If you have never experienced a National Convention, you are missing out. You are missing out on a gathering of collectors that rarely happens but a few times a year, and definitely without this type of fanfare. This one will be more important than usual because of recent news surrounding Cleveland's sports teams, but there are also other things at work that will definitely make a huge impact on the hobby moving forward. Trust me on that.
However, those things arent why the National Convention is important, and they never will be. These types of cards may be amazing, but not a good reason to book your travel:
As a collector, its important to go and experience everything that show has to offer, whether its the massive amounts of giveaways that will be happening, or the opportunity to catch up with your buddies who have only existed as a username prior to the show. Its a way to connect with cards in a way that isnt available online or in a shop, and to also be a part of the hobby’s fabric that is slowly thinning at the edges.
Its not the only opportunity to do this over the course of the year, as there are lots of similar sized ways to do a lot of the same things you can do at the national. Unlike the National, those opportunities arent as visible. They also dont have the same level consideration from the general populace as the central gathering of collectors each year. Places like All Star Fan Fest, the Super Bowl NFL Experience, and various other huge collector shows all have a ton of guests that rival the type of things you can find each convention, but nothing gets people going like heading to see what is happening on the floor in each NSCC.
The convention started over 30 years ago in Los Angeles, grew to epic proportions during the collecting boom, dropped when the bubble burst, and is now slowly gaining steam all over again. A lot of it has to do with the way the industry treats it, with many entities offering their best faces to interact directly with the collector base. In recent years, Panini has treated it as a grand spectacle, offering extravagant givewaways and parties for their best customers and the like. Topps has taken the opportunity to offer forums for questions and communication, but has chosen to keep things more scaled back in what they offer. Both approaches have been louded and criticized, but both serve a bigger question. How important is this show to everyone involved? The answer is very important to each company, even if they have different ways of showing it. Sales teams, marketing teams, and everyone in between pile onto the convention floor, with just as much action behind the scenes as there is up front.
A lot of people see wrapper redemptions as a showcase of how much a company wants to invest in basically bribing customers to open their product, but in reality, its more about the people that truly benefit from pack sales. I have said numerous times that poor products usually have poor sales, and that the manufacturers arent usually the people that have to deal with it on a P&L basis. Some of the most important people at the show arent collectors at all, but rather the dealers who come to the national to unload some of their stock. If a product sucks, the wrapper redemptions will likely be built for the dealers, not for the collectors. Of course, we dont see it that way, which only serves the manufacturers to bring more flash and flare to their show floor. God forbid that kind of money be saved to be put back into the products, right? No, that wouldnt fly these days.
So, regardless of my complaining about true motives, you guys are the veritable stars of the show, and its up to you to take advantage of it. You have the hobby elite around you for an entire weekend, and it falls on your lap to make your voice heard. Dont be a dick about it, and definitely dont be combative. Provide your voice in a way that suggests the solution that you would like to see. As much as I have wanted to come swinging with fists of rage in the past, that isnt the way to get things done. Tell them what solutions you are looking for, and how you would make the changes. Dont just go there to tell people what is wrong and expect them to take you seriously. That’s not how any industry works, but people seem to think cards are different. Its not – you can always affect change more through building up to a tipping point, instead of demanding the tipping point being brought to you.
Outside of just the interactions with the companies themselves, interact with the collectors too. Group breaks will be on display this year in Cleveland for a reason, as certain companies have taken it upon themselves to roll out the red carpet and weave them into the foundation of the show. They have become an integral part of the hobby economy, and I will be interested to see how far they can take it this time around. There are a lot of reasons why group breaks are one of the best things to happen to the hobby, but we all know what happens whenever something good is discovered. Currently there are over 100 group breakers that host case breaks online, and I still wonder how that is possible to this day. Maybe this is the commentary people need to see that show how little value there is in many hobby boxes.
Im going to end with a story, and I hope it illustrates why I am sad that I cannot attend this year after going the last two times in Chicago.
The best time I had at any national show did not have anything to with the giveaways or the stuff one can buy while walking the floor. It was the time a bunch of guys from the online community went out to dinner and had a night of food and fun. We talked about everything from cards to life, and everyone had a blast. It wasnt about the politics, more about just hanging out and drinking some beers while eating some dinner. That was what the national is all about. Connecting with the hobby in a way that can give you a reason to stick around for another year. Its tough these days to find disposable income to spend on cards, but you dont want to be that person around the table next year without a story to tell. You want to have those battle scars to tell to the collector sitting next to you at dinner. Because, guys, ill be the first to tell you – we all have friends, but this is a different thing.
None of my friends collect cards, and not many understand why I do. The feeling when you are sitting at a table full of people that all get you the way you understand yourself, its an unequaled sense of belonging. Can you get that at your local shop? Of course. Can you get that online? Yes. In the same dose as the national convention? Nope. And that’s why you need to go.