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The 2021 National Sports Collectors Convention rolled into Chicago last summer at the perfect time: The hobby was hot, hot, hot and the world was, to some degree, getting back to normal after a 16-month downward spiral from COVID-19, including the cancellation of the 2020 National.

The 2021 National was a home run by most accounts.

Organizers for the 2022 National are expecting an even larger crowd this summer than the 2021 totals, which was one of the best ever.

Will 2022 be the best National ever?

“I never thought I’d say this … we expect an even larger crowd in Atlantic City than we had in Chicago in 2021,” The National Executive Director John Broggi said. “Advance ticket sales are substantially higher than last year. We boosted the number of VIP and SuperVIP tickets available and sold out by the end of June. We’ve sanctioned an official Trade Night, run by Ryan Johnson, for the first time.

“I believe we will exceed last year’s attendance. The strength of the hobby right now is driving everything. We have had more dealers apply for booth space, more corporates looking to participate than ever before. As new dealers and companies enter the industry, the hobby can continue to grow and become even stronger."

The National Schedule: Broggi expects another historic crowd 

The 42nd NSCC kicks off its five-day run at the Atlantic City Convention Center on Wednesday, July 27. This marks the first National in Atlantic City since 2016 as the 2020 show, scheduled for Atlantic City, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The show floor of the 2016 National in Atlantic City.

The show floor of the 2016 National in Atlantic City.

Also See: What does Market decline mean for hobby, The National?

The 2016 National was a resounding success, though held amid a cloud of sadness. That was, after all, the first National held without hobby trailblazer and longtime National organizer Mike Berkus, who died on Dec. 12, 2015.

“It was a very emotional time in 2016; dedicating the Mike Berkus Main Stage in his honor was difficult. I’m happy we have been able to take the show to even greater heights than even Mike would have expected,” Broggi said. “We are really looking forward to Atlantic City. Our staff has been working hard the last 11 months; we’ve made numerous trips to the venue to make sure we get everything right. I’m sure we will have a couple of glitches, but I expect everyone to have a great National.

“Atlantic City is a great location for The National. There are so many people within a four-hour driving distance that it can’t help but be successful. I think the Atlantic City venue has received a bad rap from many people who haven’t visited recently. The city has focused on tourism and is looking for annual events like ours to make Atlantic City a regular stop.”

Broggi believes the location is perfect for the growing hobby, which got its start on the East Coast.

“The sports collectibles hobby had its start in trading cards. The Philadelphia/New York corridor is right in the middle of that beginning and many early collectibles shows were held in this area,” he said. “I’m sure there are more collectors per square-mile than anywhere in the country. As some of the longtime collectors begin to divest of their collection, we are in a prime area for collectibles to change hands. I expect a lot of buying and selling at the show.”

Brian Schwartz, president of Schwartz Sports Memorabilia, will head east from his Chicago-area home for at least his 15th National. A little gambling in Atlantic City also will be part of his plans.

“The last [National in Atlantic City] was well attended and I am a big proponent of The National going to different cities instead of just Chicago and Cleveland over and over again,” Schwartz said. “I would love to see Los Angeles get a return visit from The National, and I think going to places like Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Atlanta and elsewhere would all be beneficial to the hobby at large.”

But for the final five days of July, all hobby eyes will be on the New Jersey city, often known simply as AC, a coastal resort city known for its casinos, boardwalk and beaches.

Many believe Atlantic City, with its many hotels, casinos and entertainment options, is a perfect location for The National.

Many believe Atlantic City, with its many hotels, casinos and entertainment options, is a perfect location for The National.

Also See: PSA, Collectors offering special pricing, services at The National 

Atlantic City has a population of about 40,000, but with its proximity to Philadelphia, New York City and other major East Coast cities, the draw for this year’s National is easily in the millions.

“Cards [and] autographs are still more popular now than they were pre-pandemic, though they have taken a step back from the all-time highs, so I would expect the new normal to be somewhere in between, with the floor of the hobby having been permanently raised by what’s transpired the last two-plus years,” Schwartz said. 

“I think the buzz from last year will have cooled some … and I think you will see a lot of under-25-year-olds with their slabbed card briefcases quoting recent eBay [sales] to dealers and wondering why they won’t pay 90 percent of eBay prices.”

Longtime card dealer Lisa Stellato is excited for The National’s East Coast return, and Atlantic City certainly delivers plenty of things to do for all ages.

“The New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia area for sports is always strong,” Stellato said. “The Yankees are red hot, the Mets are holding strong without their two pitching aces, and Bryce Harper was having a great year until his injury. That said, with the industry being where it is right now, we expect to have a great turnout of collectors for all types of collecting, for not only the strong local teams but for all teams representing all the sports and all leagues.

“It is a bit more difficult to get to for West Coast attendees, but I think the attendance will be strong and sales will reflect that. With so many unique items at The National, every collector should be able to find an item, or items, to fill their collecting needs.”

Dealers and collectors flood the show floor of The National.

Dealers and collectors flood the show floor of The National.

Also See: Beckett, Collectable offering unique programs at The National 

Stellato expects a lot of wheeling and dealing with the card market going through a transition.

“With the industry being where it is at, we are going to see a tremendous number of collectors coming in to sell their items to shape their personal collections into what they truly want and to sell items they have invested in over the past couple of years, whether good investments or not,” she said. “There will be, of course, collectors who have always just come to buy for their collections and see what cool and unique items some of these companies bring in.

“The National is a once-a-year event and [because of] the uniqueness that all the vendors showcase at their booths, the crowd will be strong.”

Stellato, who owns Never Enough Cards, said she has done well at past shows in Atlantic City and doesn’t expect anything different this year as she celebrates her 32nd year as a booth-holder at The National. She focuses on player collections, rookies and unique cards.

“I believe those type of collectors will have a strong presence at this year’s National,” she said. “There also will be several [collectible companies] displaying and promoting some of the new, innovative concepts for our industry.

“There is a lot to see, a lot to buy, and a lot to take in at the 2022 National Sports Collectors Convention … where else would any collector want to be?!”

Hobby veteran Darren Prince predicts a strong, successful, well-attended National, despite the nation’s economic woes.

“It’s the Super Bowl of this industry; buyers always come out for it,” he said. “There should be great buys on cards and with TRISTAR Productions [running the Autograph Pavilion], they always bring in the best signers.

“I’m sure lots of new collectors and buyers will be at The National, which is always great for the industry. I expect it to be packed with tens of thousands of collectors.”

Fans wait to get into the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at the 2021 National.

Fans wait to get into the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at the 2021 National.

Also See: How Trade Nights became popular events at big card shows 

Combined attendance for the five-day National is expected to surpass 70,000 — and all will leave with lifelong memories.

“We had Hulk Hogan signing autographs at the last National in Atlantic City, and he always is the No. 1 draw. Dennis Rodman and Dominique Wilkins also signed at that last National in AC,” Prince said. “But what I remember the most was, my Dad met me there and, sadly, that was the last [National] he ever attended as he passed away in February of 2017.

“He was my best friend and business mentor growing up in the [industry] and created the name Prince of Cards for me.”

Prince looks forward to The National every year and seeing lifelong friends.

“I’m more on the agent side now with Prince Marketing Group and we specialize in branding deals, endorsements, keynote speeches and licensing opportunities,” Prince said. “But the National Sports Collectors Convention always will be home to me and we still book so many signings for the icons we represent, so it gives me the opportunity to catch up with old friends.”

Jeff Rosenberg, president of Houston-based TRISTAR Productions, which runs the Autograph Pavilion at The National, is ready for his 39th National. He is certain this year’s Super Bowl of Sports Memorabilia will be rock solid.

“I am excited about The National returning to Atlantic City and the East Coast as the largest number of collectors live on the East Coast. This has always been a hot bed for collectors, a strong market,” Rosenberg said. “I expect a larger attendance at The National than 2021. We likely will see more new attendees to The National than we have seen in many years. The hobby is very strong, so I expect a lot of business to be done compared to recent years.”

TRISTAR Productions President Jeff Rosenberg introduces Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan at the 2021 National.

TRISTAR Productions President Jeff Rosenberg introduces Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan at the 2021 National.

Also See: The National features another star-studded autograph lineup 

Rosenberg predicts buying will be hot. He had a dealer booth at the first National held in Atlantic City in 1989. His sales that year were “very strong” and collectors were willing to pay higher prices than elsewhere, especially for high-grade cards.

“Of course, I wish I had those cards back now as they are selling for much more than they did in 1989,” he said. “As a collector, I am looking forward to finding new pieces of memorabilia to add to my collection.”

Michigan-based card and memorabilia seller Mark Dehem will celebrate his 40th National this summer.

“The East Coast has always been known for collectibles and I’m sure this year will be just as strong,” he said. “With the card market exploding and the autograph circuit going crazy, I'm hoping this combination helps Atlantic City become a great show.”

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