Hobby Musings: Reflections from the 2018 National – After multiple days, four states and several hundred miles driven, I’m happy to say that I’m back home. As much fun as the 2018 National Sports Collectors Convention was, it doesn’t beat being home with the family. That being said, this year’s show provided a good hobby experience and some exciting moments. Before we close the book on the 39th edition of the National and begin looking ahead to 2019 in Chicago, here’s a look at what happened in Cleveland last week.
The most exciting moment of the show came during a vintage break of 1955 Bowman Baseball. With only a few cards left in the pack and an Ernie Banks already pulled, anticipation was building as to whether Leighton Sheldon and Vintage Breaks could pull the elusive Mickey Mantle card. Sitting off to the side, I all of a sudden heard a roar from Mr. Sheldon and the people on the Mike Berkus Main Stage and knew they had done it. Sure enough, there was a pristine Mantle card there for the lucky recipient of the break spot. Eventually coming back a PSA 9, the card would soon generate a $50,000 offer.
This event generated the most positive press for the show and was picked up in multiple media outlets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it lead to more marquee vintage breaks throughout the year and at next year’s National. Any time you can see a group of grown men get excited like little kids, it’s certainly an entertaining thing.
Another big news generator, albeit not nearly as positive, was one of the booths/dealers being shut down and thrown out for selling fake autographs. While all the details are still being sorted out, rumors on the floor consisted of the prices for the booth’s merchandise being too good to be true. This kind of thing seems to happen every couple of years at the National. While it’s a shame that it occurs, it’s also good to know there are people, especially at this show, that will police it and do everything they can to prevent people from being the subject of fraud.
Back to the positives, the show’s attendance was pretty strong. It didn’t always seem that way given the IX Center’s size and openness. Speaking with several dealers though, almost all of them reported strong traffic throughout the show and being busy at their booths. Thanks in part to Tristar selling out of their VIP packages, there was already a strong built-in crowd for the show’s first few days. It only got stronger on Friday and Saturday as more and more people were off work and able to come to the show. Either way, it was another indicator that the National is an event that manages to draw in a good crowd of people in multiple cities over different years.
The manufacturers did a nice job of providing value with their redemption packs this year. I’ll go a little more in-depth on it in a different column, but lines were strong at all the booths as collectors clamored for the exclusive packs and cards. Topps did a nice job of managing demand for their Bowman packs this year as they managed to stay in supply all throughout the show instead of running out quickly as in years past. Upper Deck’s redemptions were so popular they run out of case redemption packs by the end of Thursday and were out of their black packs by the end of Saturday. Panini’s silver packs were popular again with collectors and provided several big hits, including a Kyle Kuzma 1/1 auto I saw for sale on the floor.
One of the most encouraging things about this year’s show in Cleveland was the amount of children I saw on the floor with their families. One of the best decisions the National makes and continues to uphold each year is letting children 12 and under in for free. It’s a great way to help promote the hobby to younger collectors and also eases some of the financial burden that can be incurred by attending the show. I could be off base on this, but it seemed like there were more younger collectors at this year’s show than even in Chicago last year. Panini’s free kids breaks were incredibly popular again with lines forming long and quickly every time they were offered. PSA’s free custom encapsulated card was also a popular spot for the younger collectors as they either got their cards done solo or with their families.
Tristar’s autograph pavilion was a hot spot throughout much of the National. Featuring a lineup of well over 130 different athletes/celebrities, I found myself in the middle of a big crowd several times over the course of the five-day show. Saturday was by far the busiest as several notable athletes like Jim Brown and Albert Pujols drew long lines. One cool moment was seeing Barry Sanders walk over to Brown to mingle during the show. It’s moments like that that you can only get at a show like the National, and the crowd seemed to get a big kick out of seeing it.
It was also cool to see some of the items the athletes received for signing. Talking with some of them, many said how they enjoyed seeing and signing the custom artwork people made featuring them. My favorite item though was seeing Fred Lynn be handed one of his Orioles game-used jerseys to be signed. Aside from the uniqueness of the item, it was interesting to see how Lynn himself studied it as if he was remembering when he wore it. It just goes to show that the athletes themselves can get as much of a kick out of the National as the fans.
Vintage was, not surprisingly, very popular and well represented on the show floor. Given its strong standing in the hobby, many dealers featured at least some vintage while many others dedicated their entire table to it. The listed prices for it were very high though, both graded and ungraded alike. While I was able to walk away with some great deals, including a nice PSA 7 Don Sutton rookie on Sunday, it was a little frustrating at times to see the high prices. Given some of the chatter on the showroom floor and on social media, I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way.
That being said, there were plenty of good deals to be had on the floor and according to many of the booths and people I spoke to, plenty of money changed hands on transactions. Baseball Card Exchange proved to be popular as their daily deals sometimes defied belief. I was lucky enough to walk away with a nice Larry Doby signed 8×10 for only $10. Just remember too that when you’re attending the National or any other card show for that matter, don’t be afraid to throw out an offer on something. While you never want to be too unreasonable, you never know what someone will be willing to take. Besides the Sutton, I managed to pick up a nice Nolan Ryan rookie at 20% off the original price because I asked and was willing to pay cash.
All in all, the 39th National Sports Collectors Convention was a fun show. Aside from the internet in the IX Center being suspect all week, it once again served as a nice venue given its size, openness and proximity to the airport. The National’s John Broggi summed up the show by saying, “The 2018 National was a success by almost every measure. The Convention Center is large and well maintained. The bright signage everywhere added to the positive vibe all week. Attendees came early and stayed late. The only negative we heard from exhibitors was the lack of free WIFI and that was addressed before we left Cleveland. The I-X Center announced that they will provide complimentary exhibitor wireless internet suitable for web browsing and email service to all dealer and corporate booths for the 2022 (if it is held in Cleveland). If higher bandwidth is required, they will offer incentive pricing on an individual basis”.
The National often serves as a barometer of how well the hobby is doing and if 2018 was any indication, it is in a good overall spot right now. With the 40th edition of the hobby being held next year in Chicago, it will be interesting to see what the hobby brings us in the next year and how that translates to the show itself. If the last year few years have been any indication though, Chicago should be a hit.