The National Sports Collectors Convention, or "The National" is the largest and most well attended annual sports collectors convention that exists today. If you can swing if financially, it's a Must Attend kind of event for the sports card collector. This legendary show to end all shows started in 1980 largely in part by efforts from the late Mr. Mike Berkus. Back then it was held in a Marriott hotel ballroom near LAX (Los Angeles Airport). It's grown into massive popularity and is now held in some of the country's most notable convention centers both in reputation and size.
For those considering an appearance at The National, there are some things to consider. This article is meant to educate and inform potential first timers and seasoned attendees alike so they can best or better prepare to enjoy this fine event. Let's dig into it. Here's a helpful Q&A to get you ready to have one of the most entertaining days (or weeks depending on how long you decide to stay) of your entire year.
How much money is enough to cover the trip?
There are two costs you need to consider: Required costs and Spending costs. The former is for travel and lodging while the latter is for spending while in the showroom. For a full 5-day trip, travel and lodging runs on average about $1000. That gets you there and back. The amount of spending money you want to bring is entirely up to you and your level of purchasing power. I'd recommend at least another $1000 for spending cash. So, on the bare minimum, $2000 is a good number to expect. If you don't wanna dip into your spending funds for food, bring another $200 to cover that and miscellaneous expenses should any exist. So $2200 round trip is a good amount to expect. If you're a big spender with deep pockets, by all means, bring more.
Where should I stay while I'm in the city that's hosting The National?
The obvious and immediate answer is as close to the convention hall as possible. Aim to cut back as much idle time as possible during your trip. The website for The National shares info on nearby hotels with competitive rates. When you're on The National website, click on the Hotel Accommodations link in the header. I'd link directly there but the link URL changes depending on where the venue is held, which varies from year to year. I highly recommend reserving a room with one of these hotels as soon as possible and with one as close to the venue as possible. I'm giving you gold here. I want you to save your time so you can spend as much of it as possible at the show and with friends.
What should I bring?
The answer to this question depends on how you operate as a collector. If you're like me, you go to The National not just to buy stuff you collect but also to make friends and look for stuff to blog about. So for me, I bring a camera, tripod, MacBook Pro, business cards, a multi-adjustment screwdriver, and a loop. I also bring a 1-inch binder filled with empty used 9-pocket pages. I use this to store all of the cards I buy at the show. This saves me tons of space and it's easy to carry around. I started doing this in the mid-1990s and it's been a strategy that's always worked for me. I call it the Card Show Binder. When I buy cards in toploaders or other types of cases, I take them out of the cases and put them in the binder. Bring a philips head screwdriver so you can easily remove cards from screwdowns. To save time, I do this each night back at the hotel room, then take the cases back to the showfloor the next morning and give them to the first dealer I see so they can be reused.
Checklist: If you collect a certain player or set, consider bringing a checklist. While some collectors prefer the ol' pencil and pad, I've been using Google Drive for years to house my checklists. This has been efficient in that I can access my checklist and make changes in real time right from my smartphone as long as I have a WiFi connection, which tends to exist in the show hall. It also keeps my hands free and extra stuff out of my backpack, which is another thing you should consider bringing.
Backpack: Bring a backpack to carry with you while you're at the show. Avoid anything with handles that would require you to drag or carry around. The backpack you should consider bringing is of standard size, just something you can put over your shoulders for easy access when you need to store purchases. I bring a somewhat small but ideally sized backpack that fits what I need to have. In it, I keep my Card Show Binder, a Flash Magnifier, a handycam and tripod, philips head screwdriver, business cards, and some granola bars. This is the bare minimum I need with me while I'm on the showfloor. Your backpacks might contain more or less depending on what you feel you need with you to make your experience an ideal one.
A Friend: I try to bring a friend whenever possible both for security and because it makes the entire trip more enjoyable.
Comfortable Pair of Shoes: This is critical. Bring comfortable shoes. Avoid sandals at all costs. I wore sandals at the 2012 National and by the end of the week, I had more blisters on my feet than I care to remember. It took several days for my feet to return to normal when I got back. So again, avoid sandals. You'll be doing a lot of walking and you'll be much happier wearing a comfortable pair of shoes.
Should I bring cards to trade or sell?
You can if you'd like. This isn't uncommon and this is a great place to make trades and deals with dealers and other collectors alike. Be mindful, however, that unless you have something of key significance that's not seen everyday, bringing things to trade might not be the best use of your time as carrying extra items around might be cumbersome and/or burdensome. Before you decide to bring anything to trade or sell, be sure there aren't any rules around whether or not you can do this with other collectors while in the convention hall. I haven't investigated this for The National but I do know this rule exists at other shows. I know of one particular show where violators of this rule are permanently banned from re-entrance. Again, I can't say with certainty if this is the case with The National but it would be to your advantage to look into it beforehand.
How much negotiation room is there on card prices?
This question cannot be answered with any degree of accuracy because every dealer is different. If you see something you like, make an offer but do so without accidentally offending the seller. I like the question approach. Some examples I've used with success in the past are as follows:
- "Would [some amount] be too low an offer?"
- "Would [some amount] be a fair offer?"
I've used this strategy countless times and almost always, I've been able to either work a deal or make a connection. Negotiation Strategy 101. You're welcome.
Is trading encouraged?
Again, it depends on what you have. We're talking The National here, a place where some of the most famous dealers congregate and for the most part, they've seen it all many times over. To grab attention of a dealer with a trade, obviously it has to make sense from a financial perspective for them. Carefully consider what you bring and ask yourself if it's worth your time to try and sell or trade it before committing to it.
Can it be walked through in a single day?
No. Even if you ran, which would likely alarm security, you wouldn't be able to comfortably cover the entire convention in a single day. In 2015, I went with a friend and we serpentined every row and while we finished coverage of the full show floor by the end of the final day, we had to skip a lot of dealer booths to do so. We're talking a massive convention hall with hundreds upon hundreds of dealer booths. It's literally impossible to see it all, every dealer booth, within the small window of just 5 days.
Are there any special National Exclusive Promos?
Yes. Every year, exclusive promo releases are available at The National. There are always several different cards available and in different locations. Some are found in VIP member bags given to you on Sneak Peak night, others at show booths, and others at dealer showcases and events.
Be aware that while these promos are exclusively released at the National, many of them tend to find their way into the online marketplace. This often allows for better prices later. Try not to be a victim of the hard sell from dealers at the National trying to get you to overpay for National Exclusives, especially ones that aren't serial numbered. Remember, you're in control of your money; if the deal doesn't sound good, it probably isn't.
Do the big brands have giveaways or are there ways to purchase from them directly?
Yes, the major brands hold events at their booths to drive attention to their products, which often times you can buy from them directly right there in person. When there are events, you have a shot at obtaining something exclusive. As far as purchasing the giveaway products directly, I've seen it work where collectors buy and trade the obtained contents with each other after the event and the promotional events are generally open for all to participate. Wrapper Redemption pack ripping parties are one of those types of events. If you do the pack opening thing, you might find this event to be an enjoyable experience. It's certainly a popular one with lots of interesting exclusive releases to be found.
I hope this reference manual serves as a helpful guide for your next trip to The National Sports Collectors Convention. Please consider bookmarking it for quick reference as you approach the trip date. Good luck and have fun. If you see me there, please feel free to say hello. 🙂
If you would like to contribute to making this resource even better with the addition of answers to other questions, please post the questions in the comments area and I'll update this article with those questions and their respective answers. Thank you.