The 42nd edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention sets up shop in Atlantic City, NJ at the tail end of this month. The hobby’s biggest show come a long way from the hotel ballrooms where it was once held. Giant convention centers big enough to hold a few good sized jets now welcome thousands of collectors and hundreds of dealers each summer.
For first timers or for those who haven’t been to a National in a long while, there are also some questions we often hear about the show. Hopefully, this will be helpful, too–maybe even if you’re not a rookie.
Between travel expenses, tickets and parking, the National seems like it can get to be expensive. Is it worth it?
That’s kind of a personal decision. The show is a spectacle because of its size, the number of autograph guests and the sheer magnitude of what’s available. You’ll see some truly great pieces of sports history on display. Just about all of it is for sale.
Every collector should go at least once, but if you’re not looking to spend much, you could certainly make the argument that your money is better spent online or at a good sized regional show that’s not far away. Lodging costs, plus gas/airfare, meals and admission are sizeable expenses to consider, not to mention what you might spend after hours in Atlantic City (or wherever the show is held each year).
On the other hand, if you are able to spend some money, the opportunity to buy in quantity (it’s a lot easier to knock a big stack of cards off your want list at the National than anywhere else) and find things you just don’t see online are some of the reasons why you should try to go.
Many sellers of both vintage and modern spend months stocking up for the National, with cards they’ve never offered online or elsewhere. You’ll never see them unless you go or they don’t sell at the show (unlikely). The sheer number of items to see is staggering. If you’re a collector of current issue cards, you can talk with card company employees, something you don’t normally get the chance to do. In fact, chatting with vendors, from grading companies to auction houses to major dealers, is why many people go.
It’s also a social event. Friendships have formed or get renewed at the show or after hours at trade nights or other gatherings. A lot of connections are made at the National. Most everyone is in a great mood because…well…if you can’t be in a good mood at the National, you probably should pick another hobby.
What’s a good strategy for buying?
The same at any show, really. Most dealers will negotiate, but if they believe they’ll get their price before the week is over, they may not. Do understand that unlike a smaller show, you’ve got tons of competition from other buyers who might pull the trigger on something you wanted.
Is stuff at the National overpriced?
It’s a silly complaint we often hear. Like any show, you’ll see cards at prices over and above what they may be selling for online. You’ll see others that are in line with online– or lower. It’s impossible to generalize and say it’s all way more expensive than it should be.
Dealers at the show have to sell to cover what’s likely their most expensive trip of the year and most will be motivated to move things. If they’ve priced something higher than you think it should be, that means there’s probably a lot of demand for it and the dealer knows that. But if you can’t find good deals on some stuff at the National, it means you’re not trying hard enough. Dig through boxes. Try to make a package deal. Look elsewhere.
And by the way, if you ever walk away from a table that has something you’re interested in, take a note of that dealer’s booth number. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Write it down or put a note in an app on your phone. The show is too big to say “I’ll remember.” If more than an hour or so has passed, you won’t and it’s the worst feeling. Trust me on that one.
What day should I go?
Make it days—with an s—if you possibly can. The show is massive. It’s impossible to cover in a single day. Avid collectors will often stay for the duration or at least two or three full days. While you may bypass some booths depending on your collecting interests, there will be some that will catch your attention and keep it. If you plan to look through boxes or binders, you may spend an hour or two at a single table.
Is the Wednesday Sneak Peek worth it?
That depends. Hours are abbreviated, of course, but if you have rare cards you’re looking for, they might not be there by Thursday afternoon. There will be a lot of dealer to dealer sales on Tuesday and Wednesday, even before the show opens. Crowds aren’t typically as heavy on Wednesday, which does offer the chance for better access to booths and dealers’ attention.
If you can only go for a day, though, it’s best to go when you can be there from open to close.
Can you score some great deals on Sunday?
Sometimes. Most of the dealers who set up at the show will be successful, but those who didn’t do as well as they’d hoped might be scrambling to defray their costs, which run well into the thousands.
Things like sets, bulk lots and heavier items are good targets for deals as sellers would rather not have to cart them back home, but don’t expect the dealer to sell for pennies on the dollar, either. There’s always another show. Some dealers just want to finish strong and are willing to pad their intake one last time before packing up and heading home.
The show is pretty quiet after about 1 PM on Sunday, though, so don’t wait too long. Many dealers will be packing up to catch flights or hit the road.
Do dealers take credit cards?
Some, yes. It’s best to pay with a credit card if a dealer accepts them. Don’t be afraid to ask. That way you’ll save your cash to use with dealers who don’t take plastic. Many are also fine with Paypal or other online payments for larger transactions. Money is money, right?
Carrying thousands of dollars around can make anyone nervous. Cash IS king, though, so if you’re serious about the show, be sure to bring enough—or stake out a couple of ATMs you can access.
The National is where it’s at for big time buyers, too. Some will be there looking to buy other dealers’ entire inventory. You’ll see some safes in some booths.
Can I bring cards to sell or trade?
Absolutely. Most of the sellers are there to make deals. Just expect to give them a bit of an advantage. They’re the ones paying for a booth and needing to profit in some way. If you’re selling modern cards, you’ll probably want to offer them to someone who sells mostly newer stuff and vice versa with vintage. The same goes for memorabilia dealers.
Try selling as early in the day as you can, before the dealers get too busy. It’ll also lighten your load a bit if you can strike a deal. If your cards don’t have much value such as base cards from the 1980s and early 90s, don’t bother.
Can I still set up a table at the show?
Nope. Every booth is spoken for. Most booths are operated by dealers who’ve been coming for years and renew their space each year. A few for every show since the first one back in 1980.
Up until a few years ago, you could still grab one a few months after the previous National but those days are gone. Jumping into a forum and asking whether there’s a National dealer who might consider offering some of his unused table space has been known to work on occasion.
Can I get cards graded at the show?
Yes, and if not at the show, you can drop them off there for later return to save a little on shipping and insurance. Check with your favorite grading company to see what their plans are, costs, etc.
I have some potential auction items. Should I bring them?
Auction companies will be there accepting consignments. If you’re more comfortable handing them rather than shipping them, this is the time to do it. You should probably call ahead to make sure you’ve got something that’s auction worthy. The National also provides the chance to shop them around a bit (consignment rates can differ and are sometimes negotiable depending on the item). It’ll give you the chance to decide which auction house you feel most comfortable using—and if they’re not interested, they’ll send you on your way.