As the Toronto Sportcard Expo was opening its doors on Nov. 10, Promoter Al Sinclair surveyed the cavernous Toronto International Center and observed, “I feel like I’ve grown up here. I was working at shows here when I was 16. Now this is Expo number 31. Sixteen years! How’d that happen?”
Sinclair observed, “Everyone is really optimistic about the weekend. This is the best line-up of autograph guests we’ve ever had. No doubt about it.” Sinclair alluded to the fact that the Expo faced some competition this weekend from a show at the Hockey Hall of Fame, located in downtown Toronto.
“It’s happened several times before over the years but it really doesn’t affect us one way or the other. People make time for both events if they want to. We can certainly compete as far as guests go. We actually have more Hall of Famers than they do!” Sinclair then joked that the Hall wasn’t inducting players fast enough to keep up with his need to bring hockey’s royalty to the Expo.
“I don’t think people take it for granted the way they used to that these guys are going to be around forever. I had Stan Mikita here in 1993 and this is his first appearance since then. There’s a lot of pent up frustration to see guys like him and a lot of them, including Stan, just don’t do shows the way they used to.
Back after an absence during the NHL Player lockout was industry giant Upper Deck. Company rep Don Williams noted that UD is the only company with an NHL and Players Association license. UD was engaged in two different wrapper redemption programs at the show, including a “Priority Signings” featuring 27 different players.
“We’ve altered the cards to give them a unique look for the show,” Williams said.
In addition to its redemption program, UD also offered a Trading Card Zone” which Williams described as “…a way for us to educate youngsters who drop by. It’s a way to help bring younger collectors into the hobby. We’ve been doing this for years at baseball and football shows, but this may be the first time we’ve done it at a hockey show.”
Also in attendance was manufacturer In The Game, who continue to produce hockey cards in the absence of an NHL license.
“We’ve got to work harder to be creative and get competitive product out there every year,” commented company rep David Wasserman. “We’ve had to limit our International Ice redemption program because the demand has been so heavy. We’re limiting people to one box today. They can come back tomorrow but if we kept going at the present rate, we wouldn’t have enough product to get through the show. It’s a nice problem to have.”
In The Game also featured a unique card set of Team Canada Women hockey players called Going for Gold. Their booth also featured a “Design A Card” section, seeking customer input on future releases. Although collector response was slow at the Expo, Wasserman assured me that the creative response on the company’s website was quite impressive.
Fan response to the autograph sessions was overwhelming, with guests like Lanny McDonald and Harry Howell taking considerable time with each customer. Both events went on longer than scheduled to accommodate huge collector demand and provide satisfying experiences.
Other scheduled autograph guests included Borje Salming, Al Arbour, Yvon Cournoyer, Michel Goulet, Henri Richard, Brett and Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. As I left the Expo, I chatted with a father and two weary but excited young sons.
“We’re from Buffalo. I haven’t missed a show in five years and this is the first time I’ve brought my boys. We’re going to make this a family tradition,” he concluded.
– By Hank Davis