The National #1 | The Importance of The National

Preparing for the 2024 National

Date: May 16, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: Education, Greg Bates, The National
Length: 1284 Words
Reading Time: ~7 Minutes

This is the first 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 what The National is and why it’s essential for The Hobby. Don’t miss next week’s story, where longtime showgoers offer sound advice on how attendees can prepare for this year’s National.

It’s been said, “If you can’t find it at The National, it probably doesn’t exist.”

The National Sports Collectors Convention or The National — as those in the know call it — has anything a collector might be after. The show of all shows is just around the corner, and excitement is building.

This year’s event will take place at the I-X Center in Cleveland from July 24-28. It will be the 44th National, which has been running every year since 1980, except in 2020, when the pandemic put a halt to the magnificent showcase.

One year removed from eclipsing the attendance record for a National with well over 100,000 participants, this year’s show is expected to attract another monster crowd.

Held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, the 2023 National show floor spanned 600,000 square feet. It featured impressive corporate booths as well as 660 dealer tables. Expect similar figures this year.

Importance of The National

The National has always been the preeminent card show in The Hobby. Its importance in this space is paramount.

Scott Mahlum, who owns Mill Creek Sports in Mill Creek, Washington, has been setting up as a dealer for the last 30 years. Before that, Mahlum hit six or seven Nationals as a collector.

“It’s the one can’t-miss event of the year,” Mahlum said. “It’s the only show of any type that we set up at every year. It’s the only one that makes sense. You need to be there. You need to be seen. You need to reestablish relationships. There are certain people we only see once a year, and it’s at The National.”

Joe Orlando has also logged almost 30 trips to The National. The one-time CEO and president of third-party grading giant PSA understands the show’s importance to The Hobby.

Orlando pinpoints two primary reasons why The National is a hotbed for The Hobby. The first is seeing people in person and building relationships, both personally and professionally, with trusted confidants in this business. Orlando said it’s hard to quantify the value in that. The second reason is getting to actually see and touch items prior to purchase, something that eBay and other online selling platforms can’t offer.

“I remember growing up, I was very limited to the local baseball card shops and perhaps an occasional card convention,” said Orlando, an executive vice president of sports at Heritage Auctions. “If I wanted to try my luck with mail order, which some people did back in those days, then you could do that, too. But it was much more limited than it is today. The challenge is that you don’t get to see as much stuff in person before you buy it, and I don’t think there is ever quite a replacement. I think seeing something in person, especially a display piece or something where a digital image doesn’t really pick up all the attributes you would like to review on the piece. There’s something about the way a collectible hits you in person. And, of course, eye appeal is such a big part of why we collect this stuff.

“So, I think having the opportunity to view things in person, whether they’re available for retail sale at the show itself or they’re available for preview with an auction. Just having the opportunity to see them in person, hold it in your hand and know exactly what you’re buying. That’s a unique opportunity where the top dealers and auction houses from all over the country are converging in this one show, and you get to see a lot of stuff in person.”

Baseball card collector Mike Moynihan will be attending his ninth National this year. It’s an event he doesn’t miss. Period.

“It is the quintessential hobby event where you just bring together collectors, dealers, the corporate presence of The Hobby. All of it coalesces in this just mega event,” Moynihan said. “It’s kind of a must-thing to do, bucket list type of event for most collectors. It’s something we all circle on our calendars every year.”

So, if it’s a bucket list item, why not just check it off and move along? Why do so many collectors keep coming back to The National year after year?

“If you say, ‘Oh, I checked that off the bucket list. Why do I want to keep going?’ Well, that translates into relationships,” Moynihan said. “You can buy cards where you want, any time you want, 24-7 from dozens of different platforms. But The National is an opportunity to see friends that generally don’t even see but once a year. I might only see certain people that I am friends with in The Hobby at The National. Everybody wants to be at The National for the people.”

One-stop shop at The National

Anything a collector needs, they can generally get it at The National.

Want to get in on a live break? Hit Fanatics Live and the massive Breakers Pavilion to get your fix. Need a card graded? Head to any of the third-party grading companies at the show. Want to see some one-of-a-kind, game-used items from sports legends? Go on over to PWCC or the other on-site auction houses to have your mind blown with unique cards and memorabilia. Want to pick up a box of 2024 Topps Baseball Series 2? Stop by Dave & Adam’s Card World or other shops to buy product. Want to check out an app where you can easily scan a card to get its price? Ludex and other companies are at the show to answer questions. Want an autograph of big names such as Dan Marino and Hulk Hogan? The TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion brings in top current and former sports stars to sign.

We could go on and on. The National is a one-stop shop in the truest form.

“I can remember the very first time I walked into a National and how overwhelming it seemed,” Orlando said. “I was just a young kid walking into this gigantic room. The aisles seemed like they were endless. It was like walking into the abyss of sports collectibles. Spending time and going booth to booth, meeting people from all different sorts of backgrounds that have expertise in different categories, and seeing such a wide variety of things that you otherwise would never get a chance to see. Last year, (Heritage Auctions) had a photo-matched, game-used Mickey Mantle jersey from 1958 that was in extraordinary condition. You can see something like that and you can also see hordes of modern product unopened, cards from basketball, football, baseball, and then everything in between. There are all sorts of memorabilia — game-worn, game-used, programs, trophies. It’s all in one place.”

Mahlum equates The National to a museum. Its eye-popping items on display leave collectors in awe. “If you just walk around and you just hit up the eight or 10 auction companies, the stuff that they bring is incredible,” Mahlum said. “The National is the Disneyland of sports memorabilia and sports cards. It’s the ultimate experience.”

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