ROSEMONT, Ill. — Sports card collectors have been itching to get fresh slabs in their hands.

At the National Sports Collectors Convention, the grading companies delivered.

Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and Beckett Grading Services (BGS), which still have huge backlogs of submissions at their respective headquarters, were slammed during the entire five-day National. But both companies followed through on promises to return cards by the end of the show for collectors who submitted cards on-site.

Newcomer Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG) also had a steady flow of customers at its booth, while Sportscard Guaranty (SGC) didn’t grade cards on site at the show. Instead, it opted to go a different direction.

PSA WEATHERS THE STORM 

On the first day of The National on Wednesday, July 28, PSA was so inundated with orders, it quickly hit 80 percent of its capacity and had to shut down late in the day to catch up. By Thursday morning, PSA was back open and accepting orders.

Collectors stand in a long line to submit cards to PSA at The National.

Collectors stand in line at PSA on Day 1 of The National. 

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PSA loyalists were happy to just be able to get their cards graded, even if the lowest service level available on site was $250 per card.

“I think it’s been positive,” PSA President Steve Sloan said about the turnout at the PSA booth. “We’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of face-to-face conversations, which tend to go a lot better than on social media, for example. It’s been good. I think people understand. They see progress we’ve been making. We were trying to be extra communicative over the initiatives we were making.”

PSA sent fewer than 10 percent of its grading staff to The National. The rest of its graders stayed back at the home office in Santa Ana, Calif. to address the backlog.

Back in April when PSA shut down the majority of its submissions, Collectors Universe CEO Nat Turner said the company was backlogged by 10 million cards. At The National, Sloan said PSA is chipping away at that figure.

“I can’t share specifically, but we’ve been shaving hundreds of thousands of units off the backlog,” Sloan said. “Over the last five weeks it’s been very positive progress on that front. We’re definitely making solid headway on the backlog.”

PSA didn’t accept submissions at The National to take back to its office. At the show, Sloan announced that PSA will be building a new office in New Jersey that will open no later than the second quarter of 2022. The new site will aid with the backlog of items at the company’s California location.

Collectors stand in line to pick up cards they submitted to PSA at The National.

Collectors stand in line to pick up cards at PSA. 

Photo Gallery: Scenes from The National 

PSA hasn’t fully reopened all its grading service levels, and collectors are wondering when that will happen. Sloan it will be 2022 before all service levels are open.

“We need to take a measured approach on it, and I think one thing that we really want to make clear is that we just don’t want to get in a situation where we were in March where we were receiving far too many orders than we could handle. So, we’re taking a tiered approach,” he said.

“The tiered approach means we open a service level, we review the damage and we make the next announcement for the next level. We opened Express on July 1; the results have been positive. We believe we’re going to be able to open Regular very soon, probably this quarter. And as a result, once we have that, we’ll be looking at the next levels down. We will probably go straight to Value instead of bringing back Economy. While that decision hasn’t been 100 percent made, if we do bring back Value next, that’s obviously going to be music to a lot of peoples’ ears.”

Sloan feels a lot of weight on his shoulders to get caught up on the backlog.

“I’m not going to sleep until the backlog’s done, to be honest,” Sloan said. “My core mission is to get the backlog down to a manageable level, while also growing our capacity so we can offer pricing that’s around the $15 level and seeing how the market responds.” 

BGS OVERWHELMED BY DEMAND

After the main doors to the show opened on Wednesday afternoon, President of Beckett Collectibles Jeromy Murray ducked his head out from the company’s grading tent. What he saw blew him away.

“The line wrapped all the way down through Topps, past eBay, and then around the corner. Never seen it before,” Murray said. “People said they were waiting in line for two hours just to drop stuff off.”

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On Saturday afternoon, BGS was backed up on slabbing, but it was prepared to finish all the slabs to return them to collectors by the end of the show the following day.

“[We’d been] working five or six hours after the show every night to stay caught up, because we expected Saturday to be the time that everybody’s off work and they’re going to be coming to the show,” Murray said.

Even with 25 percent more graders on site than it had for the 2019 National, BGS couldn’t keep up with demand. It flew in extra staff over the weekend to help with the backlog.

Beckett card graders at The National.

A Beckett card grader. 

“About 85 percent of the orders [were] slab orders and so we brought more equipment, more slabbing people,” Murray said. “We had to fly somebody else out to get them in here, because we could not keep up with the demand that was here. Since last National, it’s about eight times more than what we’ve done on site, which is insane.”

According to NSCC officials, about 46 percent of the crowd at The National were first-time attendees. Many of those first-timers found their way to the BGS booth to get items graded.

“I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of people in line that I’ve never seen before, and being around the shows and stuff as long as I have, most of the guys I recognize,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of new people here — first-time people submitting, people asking questions. ‘How does this work? What services are you guys offering? What’s the turnaround?’ So, it’s obvious it’s people that do not know how we work and how things go into the process.”

BGS limited its take-home services at The National to Premium and Express levels so it can continue to chip away on its backlog at its Dallas headquarters.

NEWCOMERS MAKE HEADWAY

Andy Broome was attending his 22nd National this year, his 18th as a card grader. The former BGS grader switched over to CSG last September to become its senior vintage card grader.

Broome’s National experience was key for CSG since the company just launched in February.

“We didn’t 100 percent know what to expect,” Broome said. “We know what our demand is, what it’s been at the office. It’s been extremely overwhelming, so we expected a good response here. But honestly, we had no idea coming into it. We far exceeded what we thought we would see, not just in number, but also the value and quality of the cards we’re seeing. It’s been really good.”

CSG's Andy Broome at the CSG booth at The National.

CSG's Andy Broome. 

CSG — which is part of the Certified Collectibles Group that launched in 1987 and has graded nearly 70 million collectibles — had 32 staffers on site at The National, including 12 graders. The company needed every grader as it kept a steady flow of items coming in to grade. Broome noted that on the first day of the show there was a long line of customers dropping off items.

“The size of staff we have, we [were] able to stay on our turnaround times,” Broome said.

Broome believes that with PSA and BGS still having backlogs, some collectors have opted to give CSG a shot.

Having a presence at The National should be a big boost for CSG as a grading company.

“Part of coming here is meeting with other industry professionals, other companies and kind of see what’s going on in the marketplace,” Broome said. “We know the market’s busy, but more in detail. We’re expanding, first with our Blackstone acquisition; they’re all about CSG and growing us.

“This is just the beginning as far as The National and other shows and grading on site.”

SCG STAYS THE COURSE

With its competitors scrambling to get on-site grading done, SCG went another direction and didn’t offer any grading or take-home submissions at The National. However, the company, which started in 1998, had a big booth at the show.

“We did not want to not attend The National because we weren’t grading on site, so instead we decided to give back to our supporters,” SCG President Peter Steinberg said.

SCG offered collectors who stopped by its booth a ticket to enter a random draw for a free high-end box break.

“We pulled a Justin Herbert rookie patch autograph out of National Treasures, free of charge. We pulled a Joe Burrow autograph, free of charge,” Steinberg said. “So, it was really just about giving out shirts and hats and boxes and cards and meeting people and really just trying to enhance their overall National experience.”

SGC didn’t want to disrupt its day-to-day operations at its Boca Raton, Fla. headquarters by bringing graders, proofers and encapsulators to The National. Steinberg’s graders stayed back and worked on submissions.

“With Beckett and PSA temporarily suspending services, we believe that the only real viable grading option to get cards back in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable rate is SGC,” Steinberg said. “That’s a large weight on our shoulders to kind of carry the hobby’s grading orders — keep it going, basically.”

Steinberg said on SCG’s website that turnaround time for grading cards is 20-25 business days. He clarified that at The National.

“That’s a complete lie. Complete lie,” he said. “It’s seven to 10 business days. We just like to under-promise and over-deliver.”