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More Items Being BANNED? Autograph Industry Changes and What YOU Can do About Them

September 09, 2022 8 min read

More Items Being BANNED?  Autograph Industry Changes and What YOU Can do About Them

I've been hinting at this for a while now, and it's only natural I guess. Everything changes over time, and so of course it was bound to happen with the sports memorabilia industry eventually. More specifically though, the autograph side of the "hobby,' and I say hobby in quotes for a reason, you'll see why soon.

Today we are going to talk about 3 main things:

  1. What changes are happening and why.
  2. Why are athlete's autographs so bad nowadays and what can be done about it.
  3. What you and I can do to help preserve the industry as we know it.

The industry has been slowly changing for a while now. I know the people that do autograph send-ins with me are noticing as well. It feels like every signing I am adding more restrictions to what can be sent in. I don't like it. Collectors don't like it, and it's really confusing.

The industry has moved away from the small mom and pop business way of things, to the a more corporate suit and tie environment. Believe me, I am not a corporate kind of guy. I can't even tell you the last time I wore a suit and tie.  As a consequence of this change, it just seems to me like the hardcore collectors that really built this industry in the first place, are slowly being pushed aside.

Millions of dollars are flowing into the sports memorabilia world these days, and so it only makes sense the big companies are starting to take notice and want in as well. How do they capitalize on autographs then? They do it by catering more to the casual fans. The people that don't necessarily collect for themselves, but are more looking to just buy gifts for other fans or corporations. That's where the industry is looking these days, catering more to the casual fan than the hardcore collector. 

Just to list some of the big changes that have been happening lately quick, I've seen bans on trading cards, tickets, specific inscriptions, and more. Believe me it's frustrating for all us. Suddenly, you can't send in a card for an autograph? I mean what's next, everything but mini helmets? I get it, these companies are signing exclusive deals with athletes, so they need to make up that money by maximizing sales on the popular items their exclusive athletes are signing.  It just seems kind of ridiculous the extent that they are going. 

I was just seeing some signings are charging $50 extra to sign a custom helmet. How does that happen?  The athlete isn't charging any more to sign those.

What's also kind of ironic is these cards and tickets getting banned or getting huge price increases, when in the beginning, they were the cheapest item you could get signed. I used to see these old Mickey Mantle posters advertising his autograph, for as little as $25. It's just crazy to see how things have changed in these regards as these companies try to corner the market.

I recently took a poll on my Instagram, and a majority of people said their biggest concern in the autograph industry right now is the price. It's just becoming too much for people. Interestingly, another poll I did showed something that I've been noticing, many autographs are starting to get REALLY BAD. It's like athletes don't really care and just squiggle anything on the item. I'll talk about this more in depth in just a bit.

Alright, so with all that said, let's dive into this a bit deeper.

#1 - Why is this happening?

The industry is moving away from the small hobbyists and mom and pop businesses to something bigger and more corporate. I hear people say all the time, "this is just a hobby." I'm here to tell you it is NOT a hobby anymore. There is big money flowing here now, people aren't just doing this to have a good time anymore, there is money to be made, and companies are taking notice and doing something about it. For the most part, we are not in a "hobby" anymore. 

It's a bit sad to say. I remember when I was younger, there were guys that would open their store just on the weekends to deal in sports memorabilia.  It was a side hustle for most dealers. Those were the fun times, everyone was excited and came to check things out and talk at the store, but that's just not the reality anymore.

The business model with these bigger companies has shifted from "how can we serve the collector?" to "how can we sell the most stuff for the largest profit?"

I'm not picking a side.. There are certainly arguments to be made for both sides,. Look at it like this. Ford loves their old vintage cars, of course they do, but it's the new big trucks that sell. Do you think Ford is going to focus on the older "collector" cars for the select few people that are interested? No. They are focusing on the larger market that wants those trucks.  That's how they stay in business, selling to the masses.  That's basically what is happening in the industry right now. 

Big companies see a lot more profit to be made by attracting the gift givers and the people that are willing to pay a lot of money just to have something cool, not necessarily the collectors that are trying to finish their dream collection or set. 

What can we do to keep collectors relevant?

The first thing you can do is support more autograph signing shows, and I'm not just talking about The National. The National has been seeing more attendance and sponsors for a while now,  There are definitely other smaller, sports memorabilia shows going on out there, and they need your help. 

These types of shows are where the dealers are also collectors.  Guys that do it as their side hustle and are there to focus on the collector.  Often times, they will be willing to buy, sell, and trade with other collectors and will have that random item you might be looking for in your collection.

Supporting these smaller dealers who sole purpose is to serve the collector is a great way to keep the collector relevant.

California, Florida, Texas, and other states all have some pretty cool smaller conventions. I highly recommend you check them out. 

#2 - There are SO MANY changes happening, it's insane.

Believe me when I say that it is insane, because it is. Never in my life would I have thought that things like sports cards and tickets would be getting banned from send in autograph signings. It feels like we are on track to eventually only allow mini helmets into signings. Imagine, you won't even get to pick the pen or inscriptions, you'll just get what you get, end of story. Plus, we all know we can't even do photos anymore since Photo File, the main company selling licensed photos went out of business. 

If an athlete doesn't want to sign a certain photo because they think it isn't very flattering of their career, or they aren't allowed to be signing unlicensed items, I totally get that. My big issue comes when a promoter is basically just crossing out what items are allowed, with very little good reason for it.

If the athlete wants to raise their price on a certain item because they know it adds tremendous value after signing it, I am all for it. For instance, if Larry Bird wants an upcharge on his1980 Topps rookie card, because he knows adding his autograph would 5x the value of a card, then by all means, he should probably ask for more money.  What I am not for is banning items.  At least give the collector a choice in paying a premium for that 1980 Topps card rather than not allowing it to be signed.

With that being said, what can you do?

This first tip might seem overly simple, but it's also really effective. Social media is a huge part of the market and the world. These memorabilia companies have their eyes and ears glued towards all the various Facebook groups and online forums talking about their items. They've always got their ears open, and believe it or not, they definitely hear everything people say about them, especially if it's negative. If you've got a problem with how things are being run, say something.

Don't just be some anonymous, annoying keyboard warrior on the internet, That doesn't help anyone. Definitely voice your thoughts in a logical way. Express your problems and how you think they could be fixed to benefit both sides. Many of these companies still want to be on good terms with all their fan bases, so they may make the changes you are looking for. It might not be tomorrow or next month, but maybe in a couple years, a shift in power within a company happens, and suddenly you've got a guy at the helm who agrees with you and makes those changes. You've got to be logical about it. Nobody wants to listen to the guy who is just ranting all over the internet. 

#3 - Pricing for autographs has skyrocketed

This is just a tough one, and to some degree we can probably only really accept it for what it is. Autograph prices are going up.

The big issue is a lot of companies are signing athletes to exclusive deals these days.  That means they have huge investments paid out to these athletes and need to recoup that as fast as possible. 

If a corporation sees a lot of interest in a certain athlete, they are going to push that envelope as much as possible and raise autograph prices to milk the most money from it. To them it's pretty low risk. If they go too far, they just drop the price a bit until they find the sweet spot. It also puts you as the collector into a difficult place.  You need this athlete for your collection, but you don't want to pay that price.  What do you do?

The other thing that gets me though with pricing is it seems like this companies have found a lot of ways to nickel and dime everyone. Prices used to be simple. You want an autograph on a photo? Okay, then it's this price. Autograph on a helmet? Okay, this price. But now they are categorizing everything. So now you've got different prices for 8x10 photos, 16x20 photos, helmets, custom helmets.  It's crazy. It's like they don't get that collectors are simple. We want nice autographs, easy to read inscriptions for a fair price. Simple and easy. Stop overcomplicating it with all these subcategories. Just have 1 or 2 prices, and be done with it.

#4 - Have you noticed how terrible signatures have become?

I have been noticing this trend, and it really grinds my gears to be honest (Family Guy reference there). It's like these athletes were never taught penmanship in school! Some guys just draw a line or a circle or whatever and call that good. It's a shame.

Luckily, I think this one is a bit easier to fix.  It really falls on guys like myself who promote these signing events, because we have direct access to the athlete during the signing. Part of this problem is happening because promoters have become scared of making the athletes mad by telling them their autograph sucks and it needs to be better. They want to stay on good terms, not rock the boat, so they just let whatever happens happen.  But it leads to a poor experience for the collector ultimately.  They get a crappy autograph with inscriptions they can't read.

The big thing is for the promoters to interact with the athlete, and remind them what needs to be done. They need to be coached.  Many of these athletes are younger guys, and they just don't know how to sign.  Maybe they haven't done a signing before?. As a promoter, you need to tell them how big to sign, slow down when writing the inscriptions.  Coach them on how collectors want their items to be signed.

Also, if the athlete is open to it, suggest they give collectors options on their autograph. I like what Mike Trout does. He has a basic autograph and a higher cost autograph where he writes his full name, Michael Nelson Trout. It gives the collector a choice in what style they want.


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