Just days before the Nov. 10-13 Toronto Sport Card Expo, the weather in Southern Ontario was unseasonably warm with temperatures in the mid-70s. By the final day of the show, collectors awoke to a snow-covered landscape and wondered if they’d need snow tires to get to the International Centre.
Show attendees, of course, were oblivious to the outside temperatures. By most reports, it was the largest Expo ever and a resounding success. The crowds were so large that a second hall had to be booked to house vendors and attendees.
As Stuart Beaudoin of Glory Days Collectibles observed, “These aren’t just hockey card collectors who come here with blinders on. They have a wide range of interests.”
There was a festive atmosphere with a nonstop parade of guests and entertainment for both adults and kids.
The majority of autograph guests were retired NHL stars, including the extremely popular “Legion of Doom” featuring John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg. Signings also included 1972 Summit Series team members Paul Henderson, Phil Esposito and Yvonne Cournoyer.
But some guests went beyond the world of hockey. Baseball stars like Tim Raines and Jose Canseco were also part of the program, along with former NBA player Muggsy Bogues.
Not to be outdone by “real” hockey, a collection of actors from the film “Slap Shot” were also on hand to chat with fans, pose for pictures and sign autographs.
The question of whether the combined forces of Covid-19, inflation and a looming recession had taken a toll on the card and memorabilia market was difficult to answer. The results seemed to depend on whom you talked to and the segment of the market. The consensus seemed to be that sales were very good, but at prices that were sometimes depressed by as much as 30 percent.
As one dealer put it, “Prices are definitely down on some items, but that's in comparison to last year. So we've got to ask ourselves, how normal was last year? There was a huge post-Covid bubble, so maybe those numbers weren't so realistic. Maybe what we're seeing today is the new normal?”
Card manufacturer Upper Deck, which owns the license for NHL cards, was certainly impacted.
“We've had to delay the release of our Series One cards several times this fall because of repeated supply chain issues,” said Dianne Hatley, the company’s memorabilia sales manager for Canada. “We were finally able to release product just days before the show and the delay didn’t seem to hurt. It's been received very well.”
Upper Deck was giving away special Fall Expo packs in two different wrapper redemption programs — one for opening a box of cards (to receive one Expo pack,) the other for opening a case of boxes (to receive 12 Fall Expo packs, plus one random autograph card). In addition, Upper Deck offered a daily raffle with free tickets for fans in attendance 30 minutes before each day's draw. Needless to say, the raffle was quite popular.
As is often the case, some fans viewed the wrapper redemption programs as a mixed blessing. One fan from nearby Buffalo, N.Y. said: “I'd rather go home and open the box I just bought, once everything's calmed down. It's like a ritual and I hate to miss that. But I don’t want to miss out on receiving that free redemption pack. You never know what's going to be in there and you know those cards are going to be rare.”
Perhaps the most unusual autograph guest was not a professional athlete. The closest she came was being a self-identified soccer mom. Sarah Palin appeared as a co-guest with Ontario native and 12-year NHL veteran Ron Duguay, who she happens to be dating.
Nevertheless, she was hardly a tag-along and probably has a greater celebrity rating than most guests at the show. It's one thing to be a former NHL star, it's quite another to be a former mayor, governor, candidate for vice president of the United States and current candidate for Congress. Still, it's fair to say that her partner, the former New York Rangers center, drew the lion's share of attention from fans, who were there for hockey, not politics.
NHL fan Jerry Caron came to get Duguay to sign a jersey on which he had collected autographs of New York Rangers players going all the way back to the 1930s.
Caron showed his enthusiasm for interacting with the former Ranger and adding to the collection of signatures he had proudly amassed over the years.
— SCD contributor Hank Davis is the author of “Ducktails, Drive-ins and Broken Hearts: An Unsweetened Look at ’50s Music,” due out next spring from SUNY Press.