Clemente’s Corner: What The National Can Learn From The Sport Card Expo

The Sport Card Expo held twice a year in Toronto is Canada’s largest and longest-running collectibles show. It’s also the type of show that can teach a few things to the National Sports Collectors Convention held in the United States each July.

It was the second Expo I attended. The first was the Spring 2022 Expo, which is normally held in April, but was delayed until June that year due to the pandemic. The Fall 2023 Expo, like the 2023 National, was bigger than ever. For the first time, the Expo spanned three halls and the four-day extravaganza took up 200,000 square feet of space.

[Photo by Clemente Lisi]
In many ways, the Expo is like the National. It featured over 400 dealers and many corporate booths, including Upper Deck, eBay, PSA and Beckett.

In other ways it was very different – and in a good way. Here are three things the National can learn from the Expo.

1. Invite More Hockey Signers

Former Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf met fans and signed autographs at the 2023 Fall Expo in Toronto. [Photo by Sal Barry]
Duh! This one is the most obvious for any hockey-loving American who’s ever attended the National. We all know how heavy the National is on baseball, football and basketball autograph guests. We hockey collectors are often left with one or two signers.

Not in Toronto. This fall’s Expo featured 39 signers — and 34 were former or current hockey players. That lineup included the famed “Triple Crown Line” of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor, and newly-minted Hall of Famers Mike Vernon, Tom Barrasso, Pierre Turgeon and Caroline Ouellette.

The “Triple Crown Line” of Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne, and Charlie Simmer join former Penguins goalie Les Binkley during his autograph signing session. [Photo by Clemente Lisi]
While it makes sense to have such a stacked hockey lineup at Canada’s premier card show, would it hurt to add more hockey signers to next summer’s National in Cleveland? The Midwest has a rich hockey tradition. It wouldn’t hurt to bring in some big former NHLers to satisfy the small, but passionate, American hockey fan base.

2. Have it at the Same Venue Each Year

[Photo by Clemente Lisi]
The International Centre — the sprawling convention space located near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport — is an ideal location for the Expo. It’s a lot like when the National is held in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

The Expo is always held in Toronto, specifically the suburb of Mississauga. Sure, they added a third show in Edmonton, but the Expo is a Toronto institution. In the fall, it coincides with the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the festivities that go along with that. It makes Toronto the place to be every November.

Would it hurt to hold the National in the same venue each year? I know it’s called “The National,” but I don’t know too many people who yearn for it to take place in Atlantic City anytime soon. Expo organizers, on the other hand, have figured out that the same venue brings with it logistical predictability that’s needed when you host a confab of such a magnitude.

3. Hold More Player Panels

Author and former Hockey Night in Canada host Brian McFarlane (left) hosted a Q & A with former Maple Leafs tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams. [Photo by Clemente Lisi]
The Expo had plenty of panel discussions — many even featuring players — that made buying cards and getting autographs more fun and added to the show’s overall experience. The Expo has done this for years now, while the National’s main stage offerings are little to non-existent.

This is where sports card shows need to be more than a place to buy and sell. They need to be an experience like ComicCon. Fans do want panel discussions on the future of the hobby – but please, no more talk about “investing – and more featuring former athletes.

Sal Barry interviews former Flyers goalie Bernie Parent. [Photo by Clemente Lisi]
The Expo had several very good panels with former players. Our very own Sal Barry moderated two of them. One of them with two-time Stanley Cup winner Bernie parent; the other with the Los Angeles’ Kings “Triple Crown Line” featuring a very animated Dionne telling plenty of fun stories. For me, the tales these former NHLers told were a highlight of the show.

Overall, the Expo proved to be both fun and entertaining. Like the National, it was a chance to talk cards, make some deals and get stuff signed. Unlike the National, it was a hockey collector’s paradise. It was also the type of show the National could learn from. I hope organizers are taking notes.

Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.

First photo courtesy of the Sport Card Expo

Love hockey? Join the Puck Junk Facebook Group, listen to the Podcast, subscribe to the Newsletter and YouTube Channel, and support this site at the Online Shop.


Author: Clemente Lisi

Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.

5 thoughts on “Clemente’s Corner: What The National Can Learn From The Sport Card Expo”

  1. This is spot on. Agree with you. I have been to both shows in my life and I agree with this take. I don’t think the National will ever do this. They should make the National a North American show and put Toronto into the rotation. Toronto is closer to the US border. Just an idea.

  2. I think the Expo must be the most underrated card show in the world. I can fix the National. Just skip it. Go to a few regional shows and the Expo and you’re good. There’s also plenty of baseball and other stuff at the Expo. It’s not Judy hockey.

  3. I agree with everything but would add one thing the Expo could learn from the National. Organizing the autographs. The national does a much better job and it is less of a free for all. Having Dave Keon, Mike Tyson and Carey Price signing at the same time with hundreds of people in line for each and not enough space for everyone was aggravating. Otherwise the Expo is the hockey Mecca.

  4. I agree with all of these, but wonder if having it in one place is a good idea. It depends how Cleveland turns out. If it’s bad like AC, then I would agree. Let’s see in that one.

  5. Totally disagree with same venue every year. Especially if that venue is in chicago lol living on east coast and a lot to do with commute I might add … Atlantic city was probably the best one I’ve been to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *