Inside the Pack: How to Go to the National Sports Collectors Convention Correctly

Earlier this month, the organizers of the National Sports Collectors Convention announced that the show will in fact occur, after a cancellation last year and questions this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since this is the first National since the sports card boom began, I’m seeing a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter talking about how this will be their first National. If you’re considering going to the National, here are some tips.

Want to find what you’re looking for? Go on Wednesday. Thursday is the first day of the show, but Wednesday evening is the “sneak peek” night. Rather than the normal 10 am to 6 pm time frame, Wednesday night is 4 pm to 8 pm. Most dealers set up Wednesday (some set up Tuesday) and you will get the freshest look at everything. Prices will be at their highest on Wednesday, but you’ll find exactly what you want somewhere.

Want a great deal? Go Sunday. By Sunday, the last day, many dealers are trying to lighten their load on the way back home. If you’re not looking for something specific you have to have, and you’re just looking for a great deal, wait until the last day to shop around.

Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. The convention center floor is hard concrete and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a chair, let alone a swatch of padded carpet. After a few hours of standing and walking your feet and legs will be hurting. Go for a couple days and you may wonder if you’ll ever feel your feet again. Comfy footwear (not sandals!) will help sustain you across several days.

Bring cash, but only as much as you want to spend. Yes, many dealers will accept PayPal or Venmo, and some may accept credit cards. But not only is cash king for negotiating discounts, having a set amount of cash with you ensures a hard budget you won’t blow through — as long as you’re strong enough to avoid reaching for your phone or walking over to the ATM.

Bring a bag and a “survival kit.” I talked last week about my card show survival kit. These items are a must for any show, but especially for the National. The truth is that a drawstring bag like the one I mentioned last week likely isn’t large enough for the National, unless you’re just going for a few hours or looking for something specific.

Take notes and use a map. If you’ve never been to a show the size of the National, it’s easy to underestimate how large the space is. After a while, the hundreds of tables start to run together, and you will almost certainly forget where the table with the cheap vintage cards was, or where the dealer you had a great talk with was located, or what items you wanted to swing back by and look at later in the show were. Whether you write them down on paper or in a Notes app on your phone, take copious notes. Use a map as well to help remember where you left off for the day, where you want to return every day, and so on. Not every dealer remembers their booth number, and simply knowing a booth number won’t get you there without a map anyway.

Have fun and take it all in. If this is your first National, you’re going to be swept off your feet and blown away by how much cool stuff there is to see. Whether you leave the show having gotten what you came to look for or not, and whether you spent more or less than you imagined, you will still have gotten to spend a week with other sports card fanatics in a room full of impressive displays you’re not likely to see until the next National. Enjoy it.