Hobby Musings: On the Hot Seat with the NSCC’s Ray Schulte – Interview


Hobby Musings: On the Hot Seat with the NSCC’s Ray Schulte – Interview Transcript

Editor’s note: Some text has been altered from original audio for grammar and clarity.

Hobby Musings: On the Hot Seat with the NSCC’s Ray SchulteKS: Back for another edition of Hobby Musings, I’m Kelsey Schroyer. Joined today by Ray Schulte to talk all things National Sports Collectors Convention 2024. Ray, thanks for joining us.
Well thanks Kelsey, I appreciate it.

KS: Hard to believe, show’s almost here. Biggest hobby show of the year. Back in Cleveland for the first time since 2018, I believe?
Yes, that’s correct.

KS: So why make the decision to go back to Cleveland after kind of a lengthy absence?
Well, we were supposed to be in Cleveland back in, I think, 2020. It got canceled, obviously. COVID and all that. It was kind of looked at to be replaced. We love Cleveland. Cleveland’s a great venue. I have to tell you though, this year we don’t have the Ferris wheel, we don’t have the airplane in the venue like we did in 2018, but it’s rich in tradition. It’s got great history in terms of sports. Some iconic heroes come out of Cleveland.

We’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’ve got the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s just a great experience for everybody, and the exhibitors, they vote on it. They vote on where they’re going, and the management group does their due diligence. They’ll pick out four or five different locations throughout the country, and then the exhibitors vote on it. Cleveland’s always been well received, and they appreciate and love having us, so we’re excited about going back.

KS: One thing I do have to ask about Cleveland, because I remember this in 2018. The internet was a little bit of a problem. Especially now more than ever where the hobby is so internet entangled. Is that something that’s going to be fixed for this time around or improved for this time around?
It certainly was noticed and evaluated. Our new management group has met with the venue many times now. And that will definitely be something that will be addressed, and I would think that everything will be fine for our show the 24th through the 28th.

KS: So back in Cleveland. It was in Chicago last year. Atlantic City a couple of years ago. You talked about the new management group. A hot button topic with the National seemingly year in and year out, is the discussion of the locations. The desire for other cities besides the predominantly three that have been in the rotation for the last 10-plus years. What is the current discussion like for getting the National into new cities beyond Chicago in the next couple of years?
Well, I can tell you that our new management group, they’re open for suggestions, ideas. They’ve looked at different venues throughout the country. We get pitched by venues throughout the country all the time, and it’s a process. We have to go through the process of looking at, one availability. Hotels. Union versus non-union. All these factors, I call them bullet points, need to be addressed, and so they understand it, they get it.  I’ve worked with all the leagues. I’ve worked on, I can’t tell you how many fan fests and Super Bowls, and so I’ve been in most of the venues throughout the country, so I can tell you that some of them, even though they may be large. Maybe they’re a great location. It doesn’t necessarily equate to right for us.

You remember, too. When we go into a scenario like that, we need to get something like two years out, and sometimes a lot of these markets, a lot of these venues, are not prepared to guarantee that far out, because they may be looking for a bigger pharmaceutical company to come in and do a show. So, we have to have, the ideal situations.

I think Cleveland is a great venue by itself. Chicago, it checks off all the boxes. I mean, with hotels and proximity, airport, the people we work with there. It’s just really conducive to a great experience, not only for the attendees, but for our exhibitors. They continue to do their due diligence, and they will present to the exhibitors in Cleveland and say, this is what we have for two years out, and they’ll vote on it. It’s not a question of not wanting to move. It’s just a question, is it first, the right move? Do all the boxes get checked off? That’s what the management is in the process of doing now.

KS: That completely makes sense. Talking about the new management group, this is their first National. You’ve been at this a long time in terms of being associated with the National. How has it been different working with this new group?
They’ve given me a little bit more responsibility, which I appreciate. It enables me to do more things. More creative things. Look at things from a vision standpoint. They also have experience in terms of running regional shows. So, they understand the exhibitor. They understand the attendees. It’s been very positive, and we’re very excited. It’s a lot more work. But I think the reward is having the attendees, and whether it’s a family or an individual, be able to come and have that once-in-a-lifetime experience that they’ll never forget.

KS: What do you think is the biggest change that the new management group has brought to the running of the show?
Technology, I really do. I think they’re very open to technology, and we’ve seen that already. Our website has been revamped, and it’s nowhere even where we want it to be, which is a great mindset for me. There’re other things that we’re doing that are pretty much trying to be ahead of the curve and working with different companies from floor schematics to just interaction throughout the five days of the show. I think that probably for me is the biggest thing.

And just being open to new and creative things in terms of working with various people out there and promoting aspects of the industry. They understand community, and I think that’s the most important thing for me, because it’s all about community. I think I’ve talked about collecting, and I think collecting is…I think we’re put in life to create memories, right? For me, creating memories means like music, collecting photographs. Those are things that help create memories, and they get that. I’ve had the honor, the privilege to work with so many people, and I see that.

I was on a podcast recently with two kids, 14 years old, talking to another one in another state, and I was listening, and it wasn’t about trading cards. Even though all three of them were big into their personal collections, they were talking about music. They were talking about school. When it was finished, I realized, and I said to them, you know what, you guys are friends, aren’t you? I mean, you forged a relationship here. And they go, yeah, yeah. I mean, I looked at it, like I was shocked. For them. It was like, hey, this is what it’s all about. They create friendships via the collecting, via the community, via the hobby. I think that’s what really brings us all together. I think that’s what’s so incredible about the National, is the fact that these people are so excited to get there to see their friends. Their old friends. Make new friends. Make contacts that they’d never be able to make anywhere else and just have a fun time. So yeah, for me, is what it’s all about.

KS: You talk about friendship, but it’s also a family aspect too, because I know I’ve noticed over the last several years, we steadily see more and more families. Larger family units at the show, more and more children. The National still has their long running policy of children 12 and under, I believe, get in for free. What have you noticed, as someone who helps kind of run the show. What have you noticed in terms of the family demographics over the last couple of years?
I give Mike Berkus a lot of credit for that.  Years ago, I think kids 12 and under got in free on Sundays. Mike, just kind of said, hey, you know what? Let’s do it every day. Let’s make it five days. So, we said, great. I think it was one of those things where back then, I think you remember, everybody was clamoring about, we have to have kids in the hobby. We have to bring kids. How do we bring kids into the hobby?

And it was at that time. I think was just perfect timing that I got to know Brody the Kid. Now, Brody had to be about 13 to 14 at the time. I give him the ultimate credit, because he became one of our first National ambassadors. The reason being is that he was able to communicate with kids. He was talking on their level, but not only the kids, he was able to communicate with all the manufacturers and exhibitors. He was able to go to, let’s say Topps or Panini or whatever, and talk to them about getting product that he could utilize to give to kids, do breaks or pack redemptions or whatever. So he started that, and it just grew. He’s still with us today. He’s still one of our ambassadors. He’s a little older, but he’s still a great guy. Great ambassador.

But that kind of got me thinking about, you know what, it’s great that we have people in the hobby that have a passion. That have a personal collection. My ambassadors are not influencers. They’re maybe what you would call content creators who have a passion for the hobby. Whether it’s community. Whether it’s trading cards or memorabilia. We have like 10 or 15 of them now, and that’s what they do. They’re out there promoting the hobby. A lot of other things have evolved with the hobby. In other words, pop culture has come on and really taken us by storm. Pokemon. A lot of other things that have attracted the entire family.

So, the combination. You have the ambassadors. Male, female. Very diverse. Talk to a lot of different targets. Now we have not only the father and the son coming to the show. We have the mother. We have the daughter. We have the grandma, the grandpa. And so now we have the entire family, and we have something for the entire family, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s probably one of the things that I’m most proud about, is that we now have families and not just a certain segment of the population.

Hobby Musings: On the Hot Seat with the NSCC’s Ray Schulte

Be sure to check back for Part 2 of Ray’s interview next week.

Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on collecting in Hobby Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
Kelsey Schroyer

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