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.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 SignersDuh! 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.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 YearThe 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 PanelsThe 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.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.