Tumbleweeds rolling down the aisle of your local card show?
You’re not a lone. Attendance is iffy just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean the hobby is dead. Just looking for some fresh ideas. We’ve got some thoughts from a writer who’s spent a good part of his life on both sides of the table.
by: Mike Stack
Baseball card shows have seen a pretty steep drop in attendance over the last decade. It’s a development that could be hard to reverse unless promoters can come up with creative ways to make the show a destination once again.
EBay changed the sports collecting game in the late 1990s. The auction giant has become a wildly popular place to buy sports cards, with millions of cards offered each month. With so many cards offered for sale you simply have a much better selection and often better prices than you would find at the average card show. In the past it was important to see the card you are buying. Technology and the evolution of the hobby have taken away this advantage that card shows once held. A seller now can use a digital camera or scanner to create a high quality image of his card that is sometimes better than what can be viewed by the naked eye.
Professionally graded cards have also diminished the importance of the baseball card show. In the past one dealer may grade a card as near mint while another would say it was mint condition. Now there is an impartial arbiter that makes these declarations. When a collector buys a graded card, he usually knows exactly what he is getting. Many of those cards can be purchased online.
And of course, entertainment options have multiplied that have kept some away from the hobby. Baseball cards don’t have the technological drawing power of video games.
What can be done to reverse this trend or at the very least inject meaning into the baseball card show again? Here are a few basic ideas:
1) Make the shows more than strictly a place to buy and sell cards. We need to keep focused on growing the ranks of our hobby. I think there should be a concerted effort to educate new collectors about our hobby. Too often new collectors are turned off because they make a bad deal or do not understand some of the nuances of sports card collecting. A formal process of educating them about the hobby would help in this regard and give people a reason to come to a live event. The leaders of this hobby who have created a public brand and name recognition need to give back to the hobby by using their knowledge and star quality to help the newcomers to the hobby on a regular basis.
2) Convention organizers need to work with the major sports card companies to coordinate the release of their new offerings with the conventions. Young collectors will come to conventions in droves if they know the release of a major series of cards will be tied to it. This hobby needs the coordinated efforts of all its major players if we are to attach importance to the live sports card convention.
3) The hardest step is to increase the participation of autograph guests at a reduced cost. Currently many big names of the hobby sign autographs for a fee at conventions. Unfortunately the dollar figure attached s generally much too high for many potential attendees to pay. The market of course warrants a high fee because dealers can and will sell these autographs for a large sum of money.
The answer, I believe, is to gear the offerings to both groups. If we can present a chance to meet players that are perhaps well known on a local level but not huge national stars it will increase turnout. Asking an average new collector to pay over one hundred dollars for a brief meeting with a huge star may not be the best way. A much cheaper encounter with a popular or retired local player may be much more beneficial to the hobby as a whole. Some promoters have been successful with this tactic for years and their shows have remained viable because of that decision.
The emphasis for the hobby’s leaders must be on the big picture. Too much of our current focus is on a specific event rather than the long term future.
Mike Stack is a freelance writer who has been buying, selling and collecting for over 25 years.
Sports card boxes via Wax City/Amazon.com