COVID-19 turned the trading card industry upside down as new collectors entered the market and old ones re-emerged.
Last year’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City, N.J. was supposed to quench the thirst of said collectors. However, with the pandemic still raging on, the annual show was delayed and ultimately cancelled.
NSCC organizers turned their attention to the 2021 show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemount, Ill., a familiar site for convention goers.
In early 2021, it didn’t seem likely the convention would be a go with the uncertainty that thousands and thousands of collectors, dealers and corporate companies would be able to inhabit a single indoor facility. But as the country started to reopen and restrictions slowly began to be lifted — including in Illinois — the convention became promising. On June 11, Illinois entered Phase 5 of its reopening, which doesn’t limit capacity on outdoor and indoor events.
Excitement has filled the air as the National will be held as scheduled. It will mark the 41st NSCC: the 13th time overall in the Chicago area and the 10th at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
On June 12, Sports Collectors Digest chatted with NSCC Executive Director John Broggi, who has been involved with the convention for 36 years, about various aspects of this year’s convention. Broggi talked about beefing up the NSCC staff just to handle getting people through the ticket lines as well as adding more security for the show. The convention will be adding about 30,000 square feet this year, bringing the grand total to about 450,000 square feet. That’s the biggest space in convention history.
SCD: Why was it decided that the convention would be a go?
BROGGI: We have been abiding by the guidelines of the state of Illinois. The last time we talked we had just cancelled Atlantic City for 2020. We had assumed things would take place a little bit more quickly and we’d be able to run the show in Chicago. We were never certain until about a month or so ago when we were contacted by the Stephens Convention Center that they felt they were ready to move into what they call their bridge phase, which was the phase just before all things are reopened. They gave us a lot of hope. We continued to plan and hedge our bets with everybody by saying, ‘We’re following the guidelines of the state, and they tell us everything is OK, we’re going to run the show.’ People just kept asking, ‘Are you running the show? Are you running the show?’ And we didn’t have the answer. It was just waiting to hear the state of Illinois say that public events can be held indoors.
SCD: Who is involved in the final approval to run the NSCC?
BROGGI: Myself, Dan Berkus, who manages the show, but there’s a board of directors, the NSCC Board of Directors — 12 volunteers who oversee the event. We do the day-to-day stuff and we certainly kept them informed as to what was going on, so they were aware we were continuing to plan for the event. Final approval rests in our recommendation to them, which is what took place.
SCD: How excited is everyone who is involved with making the final decision to get this convention in, especially after missing last year?
BROGGI: We’re as excited as we can be. It’s what we do. We put the show on once a year and we start planning shortly after the last event is over. We had Atlantic City all ready to go in 2020. We had started selling tickets already in March 2020, and then had to postpone and then finally cancel and just carried everything over to Chicago. We began talking with the people in Chicago in October when we cancelled the December dates. They were as enthusiastic as everybody else. (Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) has not run an event since March 2020. We will be the first large event — they will have several smaller events.
SCD: This year’s National will be different from all the others with the hype in the hobby and missing last year. It’s the perfect storm that everybody’s going to want to come to the show. What are you expecting for numbers?
BROGGI: We’re expecting the largest crowd ever at a National, maybe including the 1991 show in Anaheim (which reportedly had over 100,000 attendees), which is the grand-daddy of them all. We have sold more tickets to date than we sold through the 2019 National. To say that people are ready to be out and about and doing events like our show is just an understatement. One of the surveys on our ticket site is that a good 40 percent of (people purchasing convention tickets) are new, first-time attendees, which is great.
SCD: Will this year’s convention be in the same space as it has been in past events at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center?
BROGGI: We’ve expanded a little bit; we’ve taken a little bit more of the space. We’ve moved our VIP party, it was usually down in the conference center where we roped off four of the major, bigger rooms down there. That’s too small at this point. We’re going into one of the other unused halls on the other side of the hobby for the VIP party.
SCD: What can people expect? Will the convention feature anything different than in past years?
BROGGI: We’re looking at a couple of events that haven’t been finalized yet, but I don’t know if there’s anything dramatically new. Our shortened time frame to get stuff pulled together is going to hinder us a little bit. I know some of the card companies and the graders and those people that were waiting for our decision to decide what they’re going to do. I know both PSA and Beckett have announced that they’re going to be doing on-site grading only. I don’t know if they’re going to take submissions. We’re telling everybody to go to their websites to find out final details. But from everything they’ve told us, they’re going to be doing on-site grading on high-valued cards rather than volume at this point.
SCD: PSA and BGS have had to halt most submissions in recent months due to being backed up by millions of cards. Are the new grading companies going to be at the National, HGA, etc., along with veteran SGC?
BROGGI: They will be. Several of the new grading companies will have a presence as well as at least one of the resurrected card companies. Think about that one. It’s really wild.
SCD: What are you expecting with the entire National?
BROGGI: Our big concern is we’re going to have a lot more people in that building than we normally do. We’ve been doing a lot with security, with crowd control and trying to make sure that we’re able to handle the people that get there and that everybody’s safe walking around and all our exhibitors are safe with their merchandise. We’re going to warn them again that we can’t have eyes on everything. We’ve got plain clothes and uniform people patrolling. We’ve always had cameras in the building, but you’ve got to be responsible because with all the notoriety the industry has gotten as comes people who are looking to be a little more unscrupulous with what they’re doing.
SCD: Will there be a cap on how many people can attend the National?
BROGGI: We haven’t heard yet with the convention center on that. They just announced (June 11) that everything’s officially open. They have indicated to us that at this point that the building is large enough to hold crowds much larger than we’ve had in the past. It may come down to us having to limit the number of VIP and Super VIP tickets that we sell, because of the availability of product to fulfill the gift packages.
SCD: Did you sell out of dealer booths pretty much right away when you announced that the National was going to be a go?
BROGGI: We were sold out of dealer booths last year in Atlantic City. What we did was we carried over anybody who had had a booth in Atlantic City, we carried them over, if they chose to. They were given the opportunity to get a refund or to roll their booth fees over to Chicago. We added about 30 booths more than we had on the show floor last year in Atlantic City, and we were sold out the minute we did it.
SCD: What is the count for the number of booths that will be set up at the show?
BROGGI: There will be about 570 dealer booths and about 50-60 corporate entities.
SCD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BROGGI: We continuously get questions about, ‘How do we get a booth for 2022?’ We placed it on our website — there’s the instructions to do that. The process is a little different because the National’s been around for so long. If you look at our website, the dealer information on our website, this is all spelled out. But there’s a process where the exhibitors who have done the most shows get first choice of booth locations. It works its way down, so everybody who wants a booth gets to pick one if they’re in Chicago. If they’re not in Chicago but do want a booth, they can fill out a form that’s on our website and get it to us before the National this year in Chicago. They will be inserted into the lottery in whatever position they belong in terms of their priority of having done previous shows.