In 2019, The National Sports Collector’s Convention returns to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. This will be the 40th National, and early signs point to it being one of the most attended in the shows history. Over 650 exhibitor booths will fill over 400,000 square feet of space and provide collectors an opportunity to immerse themselves into cards, autographs, and other sports memorabilia from all eras. As the National’s website says, “If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the National, it probably doesn’t exist!”
Attending the National is an awesome experience for collectors. Whether it’s your first convention or you’re a seasoned veteran, there are tips and strategies that can help you make the most of your trip.
Inside this article, you will learn the 13 things you need to know before attending the 2019 National Sports Collectors Convention.
While the 2019 show’s location is generally identified as Chicago, the actual location is the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. This year’s show runs from Wednesday evening 7/31 - Sunday 8/4. The show has worked out special room rates with the hotels located closest to the convention center and can be reserved through the official website at www.nsccshow.com. They have a tendency to fill up quickly, so don’t delay! The website is a great source of basic show info such as the ability to purchase tickets, see autograph signers, and see the past and future show locations. It also has all the contact info you’ll need to answer any questions you may have.
Give Yourself Time
Ok, so you’ve decided to make the trip to the National. Now you need to decide how many days to attend! As mentioned above, the show is huge! I recommend trying to go for multiple days, especially if it is your first time. There’s nothing quite like the first time you walk through those convention doors and see the vast expanse of dealer tables and corporate displays. You may be a bit overwhelmed at first, and knowing you will have a couple days to explore will give you the ability to relax a bit and take it all in. Going for a couple days also makes it easier to utilize a helpful strategy we’ll discuss a little bit later. If you’ve only got one day, just prepare yourself for the realization that you probably won’t be able to see everything. Just make the most of the time you have and enjoy searching for those elusive treasures you have your heart set on.
Come Up With A Plan
This show has something for everyone, so I recommend spending some time thinking about what you want to get out of it. Do you want to buy wax? Singles? Vintage? Are you more interested filling out sets? Or maybe you want to take advantage of the Autograph Lineup and get a chance to meet and get a signature from some of your favorite athletes. Some collector’s enjoy treating the National as a trip to a sports card museum and spend time just going from booth to booth just to see rare and unique memorabilia.
Everyone’s goals will be different, but as long as your strategy leads to an enjoyable experience you’ll always remember, then it’s a good plan. The big thing you want to avoid is missing out on getting that key autograph because you lost yourself going through some awesome dollar boxes. Or maybe you run out of time to search for that final high number vintage card you need because you spent two hours in line waiting for an auto of someone you didn’t really care all that much about. Come up with a plan, do your best to follow it, and more than likely you won’t be disappointed.
So we just talked about coming up with a plan and doing our best to stick to it, so you may be saying what do you mean “be flexible”? Well, even with the best made plans, situations can arise that expose you to something you hadn’t thought of. Maybe you find an unexpected white whale that eats up a big chunk of your budget. Maybe a great deal on some large lots fill up your backpack and force you to spend time running out to your car to unload. While at my first National a few years ago, I unexpectedly had a chance to be interviewed for the Beckett “Fat Packs Podcast”. I hadn’t planned on spending time sitting down with Eric and Paul, but when you get an invite to be a guest on one of the biggest sports card podcasts, you don’t say no! I had to cut out any plans I had to check out the Breakers Pavilion. I was ok with that because I replaced it with an experience even more enjoyable. You just never know what might come up, so even though you’ve got a plan, don’t be afraid to adapt.
Dress Comfortably (also, don’t stink)
Let’s spend a few minutes discussing what to wear and some tips on how to keep your personal hygiene from offending other dealers and guests.
First, wear comfortable shoes. Whether it is walking the floor or standing at tables while looking through cards, you will be on your feet a lot. This isn’t the time for flip flops or cowboy boots. I suggest comfortable supportive athletic shoes. I also recommend having some pockets. Your hands will be full enough, you don’t want to have to worry about where you set your wallet or phone as you go through items at a dealer table. Also, I recommend bringing a backpack. It’s easy to keep out of the way of other collectors and lets you store the stuff you’ve bought. We’ll discuss what else to fill it with here in a bit.
It should go without saying, but unfortunately us collector’s aren’t always known for having the best personal hygiene habits. So for the sake of all your fellow attendees....Take a shower, wear deodorant, and bring some gum or mints. Nobody wants to smell your BO or your Dragon Breath!
Bring a Notepad (Paper or Electronic)
Part of coming up with your plan is making a list of some key things you want to buy. Whether it’s a sealed wax box or a checklist of cards for your PC, having a list helps you keep your treasure hunt focused. Once you’ve got it completed, you can see how much money you have left to pick up some of the other unexpected finds.
That brings us to the other helpful use of the notebook. If you are lucky enough to have some time, I suggest spending the first day only looking at the different tables. Use your notebook to jot down the item and table number of the dealers who have something that peaks your interest. That way you’ll know exactly where to circle back to find those deals. Obviously, if one of your “must haves” is a rare item, you may need to pick it up when you see it, but if you’ve been dying to pick up a 1989 Upper Deck Griffey, there will be no shortage of them available. Make notes and come back to buy the second time through.
What to Pack In Your Backpack
As I said before, in my opinion a backpack is a must. Here’s what I suggest bringing in it. First, pack a water bottle and some snacks. Food can be a bit pricey, so bringing in some water and snacks will save you a bit of money while keeping your hydration at your fingertips. Also, bringing some supplies to store your purchases is a must. Some people swear by a small binder with pages. I prefer some 400-800 count boxes and a few packages of penny sleeves. When you make a purchase, you can easily keep your cards safe and protected.
Haggling is common in the online and in person trading card world, and the National is no exception. I suggest never paying the asking price for a dealer’s card without at least making a lower offer first. As long as your offer isn’t ridiculously low, the worst they can do say is no. More often than not, you will be able to get that card at least a bit lower than the original asking price. Also, as the week progresses, the deals will often get better and better. Offers on big cards that would be rejected Wednesday night are more likely to be accepted on Saturday. What started as a dollar box on Thursday will often become a quarter box by Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Late in the week, you may be able to pick up a full 5 row dime box for $25. If your primary focus is bargains, they will be abundant late in the week. The early days are for rare, or must have items. The end of the show is for picking up the bargains to flip that will allow you to cover a big chuck of the cost of attending the show!
Bring Plenty of Cash
While more and more dealers accept PayPal or Credit Cards, cash is still king. Some facilities have spotty cell phone reception which poses problems with some electronic payment options. If you’ve got cash, you and the dealer don’t have to worry about it. Use your card for the hotel and your meals, use cash for cards.
Be Social (You know, meet people and stuff)
In our world of social media, there is a good chance you’ve interacted with dozens of collectors around the country in forums, on Twitter and Facebook, or when listening to your favorite podcast. Chances are, many of these people will be at some portion of the National and you should take advantage of the opportunity to put a face to a name! Many of the biggest podcast and YouTube hosts bring their shows to the National and are more than happy to say hi to fellow collectors. Don’t be afraid to identify yourself by both your real name and your online user name!
Do I Need a VIP Package?
It depends. The National offers everything from singe day admission tickets to SuperVIP packages that cost over $300. If you only plan to go one or two days, and you aren’t planning to get many autographs, then it may not be worth getting a VIP package. However, if you plan to go the full week, then I’d suggest picking a package that best meets your needs. All packages give you a gift package as well as early access to the show for all five days, along with access to the VIP lounge. Other packages progressively add more autograph benefits as well as things like free parking. Some collectors swear by them, others have never considered getting one and still have a great time.
Take Advantage of Corporate Promos
While specifics vary each year, many card manufacturers and other corporate sponsors will have some sort of promo running through the show. Some companies send collectors on a “scavenger hunt” which can lead to some unique prizes. Others have been known to offer discounts on grading or autograph authentication. COMC will be accepting card submissions which can save you the cost of shipping. Others have various wrapper redemptions and other giveaways. Basically, there’s something for everyone! If you enjoy that kind of thing, make sure you do some research on all the corporate social media accounts. There should be no shortage of opportunities to take advantage of these promos.
While the National provides collectors the opportunity to fulfill their collecting desires, it also provides the chance to give back to local charities. This year, the NSCC is partnering with The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana. Starting in mid-June, the National will be posting some memorabilia and experiences up for auction with the proceeds supporting the Ronald McDonald House. Collectors from all around the country can bid. I think it’s great that we have a way to give back to help support families in need while at the same time creating our own memorable hobby experiences.
So there you have it! Those are the 13 things I think you need to know before attending this year’s National. What did I miss? What other tips do you have for fellow collectors? Let me know in the comments below!