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Cleveland National's synergy relative to the entertainment hobby

Aug. 13, 2007

Vintage non-sport cards and related memorabilia have always been a part of the annual National Sports Collectors Convention since its 1980 inception in Los Angeles.  However, some segments of our hobby – specifically collectors of classic Gum Inc, Bowman, Topps and early 20th Century cards – remain comparatively tiny.  The sports collecting public usually perceives the hobby as a second-tier pursuit.  Even the term “non-sports,” coined as a utilitarian designation by trading card pioneers such as Jefferson Burdick, carries pejorative overtones.  “Non-sports” rankles some of today’s manufacturers of entertainment card products. 

A gulf between collectors of early gum cards and those of current products seems to have grown more pronounced in recent years, an understandable development given the static state of the vintage card hobby and the evolving trends associated with today’s trading card manufacturing industry.   Contemporary entertainment memorabilia, which not only includes trading cards, but also a plethora of innovative consumer goods, exists as a burgeoning field. 

Entertainment hobbyists enjoy their own mega-event, the annual San Diego Comic Con, a show held every July.  Huge numbers of attendees from North America and international locations view San Diego as a week-long holiday event, and in the process form face-to-face relationships with others normally corresponded with online.  Non-sport card producers such as Topps and Inkworks are regular corporate exhibitors at San Diego.

Attendance at the Comic Cons in recent years call to mind the crowd sizes witnessed at previous Nationals.  Sports collecting matured in 1991 at the Anaheim NSCC.  Roughly 100,000 people shoehorned their way into the convention center during the four-day weekend.  This writer was there and had been amazed at the blocks-long lines that snaked around the building some three hours prior to the Saturday session opening.

Such frenetic energy could not be sustained indefinitely.  But the National remains the premier show for sports collectors.  Admittedly, the robust attendance figures of the early 1990s – boosted by curiosity seekers and part-time casual collectors – appears today as a nostalgic part of its history.

The National’s executive board seeks to entice non-sport card manufacturers to become active participants in future National events. 

Said Mike Berkus, a founding member of the National’s first convention, “I would love to find a way to include these wonderful card groups.  We have approached a few, like Allan Caplan at Inkworks, but to no avail.  It is disheartening to these card companies attend (San Diego) and find better meeting grounds that we could provide for them.”

In recent years, non-sport firms Bench Warmer and Dart Flipcards World held corporate booths at the National.  Such representation, though, is intermittent. 

“When we approach (non-sport manufacturers), they do not find the value of the National, and that is our fault,” Berkus said.  “If we could create some type of non-sport excitement, some value in being there, or even find a reason to create a non-sport section, there would be real merit (for both sides).”

This year’s National in Cleveland took place one week after the San Diego convention.  The 2008 National, to be held in suburban Chicago, will open four days after the Comic Con’s conclusion.  Smaller trading card firms would be hard pressed with the turnaround time to exhibit at both shows.  Still, the National’s prestige should carry weight in drawing non-sport/entertainment card producers.  It would further enhance the event’s interest level on a national and local basis.

The convention field has become intensely competitive.  Wizard World shows in several cities, including Chicago, demonstrate the drawing power entertainment conventions now enjoy.  Will the National be able to tap into this energetic field?


Other notes: The National’s 28-year history has witnessed exponential growth and also lean times in the sports collecting hobby.  A fascinating display had been constructed by Berkus containing artifacts and photographs on the convention’s first shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago.  Also inside the display cases were publications dating from the 1960s and earlier; these typewritten news sheets had been published by figures such as Charles “Buck” Barker, an important chronicler of trading card collecting years before the hobby’s general organization in the mid-1970s.

The convention program listed 357 dealer booth holders and over 30 corporate exhibitors.  Cleveland’s IX Convention Center, located immediately south of the city’s municipal airport, is a huge facility, and perhaps could have housed more than an additional 200 exhibitors.  The building’s south end featured several food courts along with two alcohol lounges where thirsty collectors and dealers could discuss transactions and other business.  The IX Center also sports a 75-feet high (?) Ferris wheel which did not appear much in use during the weekend.

Dee Robinson, of West Orange, N.J., is a dealer in baseball cards and non-sport collectibles who also promotes an annual trading card show in the greater New York City area.  Robinson has exhibited at Nationals for over 20 years and vividly recalls the craziness associated with the 1991 Anaheim National.  “People were throwing money at you for most of what you had at your booth,” she said.  “It was the height of promo card mania, and the aisles were clogged three rows deep at our tables and most everybody else.”


Alexandra M










NSCC executive board directors John Broggi (left) and Mike Berkus at the 2007 National in Cleveland.    Berkus holds an original placard used to promote the inaugural NSCC event held in Los Angeles, 1980.

















































Dee Robinson, co-promoter of the New Jersey non-sport card show, engaged in customer service at her booth at the 2007 NSCC in Cleveland.


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