Once upon a time, it was a bunch of dealers and collectors in a big hotel ballroom with maybe a seminar or two tossed in. These days, it’s a multi-faceted affair, catering to a hobby that’s become different things to different people.
Observe what happens inside the giant convention center where the National Sports Collectors Convention takes place and it’s clear the hobby has evolved into something completely different from what the early organizers could have imagined nearly 40 years ago.
The High-End Buyers
A lot of exhibitors normally spend most of their time selling on eBay, buying and consigning through auction houses or in some cases, selling from their own website. The National is one of a handful of shows they do throughout the year and there’s no doubt the best material gets saved for the five-day run. They know there will be money in the room.
People who never go to shows anymore go to the National to make deals. The hobby’s most advanced collectors come, no matter where it’s held. There is a massive amount of money spent on Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Jordan and LeBron.
The Box Lookers
Way back in 2006, we did a story on a dealer who, despite spending hundreds of dollars on table fees, transportation costs and his hotel, made a huge profit strictly by selling cards that cost 10 cents. His table was packed all week with collectors buying their favorite players, buying cards to flip for a profit, filling want lists and just buying from him because they could get a lot of cards for a little bit of money.
It’s still going on. The most popular tables at the National are those with monster boxes and tubs of discounted cards in Card Savers. Some buy for their collection. Some spot bargains they can flip on eBay or COMC.
Modern Want Listers
What to do if you’re a fan of current era base cards? If you’re old school enough to still like base sets from newer products and want to complete your sets, the online options are limited. The focus on inserts, autos and relics means a lot of base cards never even get sorted. So, you go to the National to find the guys who do sort and sell them–or at least sell them out of big monster boxes. Sadly, there aren’t that many and they’re often sold by price rather than number.
Vintage Want Listers
The National includes everything of course but vintage still has a major hold on the National. Yes, you can find most of the cards from the major sets going back decades by simply sitting at your computer, but if you have a want list of cards from multiple sets, knocking them out at the National is easier and sometimes cheaper. Working on a 1957 Topps set? There will be dozens of binders and hundreds of boxes and rubber-banded stacks on the show floor, all full of ’57s. Are they more expensive than they are online? Maybe yes, maybe no, but if you buy a bunch, nearly every dealer will give you a discount of 10 or 20 percent.
Interesting–and encouraging for the hobby as a whole–is that the demographic looking for old cards is not just old guys anymore. While the 45-plus crowd is still the core, there were plenty of folks in their 20s and 30s buying older material, many of whom it seems are formerly rippers of current boxes.
I’m convinced the grading companies could have their own show in conjunction with the National or at some other time or place. The demand for their services was unprecedented for a National. Dealers and collectors lined up to have cards, autographs and other items submitted with many high dollar items authenticated and graded on site. There are people who spend the majority of their time at the National submitting items they’ve either brought with them or bought at the show. The opportunity to submit in person is also important for people who are skittish about shipping their items.
Anyone who had gone to a National in the late 80s or early 90s, left the hobby and came back to it last week would be thinking they had landed on another planet. Grading has become a truly dominant part of the industry as a whole.
Dealer to Dealer Sellers
Dealers do this a lot on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, although they’re buying from other dealers to sell to their own customers. You’ll also see dealers selling to each other–or trying to–during the show, usually involving high-priced sets or single cards. There’s a lot of networking going on. The veterans know which of their colleagues is a good fit for a certain item and are OK with taking a small profit, thus enabling the colleague to take a their profit.
You’ll also see collectors buying cards from dealers and then turning around and selling them to other dealers for a profit. The National is one of a very small number of shows where that’s actually possible.
I continue to be amazed at the number of people who are willing to spend a good chunk of time waiting in line for an autograph but it shows little sign of slowing down. Some people have no interest in what’s on the show floor but if a favorite player is signing, they’ll come to the National only to get an autograph.
Many players are happy to pose for photos, too, which is a nice bonus that makes the cost a little easier to take.
Redemption Card Stampeders
People literally run into the show when it’s time for the card companies to trade their special “National Exclusive” packs for proofs of purchase from their newest products.
— GoGTSLive (@GoGTSLive) July 29, 2017
The National is the only place you can get them so you know you’re getting something most people can’t. Some will keep them and try to build a set; many others will send them straight to eBay. As usual, the lines were long and eventually they were all gone.
The Memorabilia Hunters
Because some people just aren’t into cards.
You can totally redecorate your office, rec room, heck…your whole house if you don’t mind getting divorced…by roaming through the aisles. Memorabilia doesn’t usually sell that well at normal shows but the National isn’t a normal show.