. They’ve long been a staple at hotels, convention centers, shopping malls and VFW halls. Church basements? Sure, why not.
One or two have even been held on boats.
If you were in Peoria, IL last weekend, you could have added inflatable dome to the list.
The first ever Draft Card Show at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex had collectors walking around on synthetic turf as they browsed for cards of players who’ve probably played on a similar surface.
The spacious venue was a collaboration between first time promoter Josh Brienen of nearby Pekin, IL and management at the seven-year-old sports complex that is the only Louisville Slugger branded facility outside of Kentucky.
“Obviously you can see there’s a lot of potential here when it comes to the room I have and everyone that’s come so far, they walk in and they’re like, ‘wow’,” Brienen said as the show opened on Friday afternoon. “The facility is just world class. Everything is just amazing.”
The complex includes acres of baseball and softball fields, including a stadium that seats 1,300 fans, but the 125,000-square-foot inflatable dome is the centerpiece, with enough room to hold dozens of dealer tables.
“That’s part of the reason this facility exists,” said Jack Friedrich, Director of Digital Marketing and Communications for the complex. “Not only for travel sports but regular conventions in general So this card show in particular is a great niche for the Louisville Slugger brand.”
There is plenty of room to grow.
You could have grabbed a bat and taken infield practice between the rows of tables, which included a mix of dealers specializing in both vintage and modern cards, autographs and memorabilia. There were 45 dealers occupying 130 tables. Brienen kept dealer costs down for the inaugural event–just $150 for the weekend.
“It’s a very cool venue,” said John Taylor from nearby Washington, IL, who was there to sell off some of his older cards. “I love all the space. You go to some shows where you’re packed in tight but this is nice to be able to move around and have plenty of room. The facilities are great. It’s easy to get to, you don’t have to fight over parking.”
The three-day event smack dab in the middle of Cardinals and Cubs country drew dealers from Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin in addition to those who were within a couple of hours of Peoria. Those who drove the furthest said they were just looking to try something different in a market where they’d never been.
“My vendors have been amazing to work with,” said Brienen. “In reality, it’s a risk for them. A brand new, multi-day show. There are a lot of expenses when you do something like that so I’m extremely thankful that they were like ‘hey, let’s try it and see what happens’.”
The amenities were different than your local show. The turf certainly made for fewer cases of sore feet and there’s even a small restaurant located off the lobby of the dome. The walls just inside the front doors are adorned with images and artwork of some of the big league names past and present who’ve used Louisville Slugger bats.
For Brienen, who has a background in marketing and events and had gotten back into collecting after several years away, putting a show in a different kind of setting, with some corporate support seemed like fun.
“To me it was a no brainer and when I talked with them,” Brienen said. “Think about how many Louisville Slugger bats are on baseball cards and they were like ‘oh, that’s interesting’. The partnership between the name, the facility and this industry was a match made in heaven to me.” It didn’t hurt that Brienen and Friedrich were already acquaintances. It took over a year to put the show together from start to finish.
Brienen didn’t have any strong connections who could guide him through the process of promoting a show, but did eventually lean on Brad Beeman, promoter of the popular Shipshewana, IN one-day shows. “He has been an amazing help to me,” Brienen said.
Getting collectors to learn about the show and actually come can be the toughest part of any promoter’s job. There are never enough customers but Bienen hopes that once word spreads, the show can become an annual event.
“We’ve got a really good contingent of local vendors who said they’d like to come back year after year and make this kind of a central event in the years to come and draw those people from Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis and really grow it,” Friedrich told SC Daily.
There will certainly be no confusing it for another show.
“My daughter used to play college softball so I’ve been to a lot of events in places like this but never for a card show,” Taylor said.
“This is definitely unique.”