Dealers and collectors were the focus of a convention that’s part throwback and part new concept.
There were no autograph lines because…well…there were no autograph guests.
It wasn’t an oversight.
The Premier Collectible Conference and Exhibition at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois opened Thursday, hoping to carve a niche that puts the focus on the hobby’s roots: sports cards and vintage sports memorabilia.
For the 40-plus exhibitors who set up shop and show organizers, it’s a bit of a gamble. Most shows have come to depend on signature seekers while hoping those people stick around long enough to visit dealer tables and make additional purchases. There is no such luxury at the PCCE. Organizers are hoping a media blitz undertaken over the last three months will push die-hard collectors in the door, while attracting newcomers who appreciate the historic nature of sports collectibles. They scored appearances on three local television morning shows, advertised heavily on hobby websites and even passed out flyers in front of the bustling Chicago Board of Trade on Monday.
"It’s been a lot of work but everyone here has made a commitment to try this concept," said promoter Ryan Friedman. "This is strictly for the collectors who are interested in coming to the show to buy, sell, authenticate or even just to learn. Ten minutes into the show, the first people in the doors were people who hadn’t been to a show before but heard about it and wanted to get into it because they were retiring. That was our purpose in a nutshell."
During the late 1970s and early 80s, larger sports collectors conventions included seminars and discussion panels but the hobby eventually drifted into the mammoth show/autograph pavilion model. With the advance of the internet, less business than ever takes place in person and fewer discussions occur between dealers and collectors who share the same passion.
Helping dealers navigate through what has become new territory was also a part of the PCCE’s business plan. Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer addressed the gathering Thursday morning while Al Crisifulli of Novacent Partners, a New Jersey-based marketing company, spoke in the afternoon.
"We wanted to get back to talking about issues in the hobby," Friedman explained. "We also wanted to bring in people who could help the exhibitors in their businesses whether it was through better sales techniques, marketing and branding or the importance of being seen and heard on hobby news sites that are beneficial to everyone in the hobby."
The atmosphere was designed to be more like the shows held in other industries with carpeting throughout the room, large booths and signage for each table. A 68-page program was produced with features and a full page ad for each exhibitor. Most of the hobby’s larger auction houses and authenticators were in attendance as well as several major dealers, most all of whom buy, sell and trade pricier vintage sports cards and memorabilia.
"It’s like going to a consumer electronics show or a large computer-related convention," Friedman explained. "It’s a ‘high end’ type show, but there are items here for twenty or thirty dollars on up to three or four hundred thousand on display. There is still something here for every collector."
600 free VIP admission tickets were given away in the weeks leading up to the event, which began with seminars and presentations Thursday morning.
The PCCE is the second of four major shows within an five month period in Chicago, including the National Sports Collectors Convention which takes place at the same venue this summer. Friedman maintains both he and Mastro Auctions were aware of the scheduling when they created the event, but felt it wouldn’t affect the turnout.
"This isn’t competition in our minds," Friedman said. "It’s a completely different type of event. You can buy, sell and have items authenticated as you would at any of those shows but this has a different feel and there are some exhibitors who just love coming to Chicago. If I were a collector, I wish there were ten great shows in Chicago every year."