Hobby Musings: 2017 National a big win for the hobby – The 38th edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention is officially over. The convention was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Chicago after being located in Atlantic City the previous year. As it has in the past, the show once again gathered collectors from all over the world for a five-day celebration of the hobby.
By all accounts, from people I spoke with and second-hand accounts from others, the 2017 National was an absolute success. While official attendance figures have not been released, the phrase “record-breaking” was thrown around several times during the show. I don’t know if it broke the show’s all-time attendance record, but the convention center certainly seemed packed every day. This was especially true on Wednesday and Thursday.
Traditionally, these can be slower days of the show, several people, both hobbyists and long-time vendors, said it was the most people they had seen during the National’s first two days. Even Sunday, which is arguably the deadest day of the show, was well-attended. By the time I left around noon on Sunday, there were still plenty of people walking the floor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sunday is a highly underrated day of the show. I was able to walk away with some pretty sweet deals before heading back home, and I doubt I was the only one.
Incredibly pleasing to see was the amount of children at the show. One of the biggest complaints in the hobby has been the inability to draw younger collectors back in. If the National was any indication, the hobby’s ability to attract younger collectors isn’t quite dead yet. I noticed quite a large number of parents with their children busting packs all across the show floor and engaging in National activities. With any luck, this wave of younger collectors will be something that continues in the months and years ahead.
As far as the items for sale, vintage once again dominated. While this has been a growing trend at shows across the country for a while now, this year’s National seemed especially dominated by vintage cardboard. It wasn’t just that it was vintage, It was a lot of big-name, high-grade vintage. Every time I turned around, I saw rookies of players like Koufax, Aaron and Clemente. All the major auction houses had plenty of impressive card history in their booths.
The Honus Wagner T206 holy grail itself was actually bought by a customer who walked up the booth. No sale number has been released, but it’s reported to have been in the high six figures. Other auction houses also had impressive cards on display, including a 1954 Topps Hank Aaron PSA 9 rookie and an Eddie Mathews 1952 Topps rookie in an 8 grade. Even former NFL lineman Evan Mathis joined in on the fun by setting up a table at the show. His merchandise included some great vintage and even his Super Bowl ring for display only.
Another unsurprising big winner at the National was sealed wax. Bolstered in large part by the manufacturer’s wrapper redemption programs, the amount of boxes and packs opened was countless. 2017 baseball products were especially hot thanks to the strong rookie class. By Sunday morning, there wasn’t too much of it to be had on the show floor. Both Dave and Adam Card World’s Adam Martin and Blowout Cards’ Thomas Fish spoke about the impressive traffic they witnessed at their booths during the show. Martin in particular said how it was the best National for his booth that he had seen in 10 years.
The wrapper redemptions were also once again very popular with show attendees. While all of the packs were in high demand, Topps seemed to win the weekend with their Bowman redemption packs. Eventually having to heavily limit the packs given out, they managed to keep a small amount up until 11 Sunday morning. There were some grumblings from show attendees about how quickly Topps ran out of its daily allotment of packs on Friday and Saturday. That being said, collectors were delighted at the cards and the treasures inside, including low-numbered parallels and autographs.
Panini once again was a popular spot for its silver packs, which included a lot of high-end cards. Like Topps, they also had to implement a limitation policy. Talking to some people who opened them, one particular point of happiness was the addition of more numbered parallel cards. I had the chance to see some nice cards get pulled from them, including a Jimmie Johnson 1/1 autograph. Besides the wrapper redemption program, Panini’s free kids breaks was incredibly popular with young collectors. The lines that formed early for them was truly incredible each day. Beyond these programs, Panini’s redemption trade-up program was a big draw, with collectors forming big lines each day for the chance to get some new items.
Not to be outdone, Upper Deck’s wrapper redemption program was also a popular draw. Featuring a lot of big autographs, collectors ripped a lot of hockey product to get them. UD’s case break redemption program also did solid business as the company ran out of case break redemption prizes well before the show ended. Aside from the redemption programs, Upper Deck also had one of the more under-the-radar success stories with their Monumental product. A large blind-box priced at $1,000, each had a variety of UDA items. Ranging from LeBron James and Tiger Woods autographs to Michael Jordan signed jerseys, collectors flocked to the limited product, and Upper Deck ran out of boxes early Sunday morning.
Leaf’s own variety of redemption programs proved to be popular among collectors during the National. Offering a variety of proofs and limited-edition autographs, the biggest draw was arguably the limited Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dual autographs the company created for the show. Limited to one per day, one of the cards was sold with a best offer accepted on eBay after having an original listing price of $1,299. Leaf also created a nice variety of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier dual autographs numbered all the way down to one as a redemption item.
Tristar once again hosted the autograph pavilion. While the autograph lineup took a little bit of a hit because of baseball’s Hall of Fame weekend, Tristar did score some big signers in Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong and Henry Winkler. Rodriguez in particular caused a little bit of a stir as Jennifer Lopez also joined him for his signing. Getting a lot of attention in mainstream media circles, it certainly added some more spice to the show. Overall, the autograph pavilion seemed to have very good traffic throughout the show. The VIP signers had an especial high amount of traffic. Starting with Ron Duguay, Jose Canseco and Nate Archibald on Wednesday, the lines for them were at least two hours long and stretching to almost four for some of them.
All in all, this was a strong National Sports Collectors Convention. This was the sixth straight National I’ve attended, the third in Chicago, and this seemed to be the most successful of all of them. The hobby has had a pretty good year with the momentum of a strong 2016 football season, another strong hockey season and a stellar 2017 baseball card year. However, it’s also had a few low points and black eyes this season. As such, the hobby needed a win, and the National more than delivered at a key time. The show is about as close to an institution as the hobby has, and it’s pleasing to see it still going strong. There was some concern about the show’s future after the untimely passing of Mike Berkus. It has not been the same without Mike, but John Broggi, Mike’s son Dan and the rest of the National’s officials have done a nice job of successfully running the show.
One point worth watching in the future will be whether the National stays in Chicago on a permanent basis. Based on discussions I’ve had with various people in the hobby, there seems to be a strong desire to do so. However, there also seems to be an equally strong desire to keep the show rotated and potentially moved to western and southern locations. The next three sites are Cleveland, Chicago and Atlantic City respectively. One thing is for certain though. Cleveland will have a heck of a time matching this year’s Chicago show.
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