The National #2 | Advice for Showgoers

What to do When you Visit

Date: May 22, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: Greg Bates, The National
Length: 1065 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series to help collectors prepare for the 44th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, which will be held in Cleveland from July 24 to 28. We will introduce a new topic each week leading up to the show.

This week, we dive into how to prepare for The National. Longtime showgoers offer sound advice on getting ready for the five-day event. Don’t miss next week’s story, where we discuss everything to see and do at The National.

As the crowd anxiously awaits the doors opening, excitement fills the air. It’s the first day of the National Sports Collectors Convention.

Walking into the show floor, there are hundreds and hundreds of dealer tables, enormous corporate booths, an impressive autograph pavilion, and an unmatched case break pavilion. It is sensory overload to the extreme. Welcome to The National.

Navigating The National can be daunting for a first-time participant or even a longtime showgoer. Topps RIPPED talked with three veteran National attendees who provided advice on how to prepare for the world’s grandest sports collectors convention.

Sound Advice for The National

Joe Orlando has attended nearly 30 of the 44 Nationals. He has been to the show as a collector, CEO, and president of third-party grading giant PSA and is currently an executive vice president for sports at Heritage Auctions. His best advice is for attendees to manage their time wisely. There is so much to see and do within a five-day window.

“Just understand going in that the time is going to disappear on you much faster than you think it’s going to,” said Orlando, whose first National was in 1985. “If you’re going out there, and it’s your first time, and you have at least a couple of full days to spare, you can do it. Take the two full days. Take the three full days if you need it. You start engaging in conversation, whether it’s a vendor there or a fellow collector — 20 minutes goes, a half hour goes. Suddenly, you look up, and the doors are closing.

“There’s so much to see. There are so many people to talk to that it’s hard to manage the time. Try to go into it with a plan to give yourself as much time as possible to take it all in because there’s a lot to take in at the show.”

Collector Mike Moynihan attended his inaugural National in 1990 as an impressionable 16-year-old. After frequenting several conventions, he realized about five years ago that the best thing to do is to go to the show without concrete plans and keep an open mind.

“Go with no agenda, which sounds counterintuitive. Let The National come to you,” Moynihan said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have a few target cards or something you want. But let The National happen. You’ll find great stuff to add to your collection. If you go targeting something, you might miss something cool if you only focus on one thing. Go with an open mind. Go with no agenda from a collector’s standpoint.”

Walking the show floor at The National is a massive undertaking. Last year’s National was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. The floor engulfed 600,000 square feet. Your feet take a toll after days of wandering from table to table.

“Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. After a day or two, that concrete floor wears on you,” Mill Creek Sports owner Scott Mahlum said. “And just the overall noise and the buzz inside that room, it just wears you down. But just enjoy it.”

This year will mark the 37th time Mahlum has been at The National. He attended as a collector a half dozen times before becoming a dealer through his Mill Creek, Washington store, and going for the last 30 years. Mahlum’s first show was held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, in 1985.

Being on both sides of a table, as a collector and then dealer, has aided Mahlum’s outlook on The National.

“Cash is king,” he said. “You’re always going to get the best deal if you bring cash.”

Mahlum said how much the price of a purchase gets trimmed depends on the dealer. But he figures most dealers will offer at least 10% off when using cash.

New Collectors Need to Experience The National

With the flood of new customers and old collectors getting back into The Hobby after some time off, The National has become a hobby hotspot.

Last year’s show broke the all-time attendance record with over 100,000 participants. Moynihan said new collectors need to experience The National.

“It’s an opportunity to see The Hobby in its grandest scale,” Moynihan said. “If you think The Hobby’s big and you’re a new collector and go to The National, you just realize how massive it truly is with all the people and all the cards. It’s overload, obviously. It’s completely overwhelming. Even for a veteran, it’s overwhelming to walk in the first time, get your bearings, and lay of the land. It’s like, ‘Holy crap.’ And it feels like it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Mahlum agrees that new collectors need to experience The National to understand the true magnitude of The Hobby.

“You just can’t put into words what you’re going to see and the buzz and the atmosphere,” Mahlum said. “It’s overwhelming to the new collector and first-time person there. But you take good notes. You can’t see everything the first day, so you need to keep an idea of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Maybe study in advance. If there are certain dealers you want to see, get a game plan to where they’re at, and stick to it. Last year, it was so big, and it had a couple of different rooms they’d never had. That was by far the biggest laid-out National I’ve seen.”

Perhaps the best and biggest National is yet to come. This year’s Cleveland might raise the bar. Don’t miss out on the chance to be part of hobby history.

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