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Virtual shows fill hole left behind by The National

Normally during the last weekend of July, a trove of people including collectors, company reps and content creators descend on the mecca for the hobby known as the National to buy, to sell and to catch up. This year, like almost every other event, the coronavirus took this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City down too. The event was postponed until December and eventually was canceled. Without The National, everyone connected to the hobby had a hole that needed to be filled. Fortunately for us, we have some in the hobby that saw an opportunity to help fill that hole with two online events to bring everyone back together in a different format but together all the same. Those two events were the Virtual Sports Card Con 2020 and HobbyPalooza.

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Both events enabled viewers to get their fix for buying cards, breaking boxes, listening to experts and hobby people all to get away from what is going on in the world for the weekend. I, like many, felt when the pandemic started that there would be somewhat of a hobby downturn. With everyone locked away at home, with businesses closing and the economy feeling the brunt all leading to lots of uncertainty, the feeling was that the hobby would take a backburner to the main facets of life. On the contrary, the hobby is flourishing like never before and that goes for not only buying and selling cards but also the need for content about the hobby. That is where both The Virtual and HobbyPalooza jumped in and took the airwaves by storm.

Geoff Wilson during The Virtual

Geoff Wilson during The Virtual

Geoff Wilson of Sports Card Investor has a large following with his You Tube channel and subscription programs, including almost 7,000 Twitter followers, 16,000 following on Instagram and nearly 37,000 subscribers on You Tube. Many in the hobby follow his message of investing as they look to garner profits. He saw an opportunity with no National going on to use his platform to put on a large event in its place. “We were planning on going to The National with my team,” said Wilson. “We saw it as an opportunity for those who watch the show as well as interact with others in the hobby and build some relationships. When The National was canceled, our first reaction was we were disappointed. Our second reaction was we felt bad for all of the dealers and the attendees. We have a big online platform and a big YouTube following and we saw it as an opportunity to do something in place of The National and give people an experience.”

The Virtual ran from July 29-Aug. 2 for two hours each night except for Friday night, which had three hours plus an exclusive extra hour for members of the Sports Card Investor subscription program. Each night was chock full of dealers, breakers, guests and tons of deals and giveaways for the viewers.Let’s look at a recap of each night:

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Wilson said that it fit with the explosion in the hobby this year. “The hobby has been on an incredible ride over the last year. Our goal was to provide a variety of different perspectives and different ways of entertaining the hobby community.” As you can see from the schedule below, the event featured a broad mix of dealers, breakers and guests. Even though the docket was full, Wilson did have some challenges early from some of the dealers. “A lot were excited, but a lot of the dealers and breakers were skeptical. They weren’t sure how it would work. We struggled at first to get them engaged. It was something new and they did not know what it would be like. There was a learning curve.”

As with any event, not only of this scale but also with it online, Wilson stated were some challenges to overcome. “We made changes throughout the five nights on how the dealers sold. We tried chat rooms. A dealer’s website crashed due to all the traffic. By the third night, we went to selling on eBay because they could handle the traffic and they provided incentive for the dealers.” The combination of getting the team through the event and the overwhelming positive response led to some amazing sales from the dealers. “Dealers after the event were very positive. One said that the day he appeared, and the following two days were the three busiest days he has had online in his history. Another sold through all of the inventory that he featured.”

Wilson said that he could see doing an event like this a couple of times a year. “We may do another one closer to the holidays, but we will wait and see what the National does.” Based on the quality of the event and the buzz during and after, look for the Virtual to make an annual appearance. “I am really happy on how it turned out,” said Wilson.

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If one big online event wasn’t enough, the popularity of the hobby blessed us with a second event, just as big. HobbyPalooza was put on by Bench Clear Media and featured three days of live streaming. It ran from Friday, July 31through Sunday, Aug. 2 and contained over 30 hours of content from all over the hobby. The event focused on content and really informing and entertaining the viewers. It, too, filled the void that The National has left for all of us.

Mike Moynihan, host of the Baseball Collector on YouTube and a member of Bench Clear had been watching videos on YouTube and listening to people talking about missing The National and wishing something else could be done. “We miss seeing everyone at The National. I thought about it and said maybe we could do something. We knew Geoff was doing The Virtual and I wanted to add more of a social aspect to it,” said Moynihan. So he talked to his fellow colleagues at Bench Clear – Ty Wilson, host of BreakerCulture and Jeff Hoferer, host of PackGeek – about the idea and they all agreed that not only was it a great idea but also that they could pull it off. The kicker is that this left only a little over two weeks to get the event put together.

One challenge they did not have was filling the slots for content. “We put Bench Clear behind it. The website was built the next day and we started reaching out to contacts and content creators and filled the slots within three hours,” said Moynihan. Wilson said, “we had to turn away some because the slots were full.” The event built a lot of credibility when the bigger vendors joined the party. “It got massive velocity because we had Topps behind it and Panini and Go GTS. They all came in and said put us to work. Blowout said we want to sponsor each day.” Hoferer was surprised at how quickly everyone understood what kind of event they were trying to put together. “People really got what we are trying to do. It was well received more than we could have imagined,” Hoferer said. The schedule was a smorgasbord of content for all ages and collectors. Let’s look at the schedule:

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The Bench Clear team did a survey after the event and over 60 percent said that they would like to see an event like this annually. That really speaks to the need in the hobby for content. All three had observations about how the viewers connected and want more. Moynihan said, “This can be very interactive and collaborative and showed it can be done. It took a village to put it together.” He also said that some have already reached out in order to join the next event. “Bench Clear is all about bringing as much quality content as possible. It works perfect. We have established a good network of content creators,” said Hoferer. “I think we can do more conferences with a specific topic,” said Wilson.

Wilson brings it all back to the one quality that draws people to The National and both of these events – community. “What underlies the strength is the community of this and not lose sight of that or the authenticity of collecting sports cards. This was a good reminder that it is much more than what the hobby is portrayed today,” said Wilson. It is that community that we all love and will continue to draw from as the hobby continues to grow, whether in person or virtually.