There was a time several years ago when card shows were said to be dying. “Everyone’s buying online,” they said. “The interest isn’t that great and no one feels the need to get up and drive somewhere to look at cards. It’s a hassle.”
It’s safe to say things have changed.
Yes, buying and selling online is the preferred method for many, but the good old fashioned show has been making a comeback for several years now. The ability to wheel and deal in person is hip again and it doesn’t always take a massive autograph lineup to draw collectors to the door. Saturday’s Nashville Sports Cards and Collectibles show was evidence of that.
The one-day event drew over 1,500 paying customers. Few balked at the new $5 admission fee. Eddie George, Darrell Evans, Denny McLain and Jon Warden were signing autographs but this is one show where the cards are the big attraction.
If you’re a morning person, this event was for you.
Quite possibly the earliest official show opening in history? Barely a little after 7:00 a.m. and already plenty of people milling around at the @nashcardshow . 3 buildings. pic.twitter.com/qVrZ4GuMMp
— Sports Collector (@SportsCollector) February 29, 2020
By 8 AM, the place was jammed with collectors jockeying for position to get a look at what was sitting on the 200+ tables that were spread across a gymnasium and two other rooms at Lighthouse Christian School.
It’s a reflection of the market as a whole. Crowds also turned out at the Valley Forge Casino Resort Friday-Sunday for the latest edition of the Philly Show.
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While last year’s baseball rookie class was stellar, 2019-20 basketball cards are sizzling, especially Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Some dealers in Nashville quickly sold out their stock, were working on deals or had little left by the afternoon. The same was true at last weekend’s Cincy Show. High-end, low-end, it doesn’t seem to matter.
Retail product has disappeared, too. We visited six Walmart stores in three states over eight days in late February and saw no basketball product of any kind on the shelf. Nothing.
The thing is, though, everything is selling.
“We sold cards non-stop,” stated dealer Craig Halbig, who made the 3 ½ hour trip from southern Illinois and reported strong sales of both graded and ungraded vintage singles, sets and partial sets. The strong market apparently wasn’t deterred by a rough week in the stock market.
Beckett’s Raw Card Review service was overwhelmed. They placed a 25-card limit per person and the early start announced a day ahead of the show meant numerous collectors were turned away.
A few other notes:
- We saw several dealers selling the 2019-20 retail exclusive products like Donruss Optic Mega boxes, Prizm blasters and hangars. Most were priced at least double what the retail price was supposed to have been.
Prizm Mega boxes at the Nashville show today. pic.twitter.com/uOZkSU1wIq
— Sports Collector (@SportsCollector) March 1, 2020
One collector snapped up every box of Donruss Optic a dealer had on his table. 2018-19 Luka Doncic cards are among the hottest in the hoops market.
It’s somewhat understandable, given the early success of the top two draft picks and promising starts for others. However, it’s worth mentioning that no one seemed to be asking for Steph Curry rookie cards this weekend. One of the NBA’s hottest players from about 2014-2018, Curry owns three championship rings and videos of his pregame shot-making routine are viral sensations. Missing most of his team’s forgettable season with a broken wrist doesn’t change any of that or his status as a slam dunk Hall of Famer but he’s almost an afterthought.
It just goes to show how fickle the hobby can be. The flipper’s market provides a lot of entertainment for now but it’s also wise to have some perspective before paying too much for Zion or Ja.
A few other notes:
- The surge in overall interest for sports cards and memorabilia has been a very good thing for those who sell supplies like individual card holders, boxes and sheets.
- The number of kids at shows still isn’t great, but seems to be better than it was a few years ago. It’s fun to see and hear them buy cards of players just because they like them, not because they think a card is going to skyrocket in value.
- The hobby is not lost on the 20 and 30-somethings either. The popularity of basketball has a lot to do with that. Many of them are setting up booths and doing a lot of buying and selling. It seems to be a little bit of a side hustle than a hobby for many, but not all. Some have simply graduated from avid collector/prospector to part-time dealer.
- Memo to show dealers and shop owners: Always price your cards. Yes, the rookie market can change rapidly but you’re losing sales if you don’t have some sort of visible pricing. Some people don’t mind having to ask the price of every card but a lot of people don’t like it at all. Don’t want to price individual cards? Put them in boxes or on your table with a sign indicating the cost of each card in a stack. If some don’t fit the $2, 3, $5, $10, $20 mold, try to tag those individually. Yes, it all takes time. Yes, you might have to change your prices again in a month. Do it anyway. You’re losing potential sales. Yes, really. Yes, quite a few.
- If you’re thinking of starting a show in your area, now would be a good time to do it. Just be sure to promote it well. If you’re thinking of setting up a booth at a show, now would also be a good time to do that, too…just remember to price your cards.
- One of the hobby’s most important figures often sets up at the Nashville show. Bill Hemrick, who operated a shop called The Upper Deck in Yorba Linda, CA, and then decided to form the baseball card company by the same name, is still a collector. Michael Herston of Scenic City Sports in Chattanooga chatted with him about the humble beginnings for the company that took the hobby by storm in 1989.