The National Sports Collectors Convention is the premier annual event for sport card collectors. The show is HUGE and can be overwhelming. But it's because it's so large that makes it worth traveling to no matter where you live. And that's why collectors from all around the world show up year after year.
Whether it's your first time attending, or you've been there multiple times before, I wanted to offer a few tips from my experience to make sure that you stay safe, get great deals, and see everything you want to see. Below are my Top 10 Tips on how to do so!
1. Know what you have with youIf you are bringing cards to trade or sell, make sure you have a list of what you've got, and try to limit yourself to a single box that can fit in a backpack. I go a step further and actually print out the prices I paid for each card, what they book at in Beckett and how much they have been going for on ebay, and ultimately what I'm looking to get in value for each. This saves a ton of time when someone shows interest in a card you have. You can very confidently offer up a price.
Having this list printed is also a great way to be able to keep track of the cards you sell or trade throughout the days. It's a running inventory so you keep track of your stuff.
Keep everything in the box, and in your bag until you need to show the cards to someone. When your box is out keep your eyes on it. If another vendor or collector starts to reach into the box to "take a look" as well, politely tell them that it's just "one at a time" taking a look at your stuff and that you'd be happy to let them look after the person you are showing is done.
A lot of cards get stolen at this event. That's why limiting what you bring and keeping your eyes on it make all the difference. I also go a step further by putting a BasketballCardGuy.com sticker on every one of my cards that I bring. That way if a dealer ever took one out of my box and claimed it was his, it would be easy to see that it was one of mine.
2. Know what you are looking to buy or trade for, and make a listIt's the same advice I give people on Black Friday. Don't go out blindly. Make a short list of cards you are looking to find. You can be as specific or not as you want from "I want a Michael Jordan Rookie Card" to "I want a PSA 9 Fleer 1986-87 Michael Jordan Rookie Card that is well-centered and has the old PSA label". The more specific you can be, the better. If the card exists you'll likely find it there.
I often go a step further with this tip and not only make the list, but print out a few copies of it. Then as I approach each vendor I show them the list of cards I'm looking for and ask if they have them. Sticking to your list will help you make sure you are getting everything you want to get and aren't wasting your money on things you know less about.
3. Keep your cash hidden, use PayPal when you can, and have separate cash stashes
I like to keep at least 2 stashes of cash on me for this show. One is mostly small bills, and the other are larger ones. You don't want to be pulling thousands of dollars out of your pocket to pay for a $20 card. it makes you a target.
In fact you rarely if ever want to have to pull your cash out at all. I greatly prefer to PayPal folks at Nationals, and most dealers understand that for high dollar deals you aren't going to have the cash on you. Some dealers however like cash, and will demand it for certain items. So for them, it's great to have it hidden on you and available. Just don't make yourself a target for thieves.
4. High end cards will have high end pricesJust because this is the largest show in the world, and people come from all around to be there, does not mean you are going to find amazing deals on high-end stuff. It's actually quite the contrary. Most of the vendors with high-end cards will be charging above eBay and Beckett prices. A lot of these guys are displaying their personal collections. Sounds cool right? Well not for getting a good deal. A lot of these guys want a premium for these cards they've been sitting on for a long time.
Know the value of cards. Check Beckett, look at eBay completed auctions, check BasketballCardGuy.com, look at Google Image results and click over to sites, open your amazon app etc. I've seen cards sell for double their value at Nationals, simply because the people buying didn't know they could get one for less elsewhere outside of the show.
I enjoy walking around nationals just to experience cards. See things I didn't know existed, and then I add them to my list for the future. I give myself a chance to research them for purchasing at a later date. Don't ever rush a purchase!
Why on earth would someone spend over a grand on a table not to sell the cards they bring? Great question!
5. Some vendors don't want to sell
A lot of the folks that have the ultra high end stuff just come to show it off. Don't get stuck trying to strike a deal with these people. They don't want your money.
You can do one of 2 things in a situation like this:
1) You can treat it like you are in a museum and appreciate being able to see the card, maybe even get a chance to hold it.
2) Try trading. A lot of the high end guys are only willing to deal if they are getting something high end in return. So if you've brought some heat yourself you can try making a deal with it. But remember, these guys probably don't want to make a deal at all, so they may force you to provide a lot more value on your end than you should.
The NSCC is one of the few shows that you can actually get a card graded a card on location, same day. Last time I checked it was somewhere in the $100 neighborhood to do so, but if you have something you don't feel comfortable mailing across the country and mailing back to you, it's worth it to have it done on the spot.
6. You can get your cards graded at the show
I personally don't like grading, but for those who do I would recommend Beckett's Raw Card Review (RCR) which is basically the same grading process without putting it into the thick plastic sealed protector. Instead they put it in a Card Saver I® semi-rigid protector and put a tamper proof sticker over the top of it with the card's grade. This will run you about $10 a card and then you can choose to have the card encased after the fact if it gets the grade you were hoping for.
Two other points on grading:
1) Don't grade cards that are worth less than $10. Why would you spend at least what it's worth to grade it? Now you'd have to get double the value out of it just to recoup what you have into it. Go for the more valuable cards.
2) Don't grade cards that are numbered to 10 or less. What's the point? If as card only has 10 copies in the world I see no point in trying to distinguish it further. It's already limited enough and would be hard enough to put a value on.
7. Bring supplies and a box for low-end cards
Especially if you are looking to complete some sets, or pick up a lot of low-end cards, you need to bring supplies. Most of the high end cards you pruchase will likely already be in a nice case, but I always recommend bringing some team set bags. I have them in a variety of sizes to protect everything form top loaders to the graded sized ones that go over graded card cases. Keeping scratches off of the graded card cases is a must, as your cards are stuck in them to keep the grade.
For the low-end cards you want to be able to get those cards back home without damaging them. Nationals is a great place to buy low-end cards. There a number of dealers that will have 5 and 10 cent boxes filled with cards that you'd normally pay $1-$5 each for. These are great places to bulk up your collection if you are willing to take the time and have the patience to do so. But dealers aren't likely going to give you sleeves or a box to put them all in, you need to come prepared.
One other note on the low-end cards. If you hit a row of amazing cards and there are 30 Luka Doncic Rookies for 10 cents each- Don't buy them all. Leave some gold there for other people to find. Purchase what you need for your collection or your business and don't get greedy. Let someone else have the same joy you did finding something neat as they take the time to dig through.
8. Give yourself time
The NSCC is huge. And unlike other "big shows" this one will absolutely take you multiple days to get through. Make sure you schedule multiple days there and have a system for seeing the show. It's not like all of the basketball is in one area and baseball in another, it's a big mix. So you need to have the time to systematically snake your way through the space.
Make notes of booth numbers as you go so you can find your way back. And be sure to take business cards or note down phone numbers or social media handles for the vendors you want to be able to communicate with.
9. Be SocialHalf the fun of the NSCC is meeting fellow collectors. If you are following vendors on Instagram, find out what their table numbers are ahead of time and then search them out. Go to Ryan's (@Cardcollector2) Trade Night. It's not affiliated with the show, but he's passionate about bringing the collectors together and always has great stuff planned.
Be sure to exchange contact info with folks. If you are under 18 limit that to a social media handle and not your phone number or mailing address, but in general it's great to network at these events. The people in the room at NSCC represent the best of the best collectors in the world. If they don't have what you are looking for today, they will someday, so stay in touch. It's also great just to make new friends and put faces to the names you see online!
10. Just because you travelled a long way to be there doesn't mean you have to buy somethingIf you are sticking to the first 9 tips above, you should realize that if you don't find something you were looking for, don't feel pressured to buy something else. What you need to realize is that the experience you had, and the people you met can be a valuable takeaway of its own.