You are going to an autograph show to get an autograph of your favorite athlete, let’s say Kansas Jayhawkstar Thomas Robinson. You have your basketball in hand as you walk through the line, thinking about what you are going to say to him. Then the thought occurs to you, “Wow, how does this whole event get set up? I mean how did they get Thomas Robinson to come here?” My fellow sports memorabilia collector, those are some great questions. Let me help you answer them from the perspective of a dealer.
#1 – GETTING THE ATHLETE
This sometimes can be the easiest or the hardest part. Typically, an autograph store owner like myself will find out who the agent is for a particular athlete. I will then contact the agent and ask if the athlete is interested in an upcoming autograph signing. Most of the time, if it is an athlete that does a lot of them, the process is fairly smooth, pricing set in stone, all that needs to get ironed out is a date and the contract. If the athlete rarely does an autograph signing, convincing them to do it and coming to a common ground on pricing can be quite difficult. Especially, if the athlete’s autograph is in high demand. In that case, usually the dealer will come up with an initial 1st offer to the athlete. I remember chasing one athlete and taking to his agent almost monthly for 2 years! Signing never did happen, but the seed was planted.
#2 – PAYING THE ATHLETE
Once the contract is signed, generally the athlete/agent will require a 50% deposit, with the rest due the day of the signing. Athletes are paid per autograph. More for premium items like jerseys. Inscriptions typically cost extra. Also, the athlete/agent will also have a minimum signature requirement, so they are guaranteed X amount of dollars for the signing. Checks or cash only my friend. Put that VISA back in your wallet.
#3 – MARKETING THE EVENT
After the contract is signed and a date is selected, now it is time to market THE HECK out of the event. This is often the hardest part of the entire signing. Getting customers to know and come to your event. What avenues do you market to? Radio, newspaper, social media? How much do you spend? Typically, 3-4 weeks is needed to get the word out efficiently. Also, important to get in contact with other dealers who may sell similar product to help offset the cost of the entire event. They can market the event to their customers.
#4 – PRICING THE SIGNATURES AND PRODUCT
One of the big misconceptions when it comes to pricing an autograph is that the only factor is what the athlete gets paid. Fans sometimes have a hard time understanding that the autograph is just a part of the equation. Here is a hypothetical situation.
Let’s say an athlete is getting paid $10,000 for an event for 500 autographs. Marketing ends up costing $2,000. Labor for the event is $1,000. Total cost for the event is now at $13,000 (a 30% increase) not even including rent and the cost of the items (helmet, jerseys, etc). So an autograph that was costing $20, is now at $26. Factor in rent and running a website per day and you are closer to $30 a cost per autograph. So if a dealer sells the autograph at $50-$60, it isn’t that they are trying to make a killing off the event, they are just trying to recoup all their costs and make a little profit at the end of the day.
One other thing to consider is autograph signings rarely sell out. Out of those 500 autographs, if 300 + get sold that is a good signing. The dealer has to take on 200 or so autographs for inventory. Add in the cost of the item (basketball, jersey, etc) + the autograph and the total amount of $ adds up quickly.
#5 – ORDERING PRODUCT FOR THE EVENT
After a few weeks of marketing, we should have a decent idea of what is going to be the main seller. Whether it is photos, helmets, baseballs, jerseys, etc… Photos and helmets typically take about 7-10 days to get in stock. Depending on the type of jersey, those can take 4-6 weeks, so best to order early. If they are not able to make it in time for a signing, getting jersey #s signed is always a good back up plan.
If you do not have stanchions, tables, pens, and other necessities those will need to be ordered too.
One other thing to consider is having an authentication company such as PSA/DNA or JSA to authenticate the signing. Taking photos and video of the athlete signing the product is also a major plus.
6 – DAY OF THE EVENT
This can be the easiest part of the whole process if you have a good system in place to get customers quickly through the line. Always be sure to have enough staff on hand. 1 person to take the signed items from the athlete, 1 person to hand them to him. Also, need someone at the cash register and 2-3 others floating around to help in other areas.
Typically, the athlete will show up an hour or so before the event to sign all the product that was not sold to customers that day or sold to other vendors. Important to start the event at the time posted. Make clear your policy on taking photos with the athlete at the signing table. This can often slow down the process and frustrate waiting customers and the athlete.
#7 – AFTER THE EVENT
Now that the fun is over, the grunt work starts. Time to mail back items to customers who couldn’t attend the event or to other dealers. Enter all the credit card receipts into accounting, count the extra inventory, price it, and display it. Continue to market and push the product you have in stock.
Powers Sports Memorabilia was started by Matt Powers as a way for sports autograph and celebrity memorabilia enthusiasts and collectors to have a high-quality product available at affordable pricing. Having been in the business since 2004, he noticed there wasn’t a website available that included not only signed sports memorabilia and celebrity autographs, but also high quality custom framing and autograph display cases for everything from autographed baseballs to signed guitars, and more.
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