Taking My Hacks

Dying a Slow Death

Joe Orlando

There have been many changes to our hobby over the years. Innovations in manufacturing, authentication, grading, auctions and much more have changed the way people do business in our industry forever. The one area that has not changed, unfortunately, has been the trade show. As a result, the trade show has been dying a slow death for years.

Of course, there are reasons why the trade shows have entered the endangered species list in recent times. The evolution of the Internet has, arguably, caused the most damage to the show circuit. Ironically, it has also had an incredibly positive impact on the industry as a whole. Couple the power of the Internet with the continued improvement of the high-end catalogue auctions, and you realize that collectors have fewer and fewer reasons to leave the comfort of their own homes in order to buy.

Are there any differences between current shows and ones from days past? The only two noticeable differences in shows today versus the shows I attended in the 1980's are the dramatic increases in autograph fees and the dramatic decrease in overall attendance. Keep in mind that this is not directed at all of the current tradeshows. The fact is that most of the shows are disappearing altogether.

Speaking of autographs, the shows are in a tough spot. The great stars of the 40's, 50's and 60's, including the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were frequent shows guests at one time because the payoff was attractive to the athletes. Today, how attractive can an appearance at a show be to an athlete who makes millions of dollars?

We will rarely see top athletes from the current generation attending trade shows, even the big ones. It just doesn't add up for the modern, high-paid athlete. "You mean I can get paid $75 per autograph to go out to a show in the middle of nowhere where I can get drooled on by stalkers or receive free advice on how to hit MLB pitching from a guy who still plays Dungeons and Dragons?" See what I mean?

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan don't need to sign autographs in order to pay their bills. Heck, the backup catcher on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays doesn't have to! The Killebrews, Musials and Sniders do because they did not have the financial opportunities as players that the current players do today, despite their greatness. In addition, many of the great athletes of the past have signed so often that the "draw factor" continues to fade. So, who can the promoters turn to for the autograph guest draw? Have you noticed the subtle influx of non-sports celebrities at the sports shows? Now you know why.

In the end, this show dilemma is frustrating for almost everyone. The collectors are not being offered a reason to go. The dealers have a harder time finding product to buy. The larger companies, like PSA, have less of an opportunity to meet their customers in person, which is something we really enjoy doing at the shows. Face time does have a value. Finally, the show promoters are facing major challenges.

We can blame this group or that group for the slide in show interest but the bottom line is that if innovation, creativity and interaction are not injected into the shows as we know them, there will be no shows to go to in the foreseeable future. Without a new vision, we might as well get the coffin ready.


Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief