9 Can’t Miss Sports Conventions

For us hardcore sports nuts, it’s not just enough to watch the games on television. We’ve gotta read about it on the internet and listen to grown men argue about it on the radio. We’ve gotta buy the hat, the shirt, and the giant foam finger. When our team wins the championship and Sports Illustrated runs that commercial immediately afterwards offering a once in a lifetime collectors edition something-or-other, we pick up the phone and dial that 1-800 number because that stuff would look great on our bookshelf right next to all the other sports collectibles we had to have over the years. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of sports conventions that cater to die-hards like us. Here are 9 of the biggest and best.

9. Safari Club International Hunters’ Convention

Safari Club International is one of the largest hunting organizations in the world. Every year since 1972, SCI has put on the Hunters’ Convention, which they bill as “The Ultimate Hunters’ Market.” Generally, about 1,000 vendors and 25,000 SCI members attend each year. The 2012 convention being held February 1-4 in Las Vegas, NV will mark it’s 40th anniversary. If you’re into hunting, this is the place to be. Of course, if you’re into hunting, you probably already knew that. Also, you might run in to Sarah Palin at the SCI Convention. She’s been politicking there in recent years.


8. NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest

For NASCAR fans who want to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers and have a behind-the-scenes look at the sport’s most famous track (Daytona International Speedway), consider booking a flight to Daytona in January for the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest. You can take tours of the DIS, get your photo taken with the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy, attend a Q&A session with elite drivers, score some autographs, and camp out on the infield—all for $20, with kids 12 and under free. Not bad, huh race fans?


7. NBA All-Star Jam Session

The NBA doesn’t sell tickets to its annual All-Star game to the general public, presumably so they can fill the place with celebs and bigwigs and show them on TV during the game so everyone watching at home wishes they were there. However, your every day Joe Sportsfan can check out the All-Star Jam Session, which actually sounds like it would be way more fun that the real All-Star Game anyway. That’s because, at the Jam Session, fans can shoot, dribble, and dunk; meet current and former NBA and WNBA players and get their autographs; browse a variety of interactive displays; and even watch the NBA All-Stars practice on a court set up inside the convention center. Oh, and everyone gets to enter the Jam Session like an NBA player comes onto the court before a game: by running through a gauntlet of people cheering and giving you high-fives.


6. SABR Convention

This one is mostly for hardcore baseball stats nerds. It’s the annual convention held by the Society for American Baseball Research. In case you didn’t realize it, this is the organization behind the newfangled “sabermetric” baseball stats like OPS (on-base plus slugging), WAR (wins above replacement), and UZR (ultimate zone rating). These are the stats that made Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane so famous that someone (Michael Lewis) wrote a book about him (Moneyball) which is now being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. Anyway, if you join the Society, you can attend their convention, which basically features a number of seminars about various baseball topics, some autographs sessions, and a couple of outings to actual baseball games.


5. Houston Fishing Show

The Houston Fishing Show is one of the largest consumer fishing shows in the world. It’s the event to attend if you want to check out all the latest fishing gear and get tips from the pros. Of course, like all outdoor sporting conventions, the Houston Fishing Show is always held in February, when cabin fever is really setting in and people are starting to go a little crazy. That’s because stir crazy consumers are good for retailers; people will buy a ton of gear they probably don’t need just to forget about the miserable weather. So if you do go to the Houston Fishing Show, just make sure to set a budget and stick to it.


4. MLB All-Star Fanfest

Major League Baseball bills its All-Star Fanfest as an “interactive baseball theme park and the largest baseball fan event in the world.” And from the looks of it, that’s pretty accurate. There are life-sized virtual batting and pitching cages, interactive exhibits, clinics put on by former players (sometimes even Hall of Famers), numerous collectors and merchants, and of course the obligatory autograph sessions. So, whereas the SABR Convention is more for the grown up geeky baseball fanatics, the All-Star Fanfest is more of a family event.


3. Genoa International Boat Show

The very first Genoa International Boat Show was held in 1962. When over 300,000 people attended, they knew they had a winner. Today, the GIBS is still the most-attended boat show in the world, averaging about 280,000 visitors. The exhibition space includes 1 million square feet on water plus another 2 million square feet indoors. You can go to the boat show with your kids just to have a close-up look at some awesome yachts; however, if you’re really into the nautical lifestyle, they also have seminars on such topics as yacht brokerage, yacht charter, and yacht delivery. And of course, if you want to buy a boat, there are always representatives from the financial industry there to arrange loans for qualified buyers. In short, if you’re into water sports, this is the convention for you. So book your trip to Italy from October 1-9.


2. NHL All-Star Fan Fair

Like the NBA and MLB, the National Hockey League puts on a fan festival and convention in conjunction with their All-Star game every year. It’s called the NHL All-Star Fan Fair, and the reason it’s higher up on the list than the other major league fan festivals is twofold. First, it’s got the most clever name—get it? Fanfare, Fan Fair? Second, and more important, there just seems to be a lot more cool things to do at the NHL version. Among other things, you can meet current and former NHL players and get their autographs, see the famous NHL trophies and get your picture with the Stanley Cup, test your hockey skills and win a shootout contest, play hockey video games, create your own hockey trading card, view and purchase rare memorabilia, and try on your favorite player’s equipment. So even if hockey isn’t really your sport, it just sounds like the NHL All-Star Fan Fair is lots of fun.


1. National Sports Collectors Convention

The National Sports Collectors Convention—or The National, for short—began in 1980 when a small group of collectors got together in the basement of the Airport Marriott in L.A. to talk about their stuff. Turned out, those guys were on to something. Out of that small gathering of collectors has grown the world’s largest sports memorabilia convention. This year’s 32nd National will be held in Rosemont, IL (i.e. Chicago) from August 3-7. It will feature about 600 sports memorabilia dealers and 89 current and former professional athletes signing autographs. Any die-hard sports fan should put this convention at the top of their list.


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