In just a couple of weeks, the National Sports Collectors Convention will be held in Cleveland, OH. Simply known as the National in the hobby, this is the 35th show since it started in LA in 1980.
I am by no means an expert on the National. There are dealers that have set up at all 35 shows. I have attended or worked 16 Nationals counting this years show. My first was the Atlanta National in 1992. 10 of these shows I have been hidden away behind the curtain grading cards late into the night for Beckett. I don’t always get to get out on the floor of the show.
But I have learned a few tips and tricks that have worked for me when I attend cards shows, comic cons and coin shows and other collectibles shows whether I was working the shows or attending them as a collector. Some of these will be obvious to you. Some will be important things to ponder. Your mileage may vary.
I wanted to start with what I think is the most important thing to remember when attending a large convention. While the show is a lot of fun, there are always some people at these conventions looking for an opportunity. Every year there are announcements about items being stolen from dealers tables. Take a few precautions and you will have a much happier experience.
Guard your bag. Don’t leave your bag out of your reach. Your backpack full of cards and what-not can disappear in an instant from right beside your leg.
Phones and cash. I personally keep my wallet and phone in my front pockets. When you are bent over a table looking at cards and your phone and wallet are sticking out of your back pockets, they look like tempting targets for a crook.
When it is time to leave for the day, be aware of your surroundings. One story I always think of comes from the Fun Show coin convention in Orlando that was told to me years ago.
There were individuals that targeted dealers by watching them come and go to and from the show. On the last day, these crooks placed something into the tires on the dealers car. Once the dealer was on the highway, a flat occurred. When the dealer pulled to the side of the road, he was robbed of his inventory and cash. Another story happened in 2007 when a dealer was robbed outside of his hotel during the same show. $4 million in rare coins were stolen.
These two stories are on the more extreme side but smaller robberies happen at conventions. Don’t be a victim. The most obvious thing is to not be flashy at the show. The second thing is to watch your surroundings when leaving the show and around your hotel. On the small scale, it would just suck to have your phone and wallet stolen from you at the show.
Here are a few things I recommend you take with you to the show. If you have ever been to a National before, you will no doubt be carrying most of these already but if you have not been, consider this list.
- A backpack or other type of bag. I like a backpack because it keeps me organized and it holds what I need on me for the day.
- Bottled water and snacks. There will be food courts at the show. They will not be cheap but the big problem will be having to wait in line. Time you could be spending on the floor seeing cards. The bottled water is a must-have.
- Cash. I’m not recommending you carry around a huge amount of cash, to each his/her own and comfort level but you want to have some on-hand for the day. Most venues have ATMs but usually have lines and high fees. Remember, many dealers will take plastic (credit/debit cards) and some even take Paypal at their booths.
- Comfy shoes. Remember, most of the venues large enough to hold the National are nothing more than very large rooms with concrete floors. I know for me, walking what amounts to possibly miles on solid concrete hurts my feet. Even areas where they lay down carpet, it is just carpet over concrete. Something to think about.
- I used to always recommend a notepad for jotting down notes like dealer booth numbers but a smartphone works as well. Each booth at the National has a booth number. You will see things that you will want to revisit, maybe think the price over. Jot down the booth number and the item. The show is large enough that you will forget where things are. Especially after you have looked at thousands of cards and countless display cases. A way to keep notes is also great for keeping track of dealers info, websites you want to revisit after the show, casebreak info, events scheduling at the show, etc. I also try to get business cards when I can. I try to jot down on the back why I got the card. I haven’t always and I end up with business cards and have no idea why I got them. Depending on what your objectives are, having your own cards made up may be a good idea. You can find deals online for 500 cards for as cheap as $10.00. Business cards are great when you are looking for specific items as well. Write on the back what you are looking for and dealers can have a way of making a sale long after the show.
- Communication. I went to a National with several friends one year and we had walkie-talkies with us. Sure, you have a phone but sometimes reception is lousy in the large concrete buildings and I don’t always hear my ringer. With the walkie-talkies, I heard when it went off. We were able to coordinate a few purchases this way and also let the others know when it was time to meet and call it a day.
- Autographs – If you are an autograph collector, there are some great opportunities at the National. This year there are players like Cal Ripken, Reggie Jackson, Brooks Robinson, Barry Sanders, Mike Tyson and Gordie Howe just to name a few. If you are buying tickets to get an autograph, try to get to the ticket lines as early as possible. The lines at the signing are usually maintained and flow smoothly where you do not have to wait too long to get the auto. But buying a ticket is not the only opportunity to get a ‘graph. Many of the signers are traveling to Cleveland so they are probably staying close by and dining close by. I have gotten autographs at the airport, restaurants and hotels before. Some signers love giving autos out if you are nice in your approach. Others not so much. If you see Bobby Hull in a restaurant, he will be glad to sign. Pete Rose, not so much. If you like the thrill of the hunt, carry with you things to be signed and the pens you prefer. I usually have at least one baseball with me along with notecards and Sharpies & ballpoint pens. You never know when or where you might see someone around the National. Last Cleveland National, I met Bart Starr at the airport. He could not have been nicer. A great guy and he was more than willing to sign an autograph for a shlub like me.
- Toploaders. It is a good idea to throw some supplies in that bag of yours. I usually carry some Card Savers and a pack of penny sleeves along with an 8×10 top loader, too. You never know.
- Be clean. Sure, the National is fun. You probably are away from home, away from work and having fun with your hobby. Maybe even making a little money to put back into your hobby. It’s like a working vacation. There are long days and maybe even long nights but let’s try to make this a pleasant experience for everyone involved. It never fails, comics or cards, every convention ends up smelling like a hobo’s cardboard box in July. Remember there are other fellow collectors and dealers in close proximity to you throughout the day. It gets hot and sweaty. I carry a stick of deodorant in my bag and a few other things so I can freshen up throughout the day. If you stop by and talk to me, I know you do not want to smell me. It goes both ways.
The card manufacturers will be there in the corporate area, along with the grading companies. Some of the card companies will have wrapper redemption programs going on where you can get exclusive cards at their booths during certain times. If you are into this, make you out a simple schedule so you keep the times straight.
If you are thinking about grading cards at the show, you do want to plan ahead. I can only speak for us at Beckett but we get backlogged quickly. We can be cutoff for same day service early in the day. Even though we have a large staff on hand, there is a finite number of cards we can process in the hours of the show. In fact, to keep the turnaround times as short as possible, the grading staff usually works late into the night each night at the show. Many people wait to travel to the National to get cards graded. You want to try to beat them to the booth. I recommend if you are planning on getting cards graded on-site, make the grading booth your first stop in the morning. Drop your cards and spend the day on the show floor. There is no way to know what the turnaround times will be, we can tell you what it is at that particular moment you arrive at the booth. This goes for full encapsulation (slabbing) and raw card review (RCR) and graded card review (GCR).
If you have cards you want to drop off to be sent back to Dallas and shipped to you, you can drop these off most anytime throughout the show. There will be specials for orders going back to Dallas. Check with a sales rep at the booth for more info.
If you pull that amazing card that you have to have slabbed in a short amount of time, there are some express services for a small amount of cards. Keep in mind, these services do cost more.
This link will tell you about BGS on-site pricing.
The National is a fun place to be. With a little planning, you can make the most of the experience and fond memories for years to come. And maybe even pick up some really cool stuff. Every year, even with seeing the floor only to go to the bathroom, I still manage to find stuff to take home.
Signed copies now available!