Its always a treat when I can attend an event like this and not have to figure out a way to make it work. All the stars aligned and I was able to get there and get back without much impact to my family or work. If you are in a position like me with two young kids and a crazy busy job, you know that is a miracle. As a result I decided to make the most of it. I posted a ton of pictures on Twitter – be sure to check out the gallery below if you dont care about my ramblings. I also had some really nice pick ups, but most importantly, I got to hang out with all the other people just like me who love cards. If you were there, you know that was more than usual this year. Here are some of my observations.
I have been to four NSCCs and this was the busiest by far. It wasnt even a contest. Every day was busier than I ever remember it, with Wednesday night being about as busy as Friday of previous years. Yeah, baseball is having a good year. More importantly than that, there was such a wide variety of people, even though Aaron Judge brought all the boys to the yard. Kids, vintage collectors, autograph seekers, and memorabilia collectors mixed in with the normal crowd, and that was just the start. Dealer tables were more impressive than I have ever seen them, and its clear that the best of the best were in Chicago this weekend.
I think both Topps and Panini had a strong showing this year, despite Topps running out fast and Panini’s design being quite a bit more disappointing than some of the previous years.
Basically, Topps was relying on the parallel factors in Bowman to drive their packs, and it did by a significant margin. Topps had both Judge and Bellinger in the packs, alongside favorites like Jeter, Bryant, and others. Each card had parallels to both 50, 10 and 1, and there were autos too. The design was a special parallel of 2017 Bowman, so naturally it was super popular. Pulling a Judge on day 1 was a 50 dollar return, which was awesome on boxes that cost 90 to begin with. Problem is, lines were long and packs ran out quickly on Thursday and Friday. So much so that they started the giveaway at noon on Saturday. I can only imagine the line, as I left on Friday night.
Panini counted on Judge too, but their cards were significantly tougher to move if you pulled something nice. I want to say the Basketball cards were more of a draw than anything, and that’s because Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons were in packs, along with relics and autographs.
I personally HATED the rookie design, which is fucking annoying, because in 2016, it was great all around. They brought back weird towel relics again, but thankfully I didnt see any of those horrific Santa hats this year. I think the best cards in Panini’s stable were the private signings, which actually looked better than most of the content in much of what Panini has already released. I wish the base and parallels looked this good.
If you were at a modern table of baseball cards at the show, it was guaranteed that Judge had a full case of cards, or a large plot of real estate at least. The guy was everywhere, and for the most part, the dealers werent really looking to add to their giant stash unless they were running low. I saw the BGS 9.5s at around 1000, but haggling was available in most cases. Because there was so much Judge at the show, if you didnt find someone who would work with you on what you wanted, it was very very easy to get in touch with another dealer who has the same stuff.
Vintage’s Huge Presence
If you havent been to an NSCC, it has been dominated by vintage since the beginning of having national shows. Many vintage collectors and groups of vintage collectors make it a point to schedule the convention into their year, as it is a place where many wants can be filled and extras sold.
Some of the things I saw at the show were absolutely jaw dropping, with multiple high grade 1952 Mantles on display next to high grade Ruth Goudeys and Joe Jackson Cracker Jacks. The vintage tables were honestly more crowded than the modern tables, even with Judge’s meteoric ascent, with many dealers catching up with friends they havent seen since the last NSCC.
I even saw a number of vintage collectors who didnt match the age demographic that one would expect. Younger guys are probably tired of chasing the next guy to make the hall of fame, when there are so many that are already there. They are not going about things in the wrong way AT ALL. I envy their patience and desire to pad their already impressive collections.
Basketball Trends Remain the Same
There were rumors last year that Upper Deck was making a huge push for an NBA license, and after seeing how collectors still treat the glory days of UD, that would have gone over like gangbusters. Current Panini stuff has a place, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially when your brand was maybe as strong as Topps is in Baseball.
Collectors go after Panini stuff because its the only option, but would switch back to Upper Deck loyalists the second any news could break. Their loyalty to the new guard is paper thin at best, and I would actually add Topps above Panini at this point as well. A set of Chrome would rock the foundations of what Panini has tried to accomplish and failed at over the years, something im sure the brass in Dallas cant be too excited about.
In the end, it comes down to relatively two names in the NBA, and Panini owns neither. Jordan and Lebron remain the top names in the sport, even though Curry is creeping up. I didnt see the fawning over Steph Curry autographs the way people were gawking at NBA Exquisite and SP Authentic cards. I counted five tables where cards were on display but not for sale. All were Jordan and Lebron from Upper Deck, none were Panini.
To think that the brand was so strong it has survived almost 10 years without losing steam is insane to me. I think they would see the same fondness in both baseball and football if they ever returned to the game, and I sit here thinking about what might have been if McWilliam never got involved with Yu-Gi-Oh.
Football’s New Golden Children
As judge mania sweeps baseball, modern football has really been whittled down in terms of truly sought after names on the modern side. First and foremost is Tom Brady. Every modern football table had a table of Brady all by himself. Brady cards were highlighted in every showcase that had them, with a few other big names like Rodgers and HOFers like Montana and Smith to accompany.
Next to that, it was Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, who were there to try to recapture some of the lightning in a bottle from 2016. Two new names were on the velvet rope list, with one being so hot that it was insanely difficult to find.
First is Derek Carr, who has quickly become the new Andrew Luck of the football hobby. Carr’s stuff is white hot, mainly because of Raider prospects for making a deep run this year. Chrome autos from 2014 were almost non-existent at the show, and Contenders were selling at insane money, despite a horrible design that year. Treasures are already up near where Luck was in 2012, and its shocking to me how quickly this darling became a hobby legend despite a shortened post-season last year.
The second name is Jameis Winston, who people are tagging as a Derek Carr-lite with all the media coverage around the Bucs being a sleeper team this year. Vegas is in line with that way of thinking too, and collectors arent stupid.
As for the Texas twosome, it couldnt be more different of a story. Dak was the talk of the show, but not because the Cowboys are a favorite again this year. The autopen scandal was coming up at every table, but dealers were still looking for his stuff. I sold a number of Dak cards in thinning out my collection, and his freshly signed Treasures cards were among the most sought after premium cards on the floor. They were not as tough to find as Carr Chrome, but difficult to find at a good price.
Zeke, on the other hand, was almost on the no-buy list for dealers for what I had witnessed. I saw many Elliott treasures cards sitting on tables, but no one could move them and no one was buying more. With domestic violence and other off the field issues clouding the future for the biggest name of 2016, the tide has turned with people looking to prospect rather than just collect Elliott.
I was fortunate enough to get to go to the party on Friday night, and it was a good time to hear the different answers that Topps provided to some actually good questions this year. In previous years, collectors have gone to this thing to ask some crazy specific question that only matters to them, and it gets old. The whole joke about Santa getting cards in sets comes from this event.
Although we did get some odd ranting about digital to a team that really had no digital presence, there were some great questions about top concerns with the company and the industry in general. We saw that Topps still tries to witness every signing, with 98% having some sort of rep in the presence during the process. We also know that they want to add MLB authentication to as many things as they can, but dont always have that option.
Similarly, they know that expansion is a huge issue for growing their audience, and they seem to have a good understanding that Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger or Kris Bryant wont come along every year, let alone all in one. I have said time and time again that everyone recognizes that the current model of doing business doesnt seem to be a sustainable thing, but no one really knows how to fix the problem. I have outlined a few ideas, especially in the way product makes it into the hands of the end users, but for now, that doesnt look to be in the cards.
Lastly we saw that Transcendent will be back for another year, likely offering a party with someone like Judge or Bellinger as the guest of honor. They are also going to offer a crazy ultra premium version for Star Wars too, with 40 autos per box. Curious to see how that all works out.
If you havent been to one of these, go. Figure out a way to get there for next year, I promise it will be worth your while. Even if the only money you spend is on the accommodations to get to the area, that’s fine. Its an amazing feeling to belong to a crowd like this, as there are so many like minded individuals at these events. The passion of the people in attendance is palpable, and its one of the main reasons I continue this site after 9 years of the grind.
Funny thing is, I even got the chance to catch up with Panini and their creative team with an opportunity to provide some feedback. Im not sure if it will go anywhere, as they feel as strongly about the way they do cards as I feel they are doing it wrong. They were happy to get feedback from someone who has been one of their most vocal critics, but we both understood that some things were just not going to change just because I wanted them to. I never really expected that to be the case, and I reminded them that my site has always been about providing my own personal opinion on how I saw the hobby.
I also got the chance to catch up with the team at Leaf and Topps, and had a great time reminiscing about the good ole days when things were a bit more simple. Its always great to catch up with Clay, Kevin, Dave, Gregg, Brian, and of course Sooz, along with all the “twitter celebrities” that I got a chance to say hi to.
What a great week I had, and cant wait to hear more about what happened after I left.There was a lot of time left on the clock for Saturday and Sunday, and hopefully next year I will get to be there for the whole thing.