Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tales from the 2009 National- A Recap

An unfortunate incident involving the health of one of my inlaws resulted in a last minute road-trip to North Eastern Ohio that allowed me to breakaway and attend the 30th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention for a day. While my media pass was issued under my Card Corner Club credentials I was strictly there in a VOTC capacity to bring the National to the Blogsphere. You can catch up on my real-time Twittercast here. Complete with photos. A more formal image gallery of the show can be found here on Flickr.

Dealer Activity
Talking to several dealers, some of which specialized in vintage and others in modern material, the tone was decidely the same. A significant decrease in foot traffic compared to the last appearance in Cleveland and most were blaming the reduced discretionary income available to collectors. However, if you had an organized table, a personable attitude, and the right product for that specific collector, there was money to be made.

Most of the vintage dealers make more money selling to each other than they do the general public and that has always been the case as each dealer upon returning home has a core group of customers looking for specific pieces for their vintage collections.

The ongoing battle of discount modern wax dealers continued between Blowout Cards and Dave & Adams Card World. However, I must say that Blowout at least in terms of crowd traffic and marketing is winning that battle. Weather it was raffles, giveaways, the Rich Franklin signing, the use of Twitter and the creation of their own Message Board Forum, they seem to be readily "one up" on DACW. In talking with the owner who goes by Fish, he said they have really made an attempt to connect with collectors through various media channels including print which he interestingly referred to as a necessary evil as he smiled and nodded at my shirt. (Beckett Sucks).

I have seen several of these dealers over the last 10 years at the National and SportsFest in Chicago. I specifically remember seeing two older crumudegeons who looked like they hadn't sold anything in a decade rolling out the same crap year after year, show after show. Interestingly enough these are also the same dealers who offer collectors an unorganized table, and exhibit the look of being inconvienced when asked about a particular card. To all vintage and modern dealers who really don't want to be there, do us all a favor and stay home, sell your business and go golf because you clearly don't experience the same level of joy that I am sure once attracted you to the Hobby.

Beckett Sucks
The now infamous T-shirt was as Borat would say, "Great success." It is quite remarkable that something as insignificant as a T-shirt could be viewed as as a threat to the corporate entity that is Beckett (Sucks) Media. Apparantely it was the several attempts at increasingly closer photo ops in front of their booth that caused them to notify security and show organizer Ross Foreman to not let me back into the show after returning from a smoke break. I politely said that was a violation of my 1st Amendment rights and that I'd gladly wait for the police to sort out the issue. I was told that wouldn't be necessary. I said it will be if you don't let me back in the show. After talking to the chief of security and the show organizer, who asked me to explain why Beckett Sucks, which I gladly did, they agreed to let me back in the show but I did agree to stay away from the Beckett (Sucks) booth. Which was fine. My mission was already accomplished. Silly shit, now back to the show.

The Crowds (or lack there of)
To say it was very spacious would be an understatment. The bulk of the traffic was concentrated around the autograph and corporate pavillions, which dealers know is a necessary evil to bring in the crowds but unfortunately for them leaves less money for table dealing. In talking with management, they acknowledged that the traffic was higher on Friday. The collectors I spoke with were several; many looking for items to add to a player collection, vintage set collectors with written copies of their want list painstakingly flipping thru binders, kids ripping packs and telling each other how much their cards were worth (sigh) and many more just there to get autographs.

The Manufacturers
Were all in attendance. Scratch that. Topps apparantley decided that protecting the bottom line was more important than being represented at and supporting the Hobby's biggest show. Which really is a sad testament to how far they have fallen from grace as a leader in the trading card and collectibles market. Meanwhile Upper Deck, Press Pass, Razor, Donini, Sportkings, and Tri-Star all rolled out the red carpet for collectors, with redmeption programs and celebrity and/or athlete appearances.

Upper Deck- The UD booth had a steady line of collectors that moved quickly thanks to an efficiently staffed presence. Randomly inserted into a different 6-card pack of exclusive cards produced for the National every day, were random autographs. The gentleman in front of me pulled an Evengi Malkin (Star winger of the Pittsburgh Penguins) numbered to 5! As is typical for a UD tradeshow display, their booth showcased several of their popular products and highend cards of their spokespeople like MJ, Kobe, LeBron and others to name a few. In addition, one of the several display cases showcased a preview of the forth coming Goodwin Champion cards, of which I am most excited. They had DNA samples in the form of hair from the mane of one of the Thoroughbred Hair Cut cards and entomology samples. The artwork for the Goodwin cards looks stunning.

Panini- Top seeded draft pick Tyler Hansbrough was on hand for an exclusive signing. Collectors had to spin a "wheel of fortune" contraption to win an opportunity to meet the bigman out of North Carolina. Tyler looked to be there out of complete obligation, while not being uncordial, I never saw him crack a smile even when signing for a youngster. In addition to the signing, Panini had their own redemption card program. I didn't take a close look at the cards because in all honesty I didn't really care. In my role at Card Corner Club we have interviewed Scott Prusha, marketing manager, several times including at the last National in Chicago. In talking with him briefly it was clear he didn't like my T-shirt.

Press Pass- Just in time for the National was their release of Legends Football featuring retired NFL Greats. It was selling briskly on the show floor for $40 which is pretty decent for a product that delivers (2) on card autographs. Their redemption program featured an array of Press Pass cards featuring most notably, Mark Sanchez.

Razor Entertainment- I met with Brian Gray and learned more about the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card he acquired at the show for inclusion in an upcoming release. The product will feature a (1) per pack vintage buyback auto and he stated that the low end cards will be, for example a 1977 Topps Tom Seaver auto. The price point has yet to be determined but I imagine it will be in the $100 range. I asked how much he paid for the Mantle and he was very forthcoming saying that he paid $17,000 for it. All the autographs will be authenticated and encased by JSA, and I gave him kudos for not using Beckett for this. The autograph received a 10 grade and more than one dealer we spoke to told him it was probably worth $30,000 now. Only time will tell I guess. In conjunction with Bench Warmer, Razor had on hand, Lisa Gleave, Bench Warmer model, but better known perhaps as Case Girl #3 from the TV show, Deal or No Deal. She was very pleasant and funny and I asked her if Howie Mandell really has a germ-phobia and doesn't shake hands, her response was, "Like you can't believe." Weird.

Sportskings- Over the last 3 years Dr. Brian Price has timed the release of the flagship product to debut to coincide with the National. While I had the pleasure of participating in an on-air box break with him on the way to the show, I was amazed at the number of people who could afford to break MULTIPLE boxes of this product at $350 per pop. I saw some amazing cards and the muti-swatch National Exclusive Redemption cards were pretty cool. More interestingly to me were the 3 new products they were providing sneak peeks of at the show. These include Canadiana, an American type product, Scoops showcasing headlines from history, Famous Fabrics a high-end, multi-patch, sports product from various sports. However, the one that I think is going to get the most publicity is Ringside Boxing. Mario at Wax Heaven is going to LOVE this product. Knowing Dr. Price like I do, he is a collector first and a manufacturer a distant second and this product clearly illustrates why. Sell sheets and images will be available soon but you can see the preview poster in the Flickr gallery.

Tristar- In person signings by TNA Knockouts Angelina Love and Velvet Sky as well as Kurt Angle created deep lines at their space which was also positioned by the autograph pavillion. In addition to this signing, collectors were given samples of the company's new Obak product featuring some legendary former players when they were still in the minors. The big one they didn't sign because of a UD exclusive, was Joe DiMaggio. So collectors should not look for the Yankee Clipper in his PCL San Francisco Seals uniform. The girls were nice and happily posed for a photo. Can you say WAY too much makeup?

The Graders and Authenticators- All the big names were in attendance including PSA, GAI, JSA and new comer to the market Ace Authentic headed by former authenticator from GAI, Justin Priddy. They had a very unique marketing campaign giving away a random cut auto on a 3x5 card for signing up for their mailing list. I got Herman Franks, a catcher for the Cardinals, Dodgers and A's and later manager of the Giants and the Cubs. This is one of several items I'll be giving away in future contests this week and next. With so many competitors I thought this was a pretty ingenious way to quickly build a database of potential customers. Submissions, like traffic, were on par with the attendance of the show but PSA and Beckett (Sucks) were clearly doing the most business. The PSA exhibit of T-206 cards was very, very impressive and I am pretty sure that's one of the places I left a pool of drool on the floor.

New Ancillary Products- One of the things I always enjoy at the national is seeing some of the new products utilized for display or non-card collectibles. This year I found (3) that struck me as cool or unique. The first was a matted and framed card for team collectors featuring diecut lettering spelling out the team moniker and a spot for a trading card behind each. The framed piece comes with the cards but can be easily replaced to fit your own. David Vigil is the owner and they are currently growing their distributor base and can be found on the web at .

Next was a new single baseball holder, made of break-proof, UV plastic called the Ball Dome. I watched the owner and inventor John Weldon, hold a single signed ball over his head and drop it to the concrete floor of the convention center. Not only did the holder not break, scuff or scratch, the ball didn't move!! When you are talking about archiving potentially priceless signed balls, the last thing you want is the signature moving against the case. In addition they make a version of the product for authenticators that is clearly tamper proof. It has unique patented breakaway base plate that IF tampered with, would be clearly evidenced and a red flag to a potential buyer to steer clear.

Finally, a new team and player collectible is on the market created by Alex Mancini of Mancini Cards. They are called MVP Crystals and are officially licensed. Pictures do not due them justice but feature either a player image or team logo etched into a crystal and bottom lit with a vibrant blue LED light. They are currently in licensing negotiations with the NFL to expand the line to that sport as well.

The Autograph Pavillion- This area was assembled with an array of roped and draped barricades and aisles and walkways to accomadate a crowd of thousands. It turned out to be overkill as even when some of the bigger names were signing during the day, a couple hundred would have sufficed. Several key players were signing Saturday including Jim Brown, Ernie Banks, Lynn Swan, Troy Aikmen, and Jim Kelley to name a few. Prices were typical of a big show but people intent on meeting their heroes ponied up the dough.

Accomadations- Parking was $8 and easy to find and hassle free. The I-X center is located right by the airport and easy to get too. While I didn't eat at the show the food court area was huge and delivered a way better menu than the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago. The entry fee of $15 would have paid for itself in terms of free stuff, EASILY.

Contest Give Aways- As stated previously I picked up several items to give away this week including- The new BallDome, Tri-Star Obak preview set, Upper Deck St. Louis Cardinal's Posters from All-Star FanFest, $10 off at BlowOut cards, T-206 PSA poster, Herman Franks Cut Auto, Lisa Gleaves Autographed Benchwarmer card.

Overall thoughts- Going to the National to cover as much as possible as a blogger/reporter is much different than going as a collector over a couple of days when you can pace yourself and take it all in at a more leisurely pace. I am not in the financial position currently to dump a lot of money into collectibles, which, had I been there as a collector, would have driven me crazy. I think to really do it right you would want to go with at least $300. This would allow you to buy hoardes of single GU and Autos for $5.00 a piece, a couple of boxes of new product, and an autograph.

I had a great time overall and particularly liked being able to meet some of the fellow bloggers including James Ryan of Sports Locker and admitted former blogger Dave of Fielder's Choice.

I would really like to do this show set up at a booth with Marie and Sooz of A Cardboard Problem, Mario at Wax Heaven, Gellman of SCU, and many others. Where we could have a basecamp and a place on the show floor to sit down shoot the breeze, compare notes and deliver the National to non-attending collectors like only a bunch of dedicated and passionate bloggers can. Streaming web cam interviews, and box breaks, radio podcasts, Twittercasts, pack battles. It might be just a pipe dream but that's ok.

The schedule for the next few years is the National will be in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Chicago in that order so I will be attending at least 2 of the 4. I hope Mario and the girls from A Cardboard Problem Sooz and Marie can carry the torch and bring the rest of us unable to attend, next year's National.

Please feel free to ask any questions that I may not have covered and stay tuned for Post National Contests.


Gellman said...

Im in for next year. We need to set up a blogger booth.

Wax Heaven said...

Great report but no way did Topps "fall from grace", they are clearly above any of the brands at the National, at least in the baseball market.

This is the second year they failed to show at the National but according to The Sports Locker, crowds weren't even worth it.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

I just think it really shows a lack of class. What does it say to collectors and potential attendees. "Why should I go if Topps isn't even going?" I'm not saying it was the sole reason for low crowds many many factors contributed but I think it is unexcusable for "the grand-daddy" of them all to repeatedly skip tradeshows. They never come to SportsFest either but the others do. I just think it is indicitive of them losing their focus

James said...

Great report - I really enjoyed your twitter updates.

Anonymous said...

Two things.

1. Your t-shirt is stupid.

2. Low attendance = poor economy. Duh.

Dave said...

Thanks for that comprehensive report. I wasn't able to make it but after having read your post I feel as though it was. I'm sorry that for a while they gave you a hard time because of the shirt but I'm glad that they ultimately came to their senses.

Anonymous said...

Life in order providing, I'd definitely be down for a blogger booth one of these years, even if I had to hitchhike to get there.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Don't you love chicken shit anonymous comments

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Oh PS The number of dealers that laughed and told me they LOVED my shirt reiterated to me how completely irrelevant they (Beckett Sucks) has become

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