2017 National Sports Collectors Convention a Resounding Success

“The National” wrapped up its annual pilgrimage of hobby loyalists in Chicago, IL, the last weekend of July. By all accounts the show was an amazing success.

It’s been called the Super Bowl and Disneyland of the sports collectibles and memorabilia hobby. The annual event, simply referred to as “The National,” wrapped up its annual pilgrimage of hobby loyalists in Chicago, IL, the last weekend of July. By all accounts the show was an amazing success.

While exact attendance numbers were not revealed, John Broggi, Executive Director of the show said, “This was the highest attended show in 26 years.” As someone who worked at the convention, I can attest to the tremendous traffic the show floor saw from day one. While Friday and Saturday are always well attended days of the convention, Wednesday’s sneak peek premier and Thursday’s first official day, saw crowds like I have never seen.

This was my twelfth time experiencing The National. I have had the good fortune of attending in several different capacities. From my early days as a starry-eyed attendee to a media credentialed reporter to my current role working for a major distributor in the sports collectibles market, I have seen a lot of these events. However, 2017 will always stand out as a year that brought me a new perspective on this must-attend gathering.

After all the equipment and merchandise was packed away, I had time to reflect and talk with other influencers in the sports collectibles market to find out what exactly made this year so special that it saw record crowds.  The answer is that it wasn’t simply one thing. It was an absolute perfect storm with several factors playing a part in the show’s success. Here’s a look at some of the major ones.

Major League Baseball’s Youth Movement

The unprecedented, future-star power being displayed by a large group of young players has even the average fan interested in these players’ rookie cards and autographed memorabilia. Several players from major and secondary markets come to mind, including: Aaron Judge (New York), Dansby Swanson (Atlanta), Andrew Benintendi (Boston), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami) and Carlos Correa (Houston).

Topps box wars. Local card shops are seeing an unprecedented demand for Topps baseball cards.

With these, and other young stars, making headlines throughout the summer, hardcore collectors AND, the sports fan, both casual and die-hard, feel they have a chance to “get in early” on these players’ collectibles believing they might be future Hall of Fame inductees. As a result, the baseball card and autographed memorabilia markets are red hot. Local card shops are seeing an unprecedented demand for Topps baseball cards. This is regardless of the specific brand or price point.

Location, Location, Location

The National Sports Collectors Convention, unlike other major collectible conventions, rotates its venues. Last year the show was in Atlantic City and next year it will be in Cleveland, before going back to Chicago in 2019 and Atlantic City again the following year. Contrast this to San Diego or New York Comic Con, Toy Fair (New York), GenCon (Indianapolis), C2E2 (Chicago) and other major trade shows that have a permanent home and you’ll understand why the National being in Chicago in 2017 was a recipe for success.

For 108 years, the city’s National League team, the Chicago Cubs, have suffered through the longest championship drought in major sports history. Until last year, when a young team led by another, of the MLB young guns, Kris Bryant, shocked the world by winning the World Series. As you might image, demand for literally anything collectible and related to this Chicago Cubs team, is overwhelming.

With the Cubs winning the World Series and the sports collectibles hobby’s biggest show being in the same city, the show’s promoters couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Kids Returning to The Hobby

1954 Topps Hank Aaron. The simple pleasure of sports cards is starting to resonate with a new and younger generation of collectors.

Yes, the sports card and memorabilia hobby is so vast that it is often simply referred to as “The Hobby.” Despite an era of unprecedented access to multi-media, hi-tech gaming and ever shortening attention spans, the simple pleasure of sports cards is starting to resonate with a new and younger generation of collectors.

For the last ten years, one of the concerns and questions expressed by dealers around the country has been, “What can the trading card manufacturers do to attract kids to The Hobby again?” It’s a question without an easy answer. However, all three manufactures of the country’s four major sports Topps (MLB), Panini (NFL, NBA) and Upper Deck (NHL) have worked tirelessly to this end. All the companies have digital platforms that combine the instant gratification and convenience of mobile technology with sports collectibles. In the early days of the companies embracing this technology, many wondered how it would transition to an interest in tangible trading cards.

By the large number of children 14 and under I witnessed at this year’s show, all I can say is that something is working. The population of children attending the show has steadily increased over the last few years of the show. The number of parents actively engaged with their children in the activity of opening packs of baseball and other sports cards reached absolute fever pitch at several of the manufacturers booths over the course of the show.

Each company offered various free bonus incentives for purchasing their products on the show floor and opening them at their booth. Lines for these programs, called wrapper redemption programs, were so long that the companies quickly had to institute a limit on the amount of packs that could be redeemed per day, lest they run out before the weekend even arrived.

High-Grade Vintage Cards and Premium Memorabilia

Being able to say that you own an authentic game-worn uniform of New York Yankees legend, Mickey Mantle is just plain cool.

Sports collectibles, to some people is more than a mere hobby, it’s a speculative investment strategy. For the ultra-wealthy, diversifying one’s portfolio with hard assets is simply smart business. And let’s face it, being able to say that you own an authentic game-worn uniform of New York Yankees legend, Mickey Mantle is also just plain cool. And people know it. The recession of 2008 is clearly over and a lot of people, not everyone of course, but a lot of people are flush with cash, including sports card dealers themselves.

Jim Brown game-worn jersey. The demand for authentic, game-used memorabilia is on fire.

The demand for high-grade vintage trading cards, pre-1960, is also on fire. As is the demand for authentic, game-used memorabilia. The National is always the place to find both. Many of the market’s high-profile auction houses including Memory Lane, Heritage and Huggins & Scott had on display many museum-quality treasures available in upcoming auctions.

The End Result

When you combine the previously mentioned factors with other important aspects of show promotion, you apparently have the formula for “the highest attended show in 26 years.” 

The show’s promotors produced a very successful multi-media advertising campaign, including TV which was a first for the show. Several morning show appearances on TV and radio also brought much needed publicity to the event, as did print and billboard advertising.

Only at The National–one of the original Rockford Peaches, Joe Theismann and Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz.

In addition, Tristar Productions, who runs the show’s highly regarded autograph pavilion, produced a lineup of over 100 athletes, the majority being Hall of Fame players in their respective sports. Some of the notables included Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, Mike Tyson, Johnny Bench, Cal Ripken Jr., Dr. J, Dennis Rodman, Marshall Faulk, Mike Singletary just to name a few.

Next Year

If you are a sports card, memorabilia or autograph collector and have never attended The National, you owe it to yourself to make the trip at least once. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well-documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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