Collectors of vintage non-sport material could sustain their passion for the hobby at the 34th National Sports Collectors Convention held last week in suburban Chicago. For devotees of modern-era non-sport products, the show’s highlights were located in the corporate area where Brian Wallos’ Bench Warmer models featured the company’s newest releases, while Mike Jaspersen discussed Topps’ current and upcoming projects. Artist Brian Kong, who impressively straddles both the sports and non-sport realms, reported he had been busy fielding customer commissions during the Thursday session.
With roughly a half-million square feet of exhibition floor, the NSCC show layout at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, IL could be logically segmented into three components. The main area housed National booth-holders who either carry significant years of seniority at the event or are viewed as industry leaders in terms of inventory and annual gross revenues. The card manufacturers (Topps, Upper Deck, Panini, and others), along with other corporate entities such as Beckett and PSA grading services, dominated the center section of the main exhibition section.
The second segment, apart from the convention’s high-traffic core, had been comprised of vendors with lesser-priced — and more contemporary — merchandise. (In fairness, I must disclose spending very little time loitering in this area and cannot comment fully on the extent of products offered during my six-hour stay.) Segment three was the personal appearance showcase where baseball signature hounds could pay as much as $200 for a Roger Clemens autograph or as little as twenty bucks for a Milt Pappas cursive.
Compared to the entertainment industry’s monolithic “comic-cons,” the National remains an affordable event. The $25 at-the-door admission price certainly beats out other conventions that sometime charge triple that amount. The National’s executive board seems to comprehend the value of foot traffic and the importance of not bankrupting potential customers before they walk through the door.
One final personal observation: I’ve attended sports collecting shows since the mid-1970s (my first National had been the 1982 St. Louis convention) and have witnessed first-hand the evolution of both trading card pastimes. For example, today our want lists or other reference material can be accessed digitally via a portable tablet or smart phone — and I saw several instances of this on the NSCC floor. But these devices, and their portals to online merchandising, can never exist as a suitable substitute for the basic face-to-face interactions between dealer and collector, and also the simple pleasure of being visually inundated by a roomful of desirable collectibles.