CHICAGO – With the 34th National Sports Collectors Convention just minutes away from launching its annual five-day extravaganza, NSCC founder and co-executive director Mike Berkus found time to answer “5 Key Questions’’ from Industry Summit host Kevin Isaacson.
Q. How has The National continued to expand its reach in the sports collecting marketplace, especially given the incredible growth of online buying, selling and social media information sharing?
A. We never take our eye off the goal – which is providing a great experience for everyone who attends. I attend Comic Con (because I watch The Big Bang Theory religiously – and yes, I wish The National got that kind of mainstream media coverage) – and Comic Con is a great example of an event that rolls out the red carpet and, every year, really thrills the people who attend. As you’ve certainly experienced with The Summit, even people whose business is 100% online find value in that once-a-year chance to meet in person and actually get to see and touch some of the most unique sports collectibles in the world. We try to make sure that this year’s customer has a great time, and wants to return next year with their friends. An event that can accomplish that will be successful for a long, long time.
Q. If you were attending The National purely as a collector, how would you spend your time?
A. I would immediately run through the entire show, scouring every table for items I might want to buy later. I would want to know exactly what was on the floor before trying to buy anything – and I would try to stay focused and seek my highest priority items, and try not to get derailed on Day 1. You know, just talking about it gets me excited. Some of the greatest moments of my life have been hunting for my collection – and The National is the greatest jungle that exists.
Q. The attendee make-up of The National has changed dramatically over the years. How would you quantify this year’s audience?
A. This is as diverse an audience as I can remember. The National has never been as widespread in terms of collector interest areas. As you know, the earliest Nationals were mostly focused on the collectors of 1950s cards. In the early 1990s, the new-card collectors searching for promo cards dominated. By the mid-1990s, the focus changed to near-mint, mint condition stuff that hadn’t yet been graded. There were fortunes to be made with cards that dealers had mis-graded. In recent years, there has been an explosion in interest in memorabilia and autographs. And now we are seeing a lot of renewed interest in the new card market, especially due to the case-breaking phenomenon. So this year’s audience is as diverse, in terms of collecting interests, as any we have ever had.
Q. In the week prior to the show, where did you invest your time?
A. 95% on local advertising and promotion. Our national audience has made their travel plans, so we’re really working the Illinois market. The response has been tremendous – and from all the indicators, I truly believe it’s going to be the best show we’ve had in quite a while. The two Baltimore shows set a benchmark … but this one is rolling in even higher. Attendance pre-sale is up 20% … room nights are up 25% … it’s going to be good.
Q. How do you evaluate the success of each year’s National?
A. I intentionally walk the entire show on Sunday, for the sole purpose of getting feedback from our exhibitors. I’m not looking for compliments – and as you know, our people are not shy. But if we are fortunate to have people stop us and say, ‘Hey, this was great,’ then we know we’ve done our jobs.