Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Disco was still hot. Mailing a letter costs 15 cents. Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck still owned baseball teams. It was 1980 and in southern California plans were underway for the “1st National Sports Collectors Convention”.
Tables were 50 bucks for the entire weekend and admission was a dollar a day. The goal was to get collectors and dealers from across the country together for one, big organized card show and maybe discuss some rising hobby issues, like rising prices. After all, a Sandy Koufax rookie card was now selling for $25..and up!
No one really knew whether “The National” would catch on. Cities across the country were holding larger regional shows and some thought asking everyone to travel across the country for a baseball card show was overdoing it.
Thirty-two years later, the show is still going and one of the founding fathers is still running things. Mike Berkus, together with partner John Broggi, will open the doors to this year’s event at the Baltimore Convention Center August 1. It’s a busy time but we chatted with him via e-mail to look back on the past and learn a little more about what’s in store for 2012.
Q: This will be the 33rd NSCC. What do you remember most about the first one, hosted at the Airport Marriott in L.A.?
MB: Fear of the unknown. We face the same fear each and every show. We just want everyone to have a good time.
Q: What’s been the biggest change about running the National since those early days?
MB: Smoothness. Until 1996, we had individual promoters running the show each year and every show had to basically start from scratch. Today, we have a very smooth operation. Every component is well rehearsed. Our partner Jeff Rosenberg, Bobby Mintz, and Mandy Fuerst (Tristar), take our autograph worries and turn that into a professional job. Our staff is experienced and very knowledgeable; John Broggi and I could not do it without them. The NSCC Board and SMI (John Broggi & myself), have a seamless relationship. No conflict at all and that translates into a solid run event.
Q: There used to be seminars, discussions and various events in and around the show. Why did those eventually fade away and is there a chance they could come back on some level?
MB: Popular demand and size of audience. Amazing as it seems, the show is longer, larger, and more diversified, yet attendees, dealers, and corporate sponsors do not want to leave the floor. By night, everyone is exhausted.
Q: The show comes on the heels of what may be the greatest find of baseball cards in hobby history and those cards from the Black Swamp find will be on display at the show. How much has the buzz over that discovery helped bring awareness to the event?
MB: More than the promo hype in 1991. I have not seen this much pre-show publicity in the 33 years of the National. Every major news and sports network has requested credentials to attend and film. We are 25% ahead of any National in advance ticket sales and sold out on the floor. It is going to be a super show.
MB: We were stunned at the reception of the show in 2010. No complaints and tons of compliments. The town really came out in force. Our dealers and corporate sponsors, Tristar ( a great partner), all said “let’s go back”.
Q: Does it matter where the National is held? Are there places you’d like to have it but can’t for some reason?
MB: We have size requirements now. Operating under 325,000 square feet would mean that many exhibitors would be shut out. Vegas & Atlantic City pose challenges on diversion of attention and attendance. Philly, New York, and Boston have financial and union issues that require exhibitors to have large increases in booth fees. Anaheim, San Francisco, and Boston will not host us without a cancellation policy that would kill advance travel and planning for all concerned. They want trade shows that require 8000 to 10,000 room night guarantees or they can cancel us without recourse. We are constantly researching and negotiating as many locations as possible.
Q: How do you measure the success of a National beyond just a hope that everyone enjoys the experience?
MB: The easiest groups to qualify are the dealers and corporate sponsors. We ask them and they are bluntly honest. Attendees can be far less available to canvass. After 33 years, no problems exist in identifying a bad show. We have weathered the depression, downsizing of the card industry, and all so many negative impacting issues. The credit goes to our show population – dealers, sponsors, and VIP’s. They have been very understanding as we hit peaks and valleys. The key is advertising and making the best of a great, once per year tradition.
Q: Any attendance guess on this year’s show and how would that compare to the last few?
MB: Let’s go back to the first question and my answer – Fear. We spend what we need to make sure that anyone who might remotely care about sports collecting, knows where, when, and what, the National is about. We are very optimistic about this year’s pre show build up. It’s not hype, instead it’s desire. I could be made to believe that it will be the strongest show in 10 years.
I would really like anyone who attends the show to stop and say hi. Both John and I get a kick out of meeting fellow collectors and hearing the passion.