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Your Survival Guide for The National

When the doors open for the 41st National Sports Collectibles Convention on July 28, the biggest sigh of relief may come from Ray Schulte, the event’s director of communications. As late as four months ago, Schulte and other NSCC organizers didn’t know if the country’s biggest annual cards and collectibles show would even take place. The pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 show in Atlantic City and was dead set on doing the same to the 2021 Chicago event. Thankfully, county and state regulations cleared enough for this year’s National to safely proceed.

“It was kind of a bittersweet situation because it was sad that we didn’t have a National [last year], but it was also good having the industry be as strong and thriving as it was at the time,” says Schulte. “We didn’t want to be in a position where people would be compromised and we certainly had everybody’s health as a priority for our exhibitors, our attendees and our athletes. So yeah, it was right up to the ninth inning [before we got the show’s greenlight]. We’re fortunate that everything has come through the way it has.”

But if that initial sound you hear entering Rosemont, Illinois’ Donald E. Stephens Convention Center is Schulte’s exhale, the second one might be a collective gasp from hobbyists entering the massive space. NSCC’s sheer enormity — a 400,000-square-foot showroom, roughly 800 vendors and more than 100 high-profile athletes signing autographs — is certainly a cause for pause. But after reading our exclusive interview with Schulte and taking notes from our survival guide, you’ll be well prepared for arguably the most anticipated National in history.

Are you ready for The National? Photo courtesy of Ray Schulte


You generally have seven or eight months to plan for the next show. But because of COVID-related circumstances, you didn’t this year. How were you able to get everything done?

it’s one of those things where there has been so much pent-up energy from collectors, sports fans and exhibitors. They want to get together. It’s tough because I’m trying to put together programs, but there’s so much activity, there’s so many people interested and there’s so much content that I’ve been given that it’s almost overwhelming.

And yet, with all this enthusiasm and expectations, people say this will be great and this is going to be one of the best shows ever. We know it’s going to be a great show. We know people are going to show up. But at the same time, you want to maximize that opportunity, too, and you want to make everybody’s experiences as fun and enjoyable and profitable as you can.

We’ve heard that you’re expecting two or three times the people this year. How are you going to handle so many attendees?

Yeah, we’ve given that a lot of thought. Obviously, safety is really important to us, too. We’re kind of blessed that we do have wide, wide aisles. We’ve done that intentionally over the years, and this year it’s going to pay off because that’s very important. The way that the 400,000 square feet are structured, [there’s] a really good traffic flow. We’re going to be cautious. We’ll probably add security just for precaution, more so than we normally would just to make sure that everybody is in a comfort mode. I think the convention center will be able to handle it. I think that we’ll be in a good position.

What aspect of the show are you most excited for people to see?

I’ve always been excited about having younger kids involved in the hobby. And within the last couple of years, I think we’ve been able to do that. And when I say “we,” I mean the manufacturers and our exhibitors. Years ago, [event organizers] Mike Berkus and John Broggi set a policy that any kid under 12 would get in free all five days. And since that time, it’s been great. We’ve had fathers and sons [in attendance]. But in the last couple of years, it’s grown to where it’s not only the father and the son [at the show]; it’s the father, the son, daughter and mother and the grandparents. So, basically, it’s more family oriented now than it’s ever been. And to me, that’s the most exciting part of it.

When you walk down the aisles — this is an experience that has happened to me — I overheard a dad talking to his son. He was looking at a Mickey Mantle jersey, and he was talking to his son about how he used to watch Mickey Mantle and how exciting it was, what a great player he was. The son was standing next to him and said, “But dad, but what about Aaron Judge? He’s my favorite.” Now you have a situation where you have a bonding opportunity here, something where they speak almost the same language and are interested in the same things. I saw that not only with the father and son, but with daughters and mothers. There’s something for everybody at the show now. I think that’s the most exciting thing.

A small bit of prep will go a long way at this big show. Photo courtesy of Ray Schulte


  • Stay updated on show times and event schedules by visiting The National’s website. If you’re trying to keep up with when Barry Sanders, Andre Dawson and all the other legends will be making appearances, the TRISTAR Productions’ website is the best way to do so. And if you’d like to register/bid in the online auction powered by this year’s charitable organizations, Signatures for Soldiers and Military Missions in Action, text “National” to 99192.
  • If you’ve been following other dealers and collectors on social media, there’s a pretty good chance that person will be in attendance at the show. Why not use The National as a chance to actually meet your followers? Go grab a bite or chat in a hotel lobby. Twitter DMs are great and all, but they simply can’t replace a real conversation over a real beer.
  • The National extends some 400,000 square feet. That’s more than eight football fields, my friend! Know the basic layout of the showroom floor before being overwhelmed by it. If there are a few tables you definitely want to hit during your visit, know where they are beforehand.
  • Along those same lines, have a game plan for what you’re looking for and what you can spend. Know the general price ranges for the cards/boxes you’re interested in before getting to the booth. Download Sports Card Investor’s Market Movers app. The pricing database spots market trends and offers recent comps, making it your best friend for the show.
  • When it’s time to deal, remember that CASH IS KING. While some vendors will do transactions with Venmo or Paypal (and a few will even take credit cards), ALL would rather deal in currency that folds… Oh, and get your money out of the area ATMs sooner rather than later. By Saturday, we wouldn’t be shocked if the machines were empty from all the withdrawals.
  • Did we mention how enormous the showroom floor was yet? Please be sure to wear your most comfortable shoes and clothes. You can do 10,000 steps at the monthly card show in your hometown. Just imagine all the walking you’ll be doing at the massive National.
  • With so much moving around, talking and deal-making, you’re going to get tired. The adrenaline will mask some of the fatigue for a while, but the energy letdown is inevitable. Have some water and snacks at the ready. You’re going to need them.
  • And honestly, what’s the harm in calling a full timeout? Sit down. Chat with a new buddy. Get some fresh air. Trust us, if that box of ’96-97 Fleer Ultra Basketball is meant for you, it’ll be there after you take a 30-minute respite.
  • Speaking of going outside, there’s plenty to do in the city of Rosemont that has nothing to do with sports cards. The area offers lots of shopping and good restaurants. Downtown Chicago is only a 40-minute Uber ride from the convention center. And with Lollapalooza (7/29-8/1), the Cubs (7/28-29 vs. the Reds) and White Sox (7/30-8/1 vs. the Indians) all in town during The National’s weekend, it might be worth a trip.
  • The most important tip of the show: have fun! If you’re there with friends and family, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Don’t get so wrapped up in the card purchase that you forget to smile and take in all that The National is about.
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