Prepare for the National - Your Ultimate Guide

mobile national
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

We are quickly approaching the best time of the year for trading card collectors: the National Sports Collectors Convention. Since 1980, the NSCC has consistently been the premier event for hobby enthusiasts.  And this year is no exception, as the show will make its way to Atlantic City, NJ on July 27-31.  While it has become a hotspot to meet new people and add grails to your collection, it’s also a place to see unreal pieces of memorabilia.  Just last year, Goldin Auctions featured displays of game-worn Air Jordans and an authentic boxing robe of Muhammad Ali.  Needless to say, this show is like a trip to the Smithsonian at times, but how do you prepare for the National?

When you are attending the biggest card show on this planet, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the buzz and excitement circulating in the building.  If this is your first time navigating through the National, it may be wise to channel your best Phil Jackson and make a game plan.  Luckily, we know just the right person to explain the atmosphere of America’s greatest card show.

Card Talk’s own Ryan Johnson (aka CardCollector2) has an excellent YouTube series on how to prepare for the National.  As a prominent figure in the hobby, Ryan has been documenting his experiences at shows for years now, all while sharing important tools of the trade with newer collectors.  And chances are that if you are reading this article, you have seen a few of his videos.  

Today we are going to highlight a few of Ryan’s key tips from his series and hopefully add a couple more quick pointers that will make your trip to the NSCC a success.  So, let’s just get right into it. Without further ado, here is a quick guide to the biggest card show in the world:

When to Go?

when to go
A view from last year's National of the Main Stage schedule / Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

As we mentioned previously, the National is a 5-day show, and some may not have the availability to be there for every minute of it.  One of the best points that Ryan brings up is fitting the show to your schedule and needs.  If you are looking to browse through hundreds of boxes/showcases to find some deals, then getting there on day one should be a priority.  Grading with PSA and Beckett is also an important endeavor to take care of early- the lines can really build up later on in the week.  However, if you are just looking for a few pieces, or you just want to meet your favorite player, it may be best to plan around the autograph schedule.  This can be found on the NSCC website, and it shows the list of all the athletes you can expect to see. 

This isn’t to say that being there every day is not worth your time. It is.  You will see jaw-dropping, magazine-cover stuff.  But prepare for the National in advance, so that when you’re pressed for time you can maximize your experience.

VIP Packages/Perks

National VIP Packages

It is also important to note the VIP options of the show, which are currently listed on the NSCC site as well.  Choosing the right package for you is one of the most important ways to prepare for the National. Ryan outlines a few of the benefits of purchasing a VIP or Super VIP bundle, including a private lounge area, 30-minute early access, and free parking passes.

The VIP package features a gift bag, tickets to a VIP party that's typically on Wednesday before the show opens and features some autograph opportunities, and a badge to keep on when you’re entering the show.  This badge becomes really important when you are running in and out of the convention center, as you can just show it to security without any hassle or wait times. You also get an extra half hour to peruse the aisles before they become insanely crowded, which can be a real advantage if you have your eye on a particular card.

Another benefit is the promotional items that Panini, Topps, and Upper Deck put out for the National every year.  VIP members will typically receive a standard promotional set from each company,.  VIPs are entitled to one from each company. Super VIPs are entitled to two of each giveaway.

As of early June, the Super VIP package has already sold out, but general admission tickets and regular VIP are still available.  

The Essentials

zion case

Another facet of the show that many forget to prepare for the National is packing correctly and bringing the essentials that every hobbyist may need.  

If you’re bringing cards to trade or sell at the show, you may want to consider a backpack or a carrying case.  Zion Cases are a fresh way to keep your cards both handy and safe, all while having the suave briefcase look.  If you would like to save 10% on these cases use code "CardCollector2" at checkout.

One thing that Ryan and many others will emphasize is the importance of comfortable shoes.  This show has an entire convention center at its disposal, so there will be a lot of walking and a lot of standing in lines.  Thankfully, there are typically areas on the side where you can find a seat and rest for a minute if need be.

Also, if you’re new to a card show, it is always a good idea to have some cash on hand.  Most dealers will accept PayPal or some sort of digital transaction, but having a couple of crisp bills will always make a transaction quick and simple, especially if there is an inconsistent cell signal.  Having some cash on hand when you get there will definitely save you some time, as going to the bank could be tricky and you won't have to deal with ATM transaction fees and limits.

Dealer Etiquette/Relationships

dealer etiquette
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

This may be the single most important aspect of the National.  You may just be attending to grab a quick autograph or to see a few seven-figure cards, which is perfectly okay.  But if you are starting to focus more on branding yourself in the hobby, then it is paramount that you work to build new relationships. 

This starts with some key rules of “dealer etiquette” that Ryan outlines in the series.  For starters, it is generally impolite to buy a card from somebody when two parties have already started a deal.  It’s also vital to remain respectful of the dealer’s setups as well. Try not to record their tables without asking, and you probably don’t want to put your cases/backpacks on their glass displays without asking.  Mindful rules like the ones mentioned will make you more likely to get to know the sellers and establish that relationship. Those handshakes and conversations can go a long way in the hobby, and finding those familiar faces will help when you’re in such an overwhelming space.

On-Site Grading/Show Exclusives

on site grading
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Another benefit of the NSCC is the exclusive opportunities that companies offer.  We touched on the on-site grading that PSA and Beckett typically provide, which will range in price depending on the service you select.  However, there are options to receive the card on the same day you submit it, but those prices increase as the show progresses.  It’s best to take care of your grading endeavors early so you can avoid the lines and extra fees that may be added on.

Panini also provides an enticing service for collectors with expired redemption cards, known as their White Boxes.  A Panini White Box Redemption will include an encased 1/1 card that has been taken out of circulation from the product it came from.  And, just like the exclusive promotional packs, these White Boxes can bring in a pretty penny as well.

Trade Nights

trade night

The final video from Ryan’s series talks about the Trade Night at the National, which is by far the best way to connect with everyday collectors in-person.  According to Ryan, this event started back in 2015 and only had around 30-40 attendees in the beginning.  The picture above, taken at last year’s Trade Night, shows just how far it has grown in less than a decade.

At the Trade Night, you can expect many people set up with their cards on a table, all while chatting with friends or watching a game.  It’s a much more relaxed vibe than the buzzing and whirring of the show, and it provides an excellent opportunity to build relationships within the card community.  Additionally, it’s a great way to trade more liquid cards into a higher-end piece and vice versa.  This is a free and safe environment that was put together by two of the hobby's best and most trusted figures. It will be held on Thursday this year, so make sure to stay tuned to @cardcollector2 on all social media channels for news and updates.

I was fortunate enough to attend this Trade Night and many other smaller ones while at the National last year.  Ryan and Jimmy from Kentucky Roadshow did an incredible job with the venue, and it enabled me to meet many new faces that I still communicate with on a regular basis.  If you have the time, I highly recommend stopping by the Trade Night for an hour or two.

See You in July!

atlantic city convention center

The days are waning down until the 42nd National Sports Collectors Convention.  If you have any more questions regarding the show, be sure to watch Ryan’s vlogs from last year’s National.  They help to give a first-hand account of what it was like on the show floor.  

You don’t want to miss it in Atlantic City this year. As we’ve seen the hobby grow to new heights, so have the card shows across the nation.  Who knows what’s in store for the National this year? We hope to see you there!

Do you have any tips on how to prepare for the National? Share them with us on Twitter or Instagram @cardtalkpod

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