NSCC board and Mastro tangle over show auction

Hobbyists and corporate types of all descriptions will be eagerly anticipating the return of the National Convention to Chicago next year, arguably the strongest stop on the ever-dwindling circuit of locations for the annual affair, but there’s a cloud on that horizon in the emerging flap about Mastro Auctions plans for 2008.

Mastro’s Inaugural National Convention Live Auction in downtown Cleveland was not an officially sanctioned National Convention event, all appearances to the contrary, and now show management and NSCC board members are charting a course to ensure that the episode won’t be repeated in 2008 and beyond.

In January, Mastro Auctions officials had pitched the idea of the auction being held at the show itself, but had the request turned down by the NSCC board, citing a contention that the auction would take a significant amount of money off the show floor and away from the dealers.

While people can quibble about whether or not the money came “out of the room,” there’s no debating that the inaugural effort produced gaudy numbers. “It did $4.3 million, almost 50 percent higher than we anticipated it would do for the whole auction,” said an understandably elated Bill Mastro. “That’s an incredible success. It averaged more than $50,000 per lot. That’s ridiculous, and almost everybody felt that it was not just a success, but a milestone event.”

Apparently, show management is taking issue with the milestone designation. According to show co-manager Mike Berkus, the NSCC board will be deciding within 30 days how to handle the situation. “We are having a discussion about the use of our name. It’s a trade issue,” said Berkus. “Legal action is something, but it isn’t the only thing. We’ve got to stop it before it gets too far.”

Mastro and company president Doug Allen might offer a different perspective, especially in light of the record-setting first-ever live sale. “(The board’s rejection of their proposal) was a blessing for us, too, because we ended up having to go to downtown Cleveland to look at venues, and The House of Blues turned out to be fantastic for us,” Mastro continued. “It was really a neat venue.”

Mastro confirmed that the original idea was to do the auction at the National site at the Exposition Center. “We would have done it here, or over at the Marriot in the ballroom, and it would have been just like every other auction. But when you added the whole thing with The House of Blues, and going downtown and having it be a little more intimate and easy going, I think it added to the event and gave it a different flavor. And that was good for us and good for everybody.

“We are pretty sure as a company that we are going to do this (live auction) at the National Convention every year. Now, whether we have the cooperation of the National Committee or not is another question. This time we did not have the cooperation of the NSCC. They didn’t want us to at the show or anywhere near the show. We were told that part of the reason for them not wanting to have anything to do with it was because the perception of the dealers was that we would be taking money out of their pockets. I thought that was insane, but there are only so many battles that I want to fight.”

Mastro noted his displeasure with the other beef with the NSCC that emerged at the show with the “appraisal booth” that Heritage ran under its corporate sponsorship. “Then they let Heritage set up in the lobby with this supposed ‘We are going to appraise things for you and then lead them over to our booth thing.’ How is that good for the people in the room? I heard there was some petition going around, but I didn’t sign anything.

“I’m not interested in going to war with the National Convention Committee or anybody on the Committee. I respect those guys; they are my friends and I like them and I want to be supportive of what goes on at the National.

“When they changed the front door entrance last year at Anaheim, (Alan) Rosen went around and wanted everybody to get crazy, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. I don’t care where the front entrance is.

“As long as people stay out of my way, that’s all I want. My attitude is this is my dog food bowl, and if you are going to eat out of it I am going to chew your arm off,” said Mastro in a metaphorical style he has used from time to time, but one that seems amusingly apropos to the times.

Berkus, who like Mastro traces his roots back to the earliest days of the organized hobby, took pains to explain that the decision to nix Mastro’s pitch to hold the auction at the Exposition Center was made by the NSCC board, rather than by the show’s triumvarate of co-managers. He added that all contracts – not just the big ones – are ultimately approved or disapproved by the board.

“The auction was simply not authorized by the board,” Berkus said. “We have no hard feelings in any way, and we didn’t get hurt,” Berkus noted on Sunday as the show closed.

“I thought the idea of a National auction would be a lot of fun,” Berkus continued. “I would have loved to have had it.”

Under the heading of more than a little ironic, Allen contends that the idea to hold the live auction came from … Berkus. “(Berkus) gave me the idea for the venue in a conference call that we had, saying ‘Why don’t you check out the House of Blues?’ Allen insisted, adding that they are now looking at the HOB in Chicago as a potential site for the 2008 edition of the auction.

For his part, Allen conceded that Mastro’s “branding” of the auction with the National may have been a mistake. “We didn’t do a ‘National Auction,’ just because we did it in conjunction with the show. Maybe I can’t brand the catalog; they are probably right about that, but we’ll do a National auction next year. It’s comical to think they can stop something,” he added.

By the middle of the week after the show closed, Berkus had met with Wilke, Broggi and the NSCC board, and the more forceful response to the Mastro Auctions move was brought to the table. “When (Mastro) decided to move downtown, we told them you can’t do two things: You can’t run the auction at a host facility; and you can’t be the ‘National Auction.’ We got one out of two,” Berkus said, an apparent reference to the elegant 264-page auction catalog that featured “Mastro Auctions Inaugural National Convention Live Auction” on the title page.

Berkus also pointed out that this latest flap is hardly the first time the NSCC board has wrestled with this type of problem. “This is the seventh or eighth time that somebody has decided to take it upon themselves,” Berkus intoned. He said the NFL in 1991 had initial discussions about being part of the show that year, arguably the hobby’s heyday as an estimated 100,000-plus would elbow their way into the convention center in Anaheim.

According to Berkus, the NFL had even gone so far as contacting the convention center about renting a room rather than officially linking with the NSCC, saying, “You don’t know who you talking to.” Berkus insisted it might be the other way around.

The NFL ended up as a corporate sponsor.

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