Your Cart is Empty

How FANATICS Sports Card Deal Will Cause AUTOGRAPH Industry To Turn On Its Head

August 31, 2021 7 min read

How FANATICS Sports Card Deal Will Cause AUTOGRAPH Industry To Turn On Its Head


By now you have all heard about Fanatics taking away from Topps and Panini the exclusive sports card license with MLB, NBA, and the NFL.   Today we are going to talk about 2 things.

How does this deal affect the autograph industry and what does the future of the industry look like in general?

#1 How does this epic sports card deal affect the autograph industry?

As we see in the deal, Fanatics is the exclusive provider for all baseball, basketball, and football cards.  This is a deal with the respective leagues and their players union.  Because of that, a company like Panini couldn’t work out a deal with just the player’s union and make baseball cards with no team logos like they currently do.

Part of the deal gives the leagues equity in the new company being formed to run the sports card part of the business.

Could we see a ripple down affect like this to the autograph industry?  Where Fanatics simply takes over all the autograph signings for players within the union of certain leagues?

I certainly think this is highly plausible.

Put yourself in MLB’s shoes for a minute.

You just signed over this exclusive sports card deal to Fanatics, who runs your website, a company which you are an equity partner in, who handles pretty much all your licensed merchandise.  At this point you can say you are pretty happy with Fanatics.  What else is left to have Fanatics run?  How about the autograph signings of every player in the MLB union?

Similar deal to the sports card one, have a separate company run all the signings for MLB, give MLB and the union equity in the new company.   They would have pre-determined autograph rates for each athlete.  Each athlete would agree to sign up to a certain number of items each year. 

On top of what they would get paid per autograph, each athlete would also take part in the revenue sharing of the new company.

One of the biggest benefits to a deal like this would be already having the deals in place.  No negotiating needed.  All Fanatics and the player would need to do is set up a day and time.

Say a no name pitcher throws a no hitter and you want him to sign photos of that game.   You just pick up the phone, set up the time and you are done.  Since Fanatics already has the license to print MLB photos, getting approval is quick.  They can have them up and ready to be sold within an hour of the game.  Of course, the photos will be stock images, not actually signed yet, but the turnaround time from event happening to items ready to be sold would be almost instant.

How it works now is Fanatics would have to track down that player’s agent.  See if they are even willing to do an autograph signing.  Figure out a price.  Get a contract signed.  Agree to a date.  Lots of back and forth that can be avoided with the new exclusive deal.

MLB has shown a preference to these sorts of deals because not only does it benefit the league, but also the player’s unions not just this year, but in future years.  Signing autographs just one allows the player to make money just that one time.  But knowing they will also make a small percentage off of the total sales of the company they are signing for makes it that deal much sweeter.

Why not have everything under one roof?  Makes your accounting department very happy dealing with just 1 license holder. 

#2 Outside of Fanatics, what does the future of the autograph industry look like?

First, let’s talk about authentication.  The days of the hologram and matching COA card are pretty much at the end.  Beckett has already switched over to just a hologram with a QR code.  MLB and Fanatics have already done that.  No one likes the COA cards.  They get lost, damaged.  For us dealers they are a huge pain trying to get everything matched up before shipping to customers.  It will be a great day once they are gone.

Sports cards autograph authentication will be changing dramatically too.  I talked with Jimmy Spence from JSA at the National this year.  They are working on a way to slab your autographs and hopefully cards by November 2021. 

No more needing to have a JSA sticker added to your card.  My hope is that they will be able to slab them right at the signing.   If that doesn’t happen in 2021, this will definitely be a thing in the not-so-distant future.

How it works now is you either have to get a sticker added to your card which no one likes doing.  Or, then send it off to PSA or Beckett and wait 3-4 months to have them authenticate and slab your card.  Too much time, too much legwork.  I see that all getting resolved rather shortly.  How cool would it be to have your item signed and slabbed the same day at a signing?

Next, let’s talk about the actual signings.  While the autograph industry is still rather small as most dealers know everyone, it is becoming larger and larger each year.  Not to the level of sports cards yet, but it is a booming business.

Certain companies are getting larger and larger and the industry is starting to consolidate.

One of most dealers least favorite things is to take customer items for signings.  I don’t mind it, it’s one of the reasons why I post so many signings.  I think it’s always fun see what an item looks like unsigned and then see the final product, and see a customer stoked to have an item finally completed and added to their collection.  Plus, so many customers have never sent in their item to a private signing and are nervous about it, which is understandable.  It’s always fun to ease their mind.

But the trend I am seeing is that for private signings, a lot of dealers have stopped taking customer items, preferring to get their own product signed and sell it after the signing.

They do this for a couple reasons.

1.)  Switching out pens and doing different inscriptions each item is a big-time consumer.  Often times, athletes will do a time deal, give you an hour of their time in which you can get whatever you want signed during that time frame and pay them per autograph.  Customer items take away time from getting their items signed.

2) What happens if an item gets messed up and its not yours but a customer’s?  Then you have to deal with replacing the item or refunding.  It can be a big headache for some dealers.

3.) They want to make the signing as easy as possible for the athlete so they will want to work with them again.  Having them come in and sign the same exact item 100 times in a row is simple.  Very easy to manage.

I really think for the most part of the bigger name athletes that private signings where you can send in your own item is going to start dwindling.  I remember the day when companies would take in items from 10 or so different dealers for a signing.  Have 10 or so different people advertising different prices.  Those days are long gone.   Now strict minimum order and pricing requirements have to be met.  Which I don’t mind for the most part, but some minimum requirements can be just crazy to be able to offer out a guy to my customers.  Guaranteeing you will take 100 autographs before you even started selling is very risky. 

If you see your favorite athlete doing a send in signing, don’t take it for granted that is how it is always going to be.

Take Derek Jeter for example.  Doesn’t sign for what seemed like almost a decade, then does an exclusive deal with MLB for a few signings.  Take advantage of that while you can.  See an athlete getting up there in age such as Julius Erving doing a signing?  Take advantage of that.  Lots can change very quickly.  I know some of them are very expensive, but if you can afford it I would be all over guys like that.

Exclusive autograph deals are gong to become more and more common.  Getting some of these guys to sign is becoming very expensive and companies want to protect their investments by locking up an athlete or one or 2 years.  It’s not just big-time athletes signing exclusive deals.  I just talked to an athlete who I’ve done 3 signings with and wanted to get him to sign some more things for me.  Told me he couldn’t, just signed an exclusive deal for 3 show appearances.

There are also other reasons to sign guys to exclusive deals.  Take Fanatics for example.  They recently added Jerry Rice and Joe Montana to their exclusive list.  Obviously, those guys are the best of the best at their positions and their autographs sell very well.  Fanatics is a corporate company.  They deal with many Fortune 500 companies.  One of the requests they get is for their athletes to come out to a company event and do a keynote speech and sign a few autographs.  That can be a big money maker for a company like themselves. 

Exclusive autograph deals are going to be a small part of it.  I talked with one dealer last month who has a few very popular athletes under exclusive autograph deals.  His plan was to represent all these athletes not just for the autograph signings but for all things marketing.  And not your traditional marketing.  I am talking about handling the personal branding for each of his athletes.  Sort of like how Gary V has signed a few college athletes to NIL deals (name, image likeness).  Plan is to run not just their autograph signings but all thinks social media and marketing.  Fanatics just did a signing with one of his guys, Clemson’s starting QB.

It is going to be very interesting if the colleges themselves start offering their own students NIL deals and then farming them out to companies like Fanatics to handle all the orders and website management.

My point being, the future of the autograph industry is all about consolidation and equity.  The more you can offer an athlete, the better chance you will have at securing a deal.   It isn’t necessarily about how much you can pay per autograph.  Athletes want to see what’s in it for them in the long term.  That’s why Fanatics has such an upper hand.  They have TONS to offer.  Website management, fulfillment, equity, and all the licensing you would ever need.


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.