Wednesday, August 6, 2014

35th National Sports Collectors Convention Recap Part 3 of ?

I woke up Thursday feeling pretty good. I was really happy to have spent some quality time with my co-workers and friends Rob, David, Russ and Ryan. Each one of those guys just absolutely blew my mind this past week with their ability to just completely adapt to whatever was happening on the Amazon.com Sports Collectibles Main Stage. We did trivia, raffles and told some funny stories in-between and during case breaks to entertain. Trust me, its not easy, but it was fun.

We met so many great people in this segment of the show. I mentioned Scott Bateson earlier and he was stellar, but I was completely humbled meeting Joey and his Friendly Box Breaks crew. They were seriously, some of the most polite people in the building. It was fun sitting in with them for awhile on a break they did later in the week of Benchwarmer. Sir, it was an honor. David and Jason from Finest Box Breaks were also top notch guys that happened to be from Long Island, NY. The same town in fact that I would visit 3-4 times a year when I was a kid, to see my Dad's side of the family. Small world.

David Gelfman's group that includes Bryan Fillmore and Paul Milazzo were also just troopers, breaking all week long. Abby and Grizz from the BreakKing.com were also right next to us and we all became friends throughout the week. To our right was someone I've known now for two or three years, but ironically he has never been on Cardboard Connection Radio for one reason or another. That was Rich Layton of Layton Sports Cards. Let me tell you something. As I watched through the week, I saw a change in him. We had an amazing week. I know he has stories that he'll never forget, and that his breaks were very successful. You should have seen him during the kids break, he was beaming. While watching him teasing the kids for packs and hits, it was another moment I just felt that we had made the right decision to work with this group. It took me 2 years to find out he's from South Jersey, another place I lived for a long time. I can tell you that we are going to have fun in 2016 if the show remains in Atlantic City. We finally sat down with Rich for an interview, and you can hear it right here.

You could see that a lot of the people in the pavilion had no clue what to expect. Neither did we. It could have been a giant cluster, but it was nothing of the sort. In fact there was an area dedicated to breakers that weren't even a part of the show. If one came in and decided he/she wanted to break, they had a place to do it. That area wasn't dead, it wasn't supposed to be filled unless breakers came in and claimed a spot on the fly. With 40+ already part of the inaugural event, I think it is safe to say that many of the best were there already. It was a place to offer an olive branch to someone that was on the fence about participating. I wish people would actually ask some questions when they pretend to be so-called reporters instead of sneaking around or making asinine comments. Do a little research, it could benefit you long-term. These breakers were protecting their business, working to expand their business and brought their A-game to make sure that breaking was represented at and by its best. I applaud them all for working together to make the event a success. Early signs show it will return in Chicago and be even larger in scale.

I had to leave the show for awhile on this day, but boy was it worth it. Panini America had put together a lunch for a huge announcement they planned on making. It wasn't much of a secret at this point. They were going to announce that they signed an exclusive partnership with the NFLPA. I wanna take you back in time again. My very first event that I ever attended as media was one of the most outstanding events of my life. Russ and I were the guests of Donruss Playoff's Tracy Hackler and Taylor Pennington. The event was in Washington and it was called Unsung Heroes. A young Brian Urlacher was the star of the event and I got to meet Karen Bush-Austin, Pam Oliver and many other NFL greats. I can remember Randy Cook did his podcast from the show, I knew then, that was what I had wanted to strive for. I wanted it to be us at those events. I wanted to make sure our name was synonymous with any event that involved trading cards. I am still trying to do that!

Anyway, even then you could see that the Texas-based company put their heart and soul into the relationship. They transcended trading cards and put their stamp on things outside the box. They gave a crap about that too. It showed. They did charity events, they provided things for kids and families and they went way out their way to build a bond with fans of the NFL. Now if I noticed that several years ago, you can bet that a decade later the NFLPA noticed it too. You can say its all about the money, and of course that's a huge part of it, but any good relationship begins with good will and it continues to grow because you pay attention to the relationship, you don't just take it for granted. Trust me on that.

So here we were in the room with a lot of our industry peers and the vibe was unreal. I felt a great sense of pride for my friends. They ALL worked their collective asses off for this to happen. Let's be honest, Topps locked up Baseball, UD Hockey and Panini already had Basketball, so why not go after Football? You can say Baseball is America's Pastime all you want, but Football dominates the ratings. It is the most popular American sport. If I was a maker of trading cards, I'd want my name attached to the game that can get as many people watching their commercials as they do the actual game!

I went to sit down with Ryan and we met up with our buddy Kelsey from ESPNs Mint Condition. Kelsey himself looks like he could put on some pads and hit the turf. He's a big dude, but as friendly as can be. Love sharing stories with him. He did me a huge favor, so I owe him one. As I turn around to scope the room about 40 kids from a local Pop-Warner team sit down. These kids were pumped up, they didn't know what was going on, but that something cool was about to happen. As they sat down, Super Bowl winning QB and NFL Analyst Trent Dilfer walked in. Now Trent is a cool guy and an awesome TV analyst, but he went above and beyond the scope of anything I thought was going to happen on this day. He personally introduced himself to every single on of the kids and asked them what position they played. He genuinely took an interest in their comments and excitement. He also won over just about anyone over the age of 12 with his actions.

I don't' even know where to start on the highlight reel list from this event. It was actually difficult to keep my composure for some of it because I was legitimately surprised by some of the things that took place. No, not the announcement itself, but other more tangible things. Ok, so how about this for instance. We're eating and then Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz enters the room and sits right next to us. I watched this guy every Sunday like clockwork. He was a living monster at 6'6" during his playing days and here he was sharing his stories about collecting with us. He was so nice, a truly awesome representative of the Football Hall. He also got to comment on how he'd deal with up-and-comers like Jadeveon Clowney.

Trent Dilfer and Jason Howarth did analysis on the top rookies in the draft. Trent likes to compare athletes to cars, so we saw some Jaguars, Porsches and Rolls Royces, thankfully no Jalopies. Dilfer was high on the Raiders QB Derek Carr and also noted that Johnny Football if he can slow down to even 2nd or 3rd gear can be a player.

Speaking of Johnny, you read a lot of crap in the news. True or not true, you never hear enough good things about people. Critical, headline grabbing sensationalism sells. That doesn't work for me. Negativity breeds negativity, I don't live on a cloud or in a closet but I can tell you that my life is pretty damn good. So that said, here's a GREAT Johnny Football story.

Remember the kids I told you about? Panini and Johnny Manziel awarded a helmet equipment grant to Pop Warner’s Northeast Ohio Pop Warner Association. The team got up and held this giant check. They had been to two Pop Warner Super Bowls and come up short. They are hoping for a chance to make a third appearance in the big game. They were ready to play right there in the hotel ballroom. In fact, if they do something like this again, I say a little scrimmage would be a blast!

Panini America CEO Mark Warsop also spoke about the partnership and what it means for Panini. He is thinking outside the box and he said that this deal gives them the ability to do things they couldn't before. I am curious to see how they shape my personal favorite category in this industry. They haven't let me down yet. In just the past few years, they've improved designs, improved content, and if they can move away from stickers and bring in some new brands to fill up the schedule, I am confident more great things are ahead. Kind of makes you wonder though if they might look to fill some of those holes with some already established brands or products? Only time will tell. I know some people live and die by Topps, but hey they have Baseball right? Why can't Panini have Football?

After lunch I finally got to meet someone I'd wanted to speak with for a long time. Mr. Keith Gordon of the NFLPA. I told him the story of how it was fun to watch this relationship grow all those years ago. He was very proud of the partnership and said some wonderful things about Panini.

We feel very confident in Panini America’s ability to deliver quality and value to consumers at all levels, while providing long-term stability to the football trading card category, said NFLPI President Keith Gordon. Significant investments in product innovation, quality, authenticity and creative player marketing have endeared Panini to the existing fan base, while actively cultivating the next generation of collectors.

I look forward to speaking with him more in the future.

As we walked out, Tracy was interviewing Trent for a piece on the Knight's Lance I would assume, and I can tell you that their relationship is just getting started. Trent & Panini America have some fun things in store for kid collectors.

I'll be back with more from the National, but if you want some more insight, be sure to listen to the Wednesday, August 6th edition of Cardboard Connection Radio tonight at 10pm EST.

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