Hobby Musings: Navigating the National Sports Collectors Convention – The 2018 National Sports Collector’s Convention is only a few short weeks away. Back in Cleveland for the first time since 2014, the event will once again be held at the IX Center. This will be my seventh straight National and second time at the venue. One of the most, if not the most, enjoyable events in the hobby, it can also be a daunting one to navigate for veterans and newcomers alike.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at the show over the years is just how quickly the time can go by during the day. This is especially true if you are waiting in line at the autograph pavilion to get signatures. As such, it doesn’t hurt to go into the National with some type of game plan of what you want to achieve. Whether it’s buying boxes for pack redemptions or trying to find singles to fill your sets, setting priorities can help you budget your time better. This is especially true if you only have a day or two to attend.
If you can’t attend all five days, the best day to go depends on what you are looking to do at the National. If you are hoping to score some nice deals, your best bet is probably to go Sunday. Though attendance at last year’s National in Chicago seemed the lightest that day, there was still a decent-sized crowd. That being said, chances are you’ll have a better chance of getting a better deal on something you want. I was able to acquire a nice graded Harmon Killebrew rookie and a signed Johnny Unitas card at much better prices than if I had bought them earlier in the show. Also, many of the bigger card retailers will also discount their sealed boxes on Sunday, giving you a shot at better value on wax.
On the flip side of that, if you see something early in the show you truly want at a price that works for you, don’t hesitate to buy it. You don’t want to regret missing out on something you really wanted.
If you have the time, be sure to check out every table/booth on the floor and not just in the ones in what would considered the show’s prime locations. The Unitas autograph I was able to land was at a table at the very back of the show floor from the main entrance. I didn’t discover it until about four days into the National, but I’m certainly glad I did. The seller even gave me a good bundle rate on a Bob St. Clair autograph as well.
You also don’t want to sleep on the freebies at the show. There are the more obvious ones like the pack redemptions the manufacturers do. All of the companies do a very good job with the material they include in their pack redemptions, and that’s a major reason why so much wax is ripped at the show. Beyond that though, they also offer other incentives for visiting their booths. Panini does events like free breaks for kids that are immensely popular. I remember standing in disbelief, especially last year, at just how quickly the long lines formed.
Topps also does free raffles and pack wars around their booth throughout the show. Upper Deck’s raffles in particular are quite possibly one of the hidden gems of the National. The company gives away some incredible cards and memorabilia, and it’s baffling to me how it doesn’t attract a bigger crowd each year. On top of that, their expired redemption raffle also gives you a chance to get something of value for your expired autograph redemptions. Now that that they’ve done it in tiers by value too, you can get a little more of an equal exchange.
Also for a shameless plug, be sure to catch GTS’ own Rob Bertrand and Ivan Lovegren once again hosting the main stage. Besides providing people with a place to sit and rest, they also have several guests throughout the show and plenty of awesome giveaways.
The IX Center is a giant open building that’s fairly easy to navigate. The unique thing about it among National locations is the giant Ferris Wheel in the middle of the floor. If you want to have something extra to do with your kids or just take a break from the memorabilia, feel free to take a ride on it as it’s scheduled to be open during the show. Concessions at the venue can be a little limited, so I would recommend bringing a snack or a bottle of water just in case. There’s also a large table area on the floor to sit down, which is good to have once your feet start to get sore from walking around so much.
Talking with Tristar’s Jeff Rosenberg last week, the autograph pavilion promises to be a big attraction again this year. With over 120 guests scheduled to sign, including Albert Pujols and Francisco Lindor, it will likely be a busy area again. If you have a specific autograph guest in mind that you want to get, it doesn’t hurt to buy your tickets in advance to get a better spot in line or just to secure an autograph ticket. If you have VIP tickets for autograph guests, you want to be especially careful about budgeting your time. Many of the lines for them go for at least two hours, if not three.
Along with the planned autographs, it never hurts to have some items available for athletes you may not have expected to meet. Former Super Bowl champion Evan Mathis sets up at the show and has always been cool about signing an autograph or taking a picture. Former Jets and Bills head coach Rex Ryan was also at the show last year walking the floor. You truly never know who you’ll run into.
At the end of it at all though, go the National with an open mind and be ready to have some fun. While serious business is conducted there by buyer and seller alike, it truly is a celebration of the hobby and a family reunion of sorts for friends who don’t often get to see each other.
My first trip to the National in 2012 still ranks among my top experiences as a sports fan. Even if you don’t like trading cards, the National can be an enjoyable time. Whether it’s having the chance to see some historic memorabilia set up by the auction houses or even getting an autograph and/or picture with a favorite athlete, there are multiple opportunities to make memories that last a lifetime.