Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, when the internet was barely a gleam in the eyes of computer scientists, most sports collecting business was done through the pages of ads in printed publications and a newly blossoming market for “baseball card shows.” That’s what they were called then, although some were labeled “conventions,” which sounded a little more important.
The card shop marketed expanded, contracted and then in the mid to late-90s, the internet began spreading its world wide web over our buying, selling and trading habits. Card shows, many of them anyway, struggled.
Absence, it’s said, makes the heart grow fonder. The show market seems to be stronger than it has been in a long time. Many collectors prefer them to buying and selling online or at least have a secondary option—one that involves some human interaction.
Over the weekend, I drove to Tennessee for the bi-annual Nashville Sports Card and Collectibles Show. This event grew out of a twice monthly event that launched just four years ago. In that short time, they’ve drawn thousands of collectors in a part of the country that wouldn’t come immediately to mind as a “hotbed” of collecting. The show is growing so rapidly, the promoter wished he’d had a bigger room so he could have sold more tables to the 100+ dealers who want to set up. There was a dealer who had recently launched his own show in the Memphis area. There were so many people inside the room in the first few hours that sometimes you had to turn sideways to squeeze past or wait for another collector to move on so you could look at a table. That’s what they used to say about shows 30 years ago.
The Philly Show—one that’s been around in some form or another since 1975—was also held over the weekend. It has a new manager on board and online reaction to the traffic and inventory available in Valley Forge, PA seemed very upbeat.
There’s a relatively new three-day show in the St. Louis suburbs next month and another large event in Chantilly, VA.
And, of course, the 2017 National in Chicago drew big crowds who weren’t shy about spending money.
The reaction I often see from collectors who dismiss shows is “why would I buy there when I can buy the same cards online for less and never leave the house?” Here’s why. More than one dealer at the show I attended indicated they either 1) never sell online—not even on eBay or 2) have such a big inventory they can’t possibly put it online.
The dealers were doing a pretty solid business and every one of them seemed willing to cut buyers a break on pricing.
Also underrated: whether you’re buying or selling, there’s a lot to be said for instant gratification.
It’s not easy to start a show. You have to be willing to promote and stick with it. You have to be willing to work hard setting up tables and tearing down at the end. You have to give the dealers a positive experience.
Hot as it was in that Nashville area gym on Saturday, I had a blast walking around, looking through boxes and albums and showcases for cards I needed to upgrade some great old vintage sets, even sifting through a few boxes for modern cards that seemed worth putting away ($3 for a Brett Phillips auto seemed like a bargain), hearing the stories behind some great finds that wound up on dealer tables (storage lockers do yield some goodies) and just talking with people about what was in the room and the hobby as a whole.
I made some new acquaintances, renewed a few old ones and came home with a couple of boxes worth of stuff. It adds up to the main reason people still like to go to card shows and entrepreneurs are trying to launch them.
They’re still fun.