The National Sports Collectors Convention—so venerable we know it simply as “The National”—is an event built on nostalgia.
Attendees of this week’s National in Atlantic City, NJ, will find 40,000 square feet filled with famous and obscure memorabilia. They will line up to meet the iconic icon from the past. They will gather together to float through history wrapped in glass.
But this year’s gathering is also expected. Dot floor social trading platform. Exhibitors will discuss alternative investment strategies and fractional ownership. Blockchain technology is also at the show, if you know where to look.
Although card prices are generally down from their 2021 peak, collectors are expressing enthusiasm about the 42nd National — which is expected to host more than 75,000 visitors this week after nearly setting an attendance record last year — and curiosity about where the hobby will go next. Companies, meanwhile, are more than ready to showcase what they’ve been working on.
Trading card company Panini launched its NFT program in 2020, a year before the category started behind NBA Top Shot. And while non-sports NFTs may be struggling, Panini NFTs have had their busiest few months recently, with total transactions in July already 40% higher than last July.
“The things we do with the platform and NFT are validated in the most difficult times,” Panini America VP of marketing Jason Howarth said, specifically referring to the company’s decision to use physical brand IP like Prizm and Optic for the NFT instead of creating a completely new design. “There is recognition and understanding of the value of our IP, so it’s not – for lack of a better definition – something created out of thin air.”
Panini has become famous for its VIP Party that is launched on the Saturday of every National convention. But this year added another schedule on Friday – NFT Panini Prizm Party. The new one will share many features with its older sibling, such as musical performances, athlete cameos and product giveaways. The biggest difference will be the price point—general admission tickets on Saturday start at $100, compared to the typical five-figure get-in for Saturday’s event. Then there is the actual ticket, which on Friday is the NFT itself. Naturally.
Beckett Collection, first launched as a price guide in 1979, has also embraced blockchain. At the booth, the company will introduce collectors to Beckett Collect, a new platform created after the initial acquisition of NoXX. The site will allow users to track, expand and display their collection with the possibility of one day displaying Top Shot moments next to vintage Topps slab images. Beckett has also created a vault to store cards and is exploring how NFTs can act as titles for these assets to allow for easy trading.
“On the collector side, there’s a lot of competition,” says Beckett visionary officer (and former NoXX co-founder) Scott Roskind. “Some people are convinced, ‘Oh no, you can only have the physical’ and others are more technologically advanced.”
For companies, though, the fact that they have a visionary chief executive probably answers the question. “We both love each other,” Roskind said.
Digital Candy will be available, offering MLB NFTs packages and previews of upcoming sets related to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “We are very happy to attend this year for the first time as we want to introduce thousands of participants to our products that use new technologies to bring life and expand the way we create collections,” said Candy CEO Scott Lawin via email. .
However, instead of having their own booth, the brand will share the space with its partners Fanatic Topps brand collection. One stall over, Fanatics will be back with its own memorabilia-focused activity as well. This will be the first Nationals since Fanatics acquired Topps, as well as future baseball, basketball and football trading card licenses.
“I’m very interested to see how they position themselves,” Dibbs CEO Evan Vandenberg said. “He felt like he was the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” More like four gorillas. In addition to Fanatics, Topps and Candy, the company’s culture collectibles brand zerocool has set up its own booth to highlight new licensing deals on entertainment properties including Stranger Things and Sand dunes.
Just from the floor space, the biggest presence at the show was probably Whatnot, the collection-focused live streaming shopping platform that has sponsored an entire wing. The startup announced a $260 million Series D funding round at a valuation of $3.7 billion last week.
Other social shopping participants, including Loupe and NTWRK, which offer platforms to open and sell cards online, will also have booths. Among these competitors, startups targeting the collectable class of investors – ALT and Collectable – have set up shop. On Wednesday, an ALT banner greeted collectors outside the convention hall with a clear display of its ambitions: “Development Grows.”
Then there were notable absences from the show floor. Dapper Labs is not included in the list of exhibitors, and neither are newcomers such as Autograph, DraftKings Marketplace, Recur or Sorare. Many choose to market at NFT-specific conferences like NFT.NYC and/or target themselves on the sports calendar.
Blokpax CEO Jeff French doesn’t blame them.
“If you [a digital collectibles company], you can spend money online and get closer to target people who will be more receptive to the message, versus walking into a room where 95% of people think you are basically a scam,” said French, before interrupting himself. “That’s really stupid, isn’t it? Let’s unpack it for a moment. You will tell me that a piece of cardboard… has value. But digital collections that have the same license are worthless?”
French said his company, which sells digital collectible packs online, also won’t be set up at the convention, unless those packs also get entries to win the physical cards they want. He thinks that his connection to the real world has earned the product more acceptance among potential skeptics.
Heritage Auctions, a National staple, sold Sion Williamson’s Top Shot at auction last spring, but has yet to bring the digital collection to the National. The biggest attraction will be the 1952 Mickey Mantle card currently up for auction, ie can draw record bid of $10 million.
Legacy sports auction director Chris Ivy won’t rule out selling NFTs anymore, but right now, he says, “there’s no traditional client base that’s really knocking on the door to deal with NFTs.” However, he hopes that today’s young digital collectors can become tomorrow’s sports memorabilia hoarders. “The first collection I bought was Garbage Pail Kids in 1985,” he said. “They’re silly cards targeted at kids, but it’s the first one I’ve been involved in that’s obviously fueled my passion for sports cards to this day. So I look at NFTs the same way.
Dibbs, a collection storage and fraction trading platform, is another startup without an official show. But Vandenberg said representatives from the company will be on the floor, meeting with collectors and monitoring all the changes in the industry.
“It’s not just about buying and selling cards anymore, or meeting up with old friends and trading cards with them,” said Joel Belfer, an associate at Clearview Capital who tracks the industry. Mint condition bulletin. “It’s become more of an idea show.”