This will be the 3rd piece I’ve written after attending the 2015 National Sports Collectors Convention and sadly it’s not with a glowing heart that I left the fine city of Chicago. The once crown jewel and proud event of the hobby has become nothing more than a glorified flea market in my humble opinion. The only difference is flea markets don’t charge $22 at the door and offer a Super-VIP package for $189 ($179 if purchased in advance). Granted the super pack comes with parking, admittance to the show for 5 days and access to some VIP autographs. That’s the cost of doing business and to put on a huge event such as the National, doesn’t come without a cost, so that part I’m fine with.
The average autograph at the show set you back $80 for a flat object no larger than 8×10, if however you wanted Rod Carew as an example to sign a simple jersey, the cost increased to $250 and for an additional $30 he inscribed up to 5-words as long as it wasn’t any Legends magazines/items or Ron Lewis 3,000 hit Club Posters. Going “all-in” , Rod allowed a photo-op for an additional $80. Now Jim Craig (remember him) for $70 signed a flat object or for $80, any item and for an inscription of 5-words an additional $20 was required. To really spice up your item with Jim and have the inscription “Do you Believe in Miracles” added, that cost an extra $40 and to top it all off with a photo, it was another $30. Maybe Jim should have inscribed, “I believe in Miracles” if he thinks he’s getting $5.7 million for his 1980 Olympic memorabilia he had up for sale at the show. Roger Clemons for a bargain basement price signed a flat or baseball for only $200 but if you asked for a bat or jersey signed, that was $300. Roger looking to give some back to the fans. generously added a 5-word inscription, but only a max of 2-per item for a reasonable $100 and the bonus topper, he threw in a photo of the two of you for another $200. In case you weren’t following the bouncing ball, that was $600 to have your jersey signed with a 5-word inscription (“I most certainly used steroids,” perhaps?) and a picture of Roger. Be still my heart.
The problem here is two-fold, firstly the promoter to attract the stars to the show will have some heavy-duty costs to get the player to agree to sit and sign for a few hours. Secondly the unscrupulous dealers and cheats of the hobby will have items signed and then pass the costs off to the public thus the lofty prices to discourage that practice. This in turn has all but destroyed the pure innocence of collecting; the fan waiting for the player at the stadium, because dealers now pay kids to retrieve signatures that are in turn sold for profit.
I remember times the lineups for autographs were long and steady consistently throughout the shows day. My observation this year. while limited, didn’t see to much activity, although I’m sure the promoter made out just fine.
For the first time a lot of the vendors made a point of discussing the cost to set up at the show. On average for an out of town dealer to make any money over the 5-day show working on a 15-20% margin, would need to generate in excess of $100,000. To a player in the business operating full time, this is not an issue, however numerous vendors setting up, do so only this one time a year and really are collectors at heart so this number is significant. One dealer estimated his first $5.000 of profit barely covered the cost of the table, hotel, travel and food for the week stay, not factoring in additional costs for help with his table.
The industry as I have mentioned in previous ramblings is now mostly in the hands of the auction houses. I myself have these guys hounding me to remember them if and when I ever decide to part with my collection. I was given a VIP pass by a friend of mine at the show so I had early access to attend while the vendors where setting up. That’s the day before the show is open to the public and when most of the big deals occurred, dealer to dealer. Moving throughout the room with very light traffic I was able to speak to a lot of dealers and search the tables thoroughly seeking out that possible unknown or new find to add to my collection. Very disappointingly not only did I not uncover a new find, I spent more on cabs the first day getting to and from the show (used the rail system the other 2-days, way faster).
All was not lost however, because I still got a kick looking at all the characters moving about the room. I did speak to a number of very knowledgeable vendors, collectors themselves and swapped many tales of acquiring items and some of the good and bad guys either still in the business or long gone. The frustration amongst the vendors regarding the lack of interest, the dying local card show and the corporate culture instilled in the business driven by large auction houses like Heritage out of Dallas was very consistent with vintage dealers.
One encouraging thing I did discover this week was the Barilko sweater I mentioned a couple weeks ago was not represented as the “goal” jersey by the dealer, in fact the consigner tried to, but the dealer through some solid research discovered otherwise. This is the type of filters we need to encourage on “every piece” that is sold to the public.
Most of the dealers at the National impatiently discussed items they had for sale, because he couldn’t afford to chit chat if expenses haven’t been met, so if you aren’t willing to spend, then please move along.
And, that my friends, is a crying shame.