On the heels of The National in Atlantic City, let’s identify the key elements that every great card convention needs to deliver the best possible experience for collectors.
The 2022 edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention concluded on July 31 in Atlantic City. Amid the buzz and breaks and special showcases, the annual marquee event better known simply as “The National” left us with a few ideas.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of hobbyists and collectors alike joined together to make friends, make deals, and take it all in. Big players of the industry like Gary Vaynerchuk, Ken Goldin, and Josh Luber, as well as superstar athletes like Allen Iverson, Dan Marino, and Floyd Mayweather. But in an attempt to carry over merry hype of last year in Chicago into this one, some improvements could have been made to the event with regards to some fundamentals.
Let’s get into the details and identify the key elements that enable a perfect trading card show.
Atlantic City is plenty fun, but it’s a pain for most of us to get to. If you’re flying from out of state, you would have to fly into either Philadelphia, Newark, or JFK, then rent a car, take a train or bus, or book an awfully expensive Uber to AC. That’s no small amount of additional time and cost. When you’re traveling for a full day and carrying cases upon cases of cards with you, things can take a toll.
To be fair, Atlantic City does have an airport — but plenty of would-be attendees would have to withstand multiple layovers to fly directly there. With flights getting delayed and canceled due to labor shortages in the airline industry around the world, this is a huge risk if you don’t have the luxury of a time buffer before things begin. All told, The National should only be held in cities not simply with nearby hotels, but easy access to at least one major airport as well.
The Atlantic City Convention Center, the physical venue for the 2022 edition of The National, was widely regarded as being spacious and easy to navigate, but it was lacking in one area — technology, specifically WiFi and cellular data reception. Whether old-school hobbyists and collectors like it or not, the trading card industry fully exists in the 21st century; gone are the days of scouring through a Beckett magazine to see a card’s estimated market value. To ensure someone is getting the best deal — either selling or buying — having reliable access to, say, eBay’s recent sales or an app like CardLadder is vital.
Last year in Chicago, reliable WiFi and cellular data service were not an issue. We heard zero anecdotes about an attendee going into a deal blind (unless price was simply no object!). For an event this massive, organizers need to be able to provide assurances regarding not just the venue itself, but the infrastructure and basic amenities that make it go.
5 Days is a Lot!
Going the full length of The National, which ran from July 27-31 this year, can be an exhausting experience. With that in mind, we propose either three or four days as the ideal length for the event. By Saturday night, most of the vendors are packing up and leaving, which tends to make things look increasingly like a barren wasteland on the final day (holding things in a more accessible city could also alleviate some of this). That means those who are only able to visit for the weekend really only have one day to experience the iconic card show at its fullest.
The National Goes West?
The first ever National Sports Collectors Convention was held in Los Angeles, California in 1980; if memory serves, The National hasn’t been on or near the West Coast since 2006 when it set up shop in Anaheim. Since then, the convention hasn’t reached further west than Chicago, where it’s visited numerous times and returns again in 2023.
California is home to not only some of the world’s biggest conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con, but some of the hobby’s biggest and most popular brick-and-mortar shops, like Burbank Sportscards.
The National doesn’t even have to pick California; they can choose Las Vegas, which hosted the first-ever MINT Collective earlier this year, or several different cities in Texas if the Left Coast is a bit too far. The National should be in a different city each year and have a cadence in some order of East, Central, and West. This way, the event avoids any perceptions of bias or alienating collectors and hobbyists from disparate parts of the country for an extended period of time. As the hobby’s single biggest show continues to showcase massive growth — the 2022 edition reported the highest attendance since 1991 — making sure it feels like an utterly, literally national event is a must.