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4 Things We Learned at the 2021 National Sports Collectors Convention

Amid record-setting attendance and mountains of wax needing to be ripped, collectors found heaven on earth at the 41st National Sports Collectors Convention.

The National began with a preview night for VIP members on Wednesday, followed by four full days of trading, selling, and networking among energetic hobbyists of all stripes. That included many celebrity collectors like Steve Aoki, DJ Skee, and Kevin Negandhi all making the trip to Rosemont, Ill. right outside Chicago, to say nothing of all the iconic stars like Emmitt Smith, David Ortiz, George Gervin, Hulk Hogan, Chipper Jones, Kevin McHale, Barry Sanders, and Brett Hull who held court and signed autographs for fans.

And Boardroom was happy to be there to take it all in.

After nearly five days of haggling, the 600-plus vendors for the best deals, some key trends emerged that hint at the future of the industry.

The Hobby is Going Strong

As we discussed in last week’s preview, The National has crushed any perceptions of the hobby’s demise. PSA and BGS had to limit on-site submissions after the first day, countless sold out of wax as huge deals went down throughout the convention.

The hobby may not be at the all-time highs it reached during 2020, but it is still riding last year’s momentum impressively.

Growing Diversity in the Collector Community

A key indicator of a healthy hobby is its community, and the hobby community may be the most diverse it has ever been. A hobby that has been dominated by white males now has vendors, content creators, and collectors of different backgrounds. This includes young girls who were ecstatic to participate in pack wars against the boys, and flex their pulls (and their formidable reserves of sports knowledge).

With any community, representation matters, and when young people see those who look like them creating content, speaking about who the next rising star is, or just ripping a pack of Topps Stadium Club, we’re looking at a community that’s accepting and looking to evolve. As the hobby continues to grow, the value of the sports card market will, too.

Fútbol > Football?

If there was one sport that seemingly everyone was looking to rip, that sport was soccer. Soccer hobby boxes including the Topps Chrome Bundesliga, Topps Chrome Champions League, and Topps Merlin Chrome Champions League are affordable and come with a high variety of hits.

Combined with the excitement regarding Olympic soccer in Tokyo, the Gold Cup, and the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar, soccer cards are a legitimately attractive buy here and now.

Even though collectors were purchasing all the soccer wax, it was difficult to find newer singles of rising stars like Jude Bellingham and Youssoufa Moukoko of Borussia Dortmund and Xavi Simons of PSG. Most of the soccer singles available were naturally superstars on the level of Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Lionel Messi, and those in the elite tier of the sport.

That likely won’t remain the case, however — perhaps as soon as next year’s National.

As soccer becomes more popular in the hobby, could we see broader offerings from both Panini and Topps? It’s a question absolutely worth asking.

Is Grading Worth the Hassle? It Depends.

The option to grade on-site from either PSA or BGS was a huge success. Even though such services started at $250, the guarantee of having graded cards in hand before the end of the show was an attractive one. Still, many collectors left disappointed in the grades they received.

(To be fair, this is a tale as old as grading itself.)

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We did notice a number of less-than-stellar grades given to cards that appeared to the naked eye to have minimal flaws. One collector who submitted over 25 cards only received one PSA 10; there was one card that received a PSA 8 and appeared to have zero imperfections on the centering, edges, or corners. That card would have been valued in the thousands if it received a PSA 10.

Instead, it is now worth a couple hundred bucks — not a bad sum by any stretch, but about same as if the card were never graded at all.

There’s evidence to suggest that grading organizations have grown relatively more strict in their standards as the hobby continues to grow. Equilibrium will set in eventually, but the $250 price tag may require some discussion in order for casual collectors and prospective investors alike get in the game and get the very most out of their time at the big event.

The next National Sports Collectors Convention? Atlantic City, 2022.

And if the triumphant return we witnessed this past weekend serves as any indication, there are many, many more records to be broken.