Chicago National Entrance CrowdMint Musings: Surviving the National Sports Collectors Convention – It’s hard to believe the National is only a couple of short weeks away. The largest sports memorabilia show of the year, it’s essentially a giant playground if you’re a fan of the hobby. If you haven’t had the chance to attend, I highly recommend going if you can ever swing it. My first time at the 2012 show in Baltimore ranks among my favorite memories as a sports fan.

Speaking from experience, it is a daunting task to go to the National for the first time. Chances are that your typical local card show doesn’t quite have you prepared for the size and scope of the National Sports Collectors Convention. With that in mind though, here are some of my tips for navigating and surviving the National for the first time.

1. Have a plan and budget your time well
If you’re able to attend all five days of the show, this is much easier to do as you’ll probably be able to see everything at least twice. If not, it gets a little trickier. As someone though who has seen eight-hour shoot days disappear in the blink of an eye, I can assure you the show floor closes for the day quicker than you’d believe.

While it’s fun to just roam around and look at the everything the National has to offer, chances are you’ll use up all your time before you can really get down to business. I recommend looking at a floor plan and list of dealers ahead of time or even a schedule of events for the day so you’re not flying blind while on the show floor.

2. Have your camera and spare autograph supplies handy
Given the prevalence of smart phones nowadays, the first item on the list is a fairly easy task. Given the large amount of unique items, especially memorabilia, on display at the National, you’ll probably want to get a picture with something there.

As for the autograph supplies, you never know which athletes or celebrities you’ll run into at the show. Last year, I happened to see former NFL running back Rickey Williams at one of the booths. As is typically a big adage in the hobby world, it pays to be prepared. You never know when you might have a chance to walk away with an extra souvenir.

3. Mingle with fellow attendees
The National provides one of the few opportunities each year to speak with representatives from the trading card IMG_0384companies and the major auction houses. If you have a nagging question about something in the hobby, the National is your chance to bring it up to someone directly instead of by email or social media.

If you happen to be friends with fellow collectors that you’ve never met, the National may be your chance to put a face to a name and share some stories. As someone who has done segments with several of the people who are at the show, it’s been a great time actually getting to sit down and talk the hobby with fellow hobbyists in person.

4. Wednesday and Sunday are good days to get things done
Wednesday offers a shorter-hours sneak peek of the National. While you don’t get as much time inside the show, you also typically don’t get as large a crowd. Since this means shorter lines, this is a great time if you want to do wrapper redemptions or any other kind of business at one of the card company booths. Sundays also typically have smaller crowds and are also a chance to pick up some deals.

If you’re looking to get some sealed boxes of cards or larger memorabilia items, dealers typically offer some type of discount so they don’t have to take it home. In the couple of years I’ve been going, I’ve done most of my buying on Sundays. With that in mind though, if you see something you want badly enough, don’t hesitate to buy it. I once saw a beautiful baseball signed by Pee Wee Reese that I had planned to buy on Sunday, only to be told that it had already been sold.

5. Enjoy yourself
The National is meant to be a fun affair. You may drop more money than you plan or not have as much luck with your boxes as you’re hoping, but chances are you’ll have a fun time. Give yourself enough time to have fun and properly enjoy it.

It’s a truly great event for the hobby and one that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend the past few years. If you have younger children who can walk around, consider taking them along. The National is free for children 12 and under, which means you can bring your kids along and make it a family affair if you so choose.

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

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