By Ross Forman
Chicago can, arguably, be called the best city in the U.S. for sports memorabilia shows, once anchored by the twice-a-year Chicago Sun-Times Show, which dates back decades.
George Johnson built the Sun-Times Show that offered annual, three-day weekend extravaganzas in March and November, with amazing autograph-signing lineups and some of the nation’s best, most well-known dealers.
Certainly the Sun-Times Show was a link to the city’s rich card show history, including legendary names such as Bruce Paynter and Jeff Blatt, the Chicagoland Sports Collectors Association (CSCA) and the Hillside Holiday Inn (an early venue for regular shows).
This past March, when it was show time in Chicago, it was, instead, the dubbed the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular – featuring a star-studded autograph lineup, longtime dealers from across the country and collectors by the thousands.
Only the name was different, but many of the same faces long associated with the Sun-Times Show were now leading the Fanatics Authentic show.
Florida-based Fanatics Authentic is one of the hobby’s top online destinations for authentic autographed memorabilia and collectibles via longtime hobby leader Mounted Memories, which now presents the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular.
The Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular is a sports collectibles convention that will occur in major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and more. Each three-day weekend show will feature appearances by some of the biggest names in sports and more. Athletes will be available for meet-and-greets, photo-ops and autograph signings.
The next event takes place in Chicago on Nov. 21-23 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
“We’re excited to be able to put the Fanatics Authentic name on this established show,” said Fanatics Authentic Vice President Mitch Edelstein. “We’re trying to build a show network, to bring the top players to our fans, to the collectors across the country – and hopefully get a lot more fans involved in our industry.”
The show market has, without question, shrunk drastically since its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, when mega-shows were commonplace, as were weekends when cities such as Chicago might have, oh, 20 small shows on Saturday and Sunday.
“A lot of that is (because) a lot of the collectors have moved away, for a multitude of reasons. But we want to bring the fans, the kids into the hobby, be it through interactive elements, or other ways,” Adelstein said.
To that, there was a Pop-A-Shot contest at the Fanatics Authentic Philadelphia show in October, and the Fanatics Authentic shows will incorporate a box break element, too.
“We’re doing some things that have traditionally not been at most shows – to make the shows fan-friendly, not just collector-based. We want to get some new blood into the industry, which is what everyone wants,” Adelstein said.
“We’re really hoping that the Fanatics Authentic shows can bring a new awareness to what’s out there, and it will be good for all shows, all show promoters, all show guests.”
The star-studded autograph lineup for the November show includes Steve Carlton, Carlton Fisk, Chris Chelios, Frank Thomas, Lou Brock, Gale Sayers, Isiah Thomas, Jim Kelly, Ryne Sandberg, Scottie Pippen, Anthony Rizzo, Don Mattingly, Javier Baez, Jeremy Roenick, Kirk Gibson, Lynn Swann, Mike Modano, Yasiel Puig and Lou Piniella, among others.
“We try to bring the best names to the public,” Adelstein said, “and we have signers at all possible price points – from free to Yasiel Puig (who starts at $199 per signature).
“One thing collectors have to realize is, the price (per signature) is predicated on the price that the player is asking to appear. There basically is a same formula for pricing autograph tickets, regardless if the signature costs $20, $100 or $200.”
Adelstein predicted some of the top Chicago show signers will be Puig, Mattingly, Thomas, Glavine, Pippen and Swann.
Joey Chestnut, the annual Nathan’s hot dog-eating champion, also will be signing in Chicago and posing for pictures.
“He’s there for fun, to add something different,” Adelstein said.
Nicknamed Jaws, Chestnut, 30, is ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, and he is the eight-time reigning champion of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July 4.
“I have set up as a dealer at most of the major Chicago shows over the past 15 years. Prior, I was an occasional visitor since the shows inception,” said dealer Tony Gordon. “I have seen the number of autograph guests increase dramatically over the years while the number of dealers has dwindled. Also, attendance is not quite what it used to be. The shows in the early 1990s seemed to have a frenzied atmosphere, while the current show is a bit more subdued.
“I used to get customers who had flown in from all over the country. Now it seems customers don’t come from much further than Ohio, but they still show up and I think it is still the premier card show in the Midwest. It is still an event that I personally make an extra effort to attend. I still very much enjoy setting up at each show and seeing regular customers from Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Louisville. I always try to take a group of out-of-towners to some of my favorite local restaurants after the show.
“My sales have been very good the past couple of years. I also seem to purchase quite a few cards at each show, and probably leave there with more cards than I came with.”
Gordon, a Chicago area native, first started setting up at the show with his brother, but the brother bowed out when he became head cross country/track coach at Northside College Prep in Chicago. So Gordon spent a couple of years setting up by myself, “which made bathroom breaks very difficult,” he admitted with a smile. “About 10 years ago, I was lucky to be set up next to Bob Downing and Dave McDonald. When Bob told me he was trying to corner the market on 1969 Topps Football Dick Shiner cards, I knew we would become friends. I have been setting up with Bob and Dave for the past 10 years. We plan on being there in November.
“I carry vintage singles; Bob has publications; and Dave brings high-grade vintage. We work great together and always have a good time. I’m looking forward to another great time in November.”
Adelstein ran his first card show in Florida in 1979, an event that also featured beer cans, coins and more for sale – and the 40 dealer tables sold for $6 each. He was a key player in the 1988 Florida show starring Dan Marino, who was making his first show appearance and, arguably, one of the first shows ever starring a football great, not a name from baseball.
Adelstein has been a behind-the-curtain name at shows for decades. He was one of the main names from Mounted Memories that brought autograph guests, often exclusively, to the main shows in Chicago since the early 1990s.
“Chicago is a great market, with super fans that really support their teams,” Adelstein said.
There will only be two Fanatics Authentic shows in Chicago annually going forward, not three as was the case this year, Adelstein confirmed.
For more information about the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular in Chicago on Nov. 21-23, visit www.fanaticsauthenticshows.com/shows/chicago-nov-21-23 or call (866) 586-4915.