The economic downturn of the past year has affected everyone in the industry, including show dealers and promoters. While the show market is much smaller than it was a decade ago, this latest slowdown has put a noticeable dent into show attendance and spending.
Exhibiting at a show can be an expensive gamble in today’s economy. Chicago Sun-Times show consultant George Johnson reported that booth sales for the most recent show in November were down 15 percent from a year ago. Organizers of SportsFest cancelled the show after this summer’s edition because of declining exhibitor numbers and attendance.
Most show dealers don’t like the trends they’re seeing. “I’ve been doing the same number of shows that I always have, but I can see the number of dealers declining with each one I do. It’s definitely tough out there right now,” said Vern Nelson of Nelson Cards in Stoughton, Wis.
“I think the high-end items have taken the biggest hit, but I think all of the marketplace has taken a hit,” said Mike Stoner of Atlanta’s Stoner Sports. “I suspect Christmas buying will be lower this year, and I don’t think things are going to change in the near future.”
Some dealers have been able to withstand the recession because of the specialized niche areas they deal in. “Vintage is real strong. The rarities in terms of cards and the one-of-a-kind pieces in terms of memorabilia are also still doing well,” said Memory Lane President J.P. Cohen.
The success of many shows in recent years has often rested on the quality of their autograph guests. But with attendance declining, many promoters can’t afford to bring in expensive signers. “The guys you need to come to sign autographs are still charging very high fees, and there’s no relief in sight with that,” Stoner said. “And if you don’t pay them the high fees, they don’t come. And if you don’t get the top-notch guys, then you won’t get people to come to the shows. Fewer promoters are able to afford to do a show, which translates into fewer shows, less attendance and fewer shows for dealers to set up at.”