It’s July and you know what that means. It’s time for the 43rd National Sports Collectors Convention, which this year, as it has in every odd-numbered year for the last decade, takes place at the Donald Stephens Center in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois.
This will be my fourteenth or fifteenth National (I’ve lost count), I’m always asked by NSCC newcomers what advice I have for them. So, without further ado, here’s a list of tips, tricks, and hacks for NSCC newbies.
If you’re going to do the NSCC, you must do it right. The NSCC is The Hajj for card collectors. In fact, it was written by The Prophet Jefferson Burdick (pbuh) that all sports card collectors are required to visit the NSCC at least once in their life. But you can’t just do the NSCC in one day. You need to do it right with a five-day VIP or Super VIP pass. (As of the time I’m writing this, all VIP passes are sold out, but you can still buy five general admission passes.) If you can spring for the Super VIP pass, it includes a five-day parking ticket which will come in handy. You’ll see why later.
2. Be Prepared. Calling the NSCC a “cardshow” is like calling the Grand Canyon a mere “ditch.” If this is your first NSCC, you will be overwhelmed. You will not be able to see everything in a single day. But there are some things you can do now, to prepare yourself. Updated your wantlist. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking so buy a pair of comfortable shoes. Bring a refillable water bottle and some snacks. After a few hours on the floor, you will get dehydrated and hungry.
Oh, and bring some top-loaders and other supplies. Whatever you can fit in your backpack should be enough. (And bring a backpack, too)
3. Practice basic hygiene. You’ll be surprised, but as a manner of common courtesy, please, brush your teeth and take a shower every morning and wear a clean shirt. Also, breath mints and deodorant are your friends.
4. You don’t have to stay in Rosemont. Rosemont is next to O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest in the world, and a hub for both United and American Airlines. And there are plenty of hotel rooms within walking distance of the Stephens Center. If you’re flying in, booking a hotel in Rosemont might seem expensive, at first. However, booking a room within walking distance of the Stephens Center will save you the need to rent a car. (Spending money on cards at the NSCC > spending money on a rental car)
If, on the other hand, you’re like me and driving – and yes, Delaware to Chicago is a hike, but it’s still drivable – you can take advantage of some of the more affordable lodging options scattered throughout the O’Hare area. I for one, am staying at a Wyndham across the street from the Allstate Arena. This will be my fourth Rosemont NSCC that I’ve stayed at this hotel. I even saved up enough Wyndham Rewards points, that my four-day stay is free!
5. Lunch options suck. It’s lunch time, and on the floor of the Stephens Center, your options are … well below average. The snack bars on the floor sell overpriced crap. I mean, if you’re a fan of the Fryolator Arts and don’t mind paying $15 for lunch, knock yourself out. Across the street there are several hotel restaurants, with the price tag to match. Many of these places are great for dinner and will be loaded with collectors all week. But there’s only so much Gibson’s, Harry Caray’s, and Fogo de Chao a man can eat in a week. If you’re looking for something more simple and more affordable in Rosemont, you’re out of luck.
Or are you? This is where getting the five-day Super VIP ticket pays off, because of the accompanying parking pass. At Rosemont (and next year in Cleveland) the parking pass allows you to enter and exit the garage at will – saving you at least $15 each time. Which means, if you drove or rented a car, you can drive out and go to lunch off the property.
There are plenty of places to eat on Touhy Avenue and Mannheim Road, that won’t break your budget, and are only a couple minutes away – not all of them national chains. One of my favorites is Potbelly Sandwich Shop (Yeah, it’s a chain, but it is indigenous to Chicago), which is five minutes away on Mannheim. There’s also a decent pizza joint next door.
6. Remember what the Wu-Tang Clan said. Cash rules everything around The National. Bring plenty. Yes, most dealers will accept PayPal, Venmo, and most credit cards. But most would rather take good old-fashioned greenbacks – if only for tax purposes, if you know what I mean. (Wink-wink, Nudge-nudge)
7. Forget budgeting. Like most collectors, you’ve probably accolated a set amount of money for The National. Well, you can pretty much throw that budget out the window at the NSCC. At The National, you will find that card. You know, that card that’s been on your wantlist for years, but it’s never shown up on eBay or comc? Well, there it is, at the NSCC and you’re out of cash.
I’m not advising you to max out your credit cards and take out a second mortgage. What I am saying is, if you’ve budgeted, say, $2500 for the NSCC, you better take at least $1000 more, just in case you find that card.
8. Have fun and meet people. For me, the best part of The National is putting names to faces. Being able to see, in person, all your old friends that you may have made on-line. Hang out with them. See what they’re up to later.
9. You can skip the Topps “Meet & Greet.” For the uninitiated, every NSCC for the last dozen years Topps has held an after-hours “Meet & Greet” with collectors – usually on Thursday night. And every year, it’s the same bitchfest. The same topics are discussed (redemptions, dealer allocations, etc.), all the while Luraschi and company pretend to listen to collector feedback and proceed spend the next 364 days ignoring every suggestion from collectors. Oh, and there’s also “Santa Claus Guy” – if you know, you know.
Usually there are door prizes and an open bar, and at every attendee gets a free autograph of today’s flavor-of-the-month prospect. But it’s not worth the 90 minutes of your time.
10. Don’t be afraid to skip a day. I know, I know, I said that if you want the authentic NSCC experience, you need to attend all five days. But even for us seasoned NSCC veterans, by Friday or Saturday, we’re already beat. If the crowds are too much for you, don’t be afraid to cut-out early. If you’ve never been to Chicago, the Blue Line is less than a half-a-mile from the Stephens Center. Why not go to a ball game? (the White Sox are in town) See some of the museums. Go into the neighborhoods. Check out the Wesley Willis Tower.
(OBTW, mad props to the city of Chicago for renaming the Sears Tower after the late, great, Wesley Willis.)
Do you want to see the house where John Wayne Gacy buried 30 of his victims? It’s only a five minute drive from Rosemont!
12. Prepare for next year’s NSCC. Once you’ve been to a National, you WILL want to go back next year, and the year after that. We know the 2024 NSCC will be back in Cleveland at the I-X Center, and will more that likely be back at the Stephens Center in Rosemont for 2025. Start planning for next year. Get that vacation time approved. Book that hotel and/or airfare. Get that VIP Pass when they first go on sale. Do it as soon as possible.
I’m going to be on Hobby Hotline at the end of this month: Saturday, July 15th, at 11:00am ET (12:30pm in Newfoundland), with fellow Hobby News Daily contributors Danny Black and Horacio Ruiz.
We’re also going to have a special edition of Hobby Hotline live from the NSCC floor. I’m not sure of the exact day or date, but this will be from the Mike Berkus stage. Stop by and say “hi.”
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.