This Week’s National Sports Collectors Convention Should be … Interesting?

With a major scandal on altered cards rocking the industry, the year’s biggest sports card show is surrounded by intrigue

Earlier this year, the popular online forum Blowout rocked the industry with allegations of altered sports cards. If you’re still somehow just catching up with this story, here’s a primer. Essentially, cards have been altered to improve their appearance and then in many cases, graded higher, increasing their value. The alterations should, instead, have diminished their value.

1933 Goudey Dizzy Dean

The scandal has gained steam over the past several months and coverage has culminated thus far with articles written by the New York Times and, soon after, the Washington Post. And this week is going to be incredibly interesting with the National Sports Collectors Convention kicking off in Chicago.

If it was any other show this week, I’m not sure how noteworthy things would be. But in the National, we’ve got the world’s largest annual sports card show. The reason this is important is because it will be a collection of virtually all of the biggest players in the hobby, at least from a business perspective — including the ones that have been alleged to have a part in the altered cards mess. Aside from maybe the card doctors themselves (admittedly, a key part of the scandal), the other known players will be on hand.

On one side, you’ve got the grading companies that are alleged to have slabbed and inappropriately graded cards that were altered. SGC and Beckett have both been cited on the Blowout forum for this, but PSA is the one with the most allegations dogging them in terms of vintage cards. All kinds of pre-war cards have been alleged to have been altered and gone under the radar of PSA. We’re not talking inexpensive ones, either. Cards with values in five figures have been reported to have been altered and subsequently graded incorrectly.

On another side you’ve got, presumably, PWCC, who I’m guessing will still be there. PWCC is the auction house on eBay that specializes in sports cards that is alleged to have sold many of these cards. Members on the Blowout site claim that they knew they were selling altered cards. They have now been reportedly trying to buy back some of the altered cards, according to Darren Rovell.

Joe DiMaggio 1939 Play BallThen, you’ve got the gaggle of collectors that will be there — many of which, I expect, will be looking to give the companies a piece of their mind.

Where this goes, I don’t really know. A lot of collectors may talk about brash confrontations and the like. But how far does that really go? Sure, I expect a few people to make a scene but I’m guessing such efforts will be snuffed out pretty quickly by security, etc. If they aren’t then the National and those companies didn’t adequately prepare. I mean, they have to see some of this coming and I fully suspect they do.

Keep in mind, when I say the collectors, many of them will only be hearing about this scandal for the first time … or at least, learning more about it. While sites like Blowout are very popular, they still represent a very small part of the collector base. And even though the National features a lot of enthusiasts, it will also have quite a few people from the Chicago area that are not in that category, only going for autographs or as casual collectors because it happens to be near them. Everyone attending is not going to be out with pitchforks. Heck, even a lot of people that are keenly aware of the scandal aren’t going to be there to cause trouble. They’ll be there to thumb through dollar boxes and such.

Finally, the other factor here will be the major news media — if any show up. Will the Post or Times be there? How about others? The Chicago outlets will surely be there but will they be touching on the scandal or merely looking to do brief overviews of the event? Will anyone be able to uncover anything? My guess is that the parties involved will be offering little, if anything at all in terms of any real news. The Post and Times both did excellent work in their stories but in terms of getting PSA and PWCC to open up, well, I doubt that happens.

T207 StovallOne intriguing play is that we could hear from some people that have been affected by the scandal in terms of owning some of these cards that have now been altered. In response to a tweeted question about potential stories, I suggested that as a target of consideration to the Washington Post writer that dropped the paper’s article. We’ll have to see if any of the media goes in that direction. But hearing from some of those people would be interesting.

So, what we’ve got here is the potential for one big mess. But ‘potential’ is the key word.

I’m not downplaying this here — at least I’m not trying to. It’s notable in that we’re going to get all of these factions in the same room together and that hasn’t happened since the major articles have broken. But I would be surprised if this ended up being a disaster.

I do expect some voices will be raised and some confrontations to be had. However, in general, I think the stage is far too big for that to cause major problems. The National is a massive event and some of the problems that could even arise are likely to be drowned out by box breaks, autograph signings, big hits, junk wax rips, and hundreds of people not wearing enough deodorant.

Maybe I’ve got that wrong. Maybe something escalates and causes major problems to the point where a lot of people are escorted out, one of the main vendors has to shut down, or whatever. But I’m expecting that a lot of this is going to be under the radar.

Time will tell soon enough.

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