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Exclusive Autograph Contracts: Good or Bad for the Hobby? Do all Athletes Honor Them?

March 02, 2022 6 min read

Exclusive Autograph Contracts: Good or Bad for the Hobby? Do all Athletes Honor Them?

Well, you've seen this a lot on signings that I post specifically with the fanatic signings, where it'll say this is a Fanatics exclusive athlete, signing courtesy of Fanatics, something to that extent. What does all this mean? Why would someone want to sign an exclusive autograph deal, and are exclusives good for the industry? So that's what we're going to be covering today.

So number one, what does it mean to be an exclusive athlete of a company? So let's take Fanatics, for example, they have guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe burrow, a lot of big name guys under contract. Well, it's going to vary of course, depending on the contract, but essentially what it means or what it's supposed to mean, we'll get to that in a second. Is that you only sign autographs for that company. Now the deal might be for a number of public appearances. Let's say you want to sign a guy and say, "Hey, listen, you're going to agree to do four public appearances this year, and this is how much we're going to pay you per appearance, and this is what you'll sign per autograph, et cetera." Or it might be just for a set number of autographs. It depends on who the athlete is, whether they're open to doing a public signing, or if you just want to do a private signings, it really just depends on the athlete and the company that is doing the deal.

Some of these deals can be pretty expensive. We're talking multimillion dollar deals, especially for guys like Tom Brady. They're usually over a couple of different years there. So these can get really, really expensive. So exclusive deals are not for everybody. That's why you see a lot of these guys are Fanatics guys, because guess what Fanatics has got the cash to do it, so someone like me is not going to have a chance to sign Tom Brady. First off, he'd never want to sign for me. I would never be able to pay him as much as Fanatics would be able to.

A side note too, you know, not all athletes want to be exclusive. Thinking about that, you know, so companies will bring offers to athletes all the time and athletes reject these exclusives quite frequently. Some guys just don't want to sign or don't want to be tied down to something like that, they'd like to keep their options open, or they just don't like the deal. So just because, you know, an athlete gets a deal for an exclusive, they don't always sign these deals. So sometimes it can be a big challenge to get an athlete, to do an exclusive deal.

And on the flip side, you get athletes that don't really tend to stick to their agreements either. I've heard it from people on both sides of the aisle on this one. I'll tell you a quick little story. I won't mention who the athlete's name is, but a contact of mine had an exclusive deal with an athlete. They were doing signings with him for a couple of years. Come to find out that he had been signing deals with another company. Apparently he had signed a couple of different deals at the same time with two different companies. This whole thing had to go to litigation and they ended up getting compensated for it, but just so you know, there are a lot of dirt bag athletes out there that just don't follow what they're supposed to be doing when it comes to contracts.

Imagine being the guy that set this deal up, you put half of your business money into this guy, and you're really believe in the guy. And then the guy just says, screw you, I'm just going to go sign with another guy while I've gotten exclusive with you. I mean, come on, you know. So some of these athletes just don't follow it and that's quite unfortunate, especially for a lot of these smaller companies that sign these guys to exclusive deals. Then just to kind of be taken over by another company during the same contract period. So just a fun little side caveat there on this.

Let's move on to number two here. Why would you want to sign a guy to an exclusive autograph contract? Well, the obvious answer is you want to corner the market and you don't want to compete with anyone. That's a huge plus. You don't have to worry about someone coming in and undercutting you, you don't have to worry about someone taking your guy and doing a public appearance with them or private appearance with them. You've got control of this guy for the next couple of years, or however long the contract works for. Plus you've got some flexibility there too. You can do private signings with the guy, depending what your contract says, or you can say, "Hey, listen, you can call up a upcoming show and say, Hey, listen, would you be interested in bringing. Know, athlete X to your show, then I can bring him he's an exclusive of mine."

So you've got that flexibility to be able to offer him out to different signings and also to do private signings with him as well. But again, the last thing you want to be doing is competing with someone, especially if you're going to be throwing, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars at a guy, you don't want someone to be able to do a signing within the next month and undercut you.

Number three, probably the one you're probably most interested in is are they good for the industry? You know, like all things in life, there's a yes and there's a no answer. There's nothing wholly good or wholly bad. So it just depends on a lot of different factors. I would say yes to a certain extent, because then at least, you know the guys gonna sign for the next couple of years. You get exclusive with like Tom Brady. Tom Brady is probably going to do at least one signing a year. Peyton Manning's going to be doing signings for Fanatics. He does at least one, sometimes two. So you know these guys are at least going to guarantee to sign them the next couple of years.

So that's a big, big plus. You locked him in and these guys are going to be signing. Playing devil's advocate they can also be bad too, because you know, sometimes it makes these guys maybe a little bit more expensive than they normally are, mainly because obviously we've only got one company doing a deal with the guy and they're going to want to of course recoup their investment on them. So they're going to make the pricing as expensive as they can make it. Can sometimes be bad for the collector who wants to get something done. It can be kind of expensive and it can also limit the types of items that you want to get. Take for example, when fanatic signs a guy to an exclusive deal. You get an officially licensed items. Of course no Panini cards. So that can be a big negative. There is limiting on the types of items that you can get signed.

But for me personally, going back to Fanatics, I don't mind when Fanatics has exclusives for their guys for a couple of different reasons. Number one, most of the time they allow send-ins for their guys. I mean, imagine like Tom Brady, for example, like if they didn't allow send-ins for him, that'd be kind of a bummer. So, I mean, for a big time guy like that, you know, Upper Deck doesn't do that for their guys. LeBron, Jordan, you can't do send-ins for them.

So it's pretty cool that Fanatics allows you to send in items for Tom Brady signings. It's not every signing, you know, they don't do it every year, but that's a pretty darn cool thing. Other companies that sign guys doing exclusives, companies you may not have heard of before. They just hoard those themselves. They don't offer it out to companies like me to offer it out to you. And that can be a big negative. They'll sign, you know, exclusive guys. Definitely would be something that you would want, but they just hoard it all. They get all the autographs themselves and they sell them all themselves and they don't do customer send-ins or if they do it's super expensive. And so just not everybody offers out there guys for customer send-ins. So that can definitely be a bad thing. But again, like I said, Fanatics typically offers most of their guys out and, you know, Fanatics does a good job too. There are some really solid guys that are out there that people kind of enjoy sending sending stuff into.

So again, like I said, it can be good or bad. It just depends on the athlete there. But you know, exclusive deals can be super risky. Somebody gets an injury, doesn't pan out, stops playing well, gets traded. So I definitely understand where these companies are coming from. They want to get their money back as soon as possible, because you never know what's going to happen with some of these guys. They may go AWOL and not become the player that you signed them to. So it's definitely a huge, huge risk for companies that are signing. So hopefully that kind of shed some light on what the exclusive autograph deals kind of look like for you in the industry.

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