The price to get an autograph, whether that be helmets, jerseys, bats, baseballs, or whatever else have you, has been climbing and climbing for some time now, and a lot of collectors and hobbyists are really starting to take notice. There are athletes these days who's autograph will cost you a couple hundred dollars now even though they don't have any big titles under their belt, when 10 or 20 years ago you would have only paid $10 or $20. Why have these huge price changes been happening? Are dealers just getting greedy? The latter question is possible, but probably not the whole story.
#1 - Why are autographs so expensive?
One reason autograph prices have been increasing is mainly due to competition to secure autograph deals with athletes.
If an athlete's autograph is in high demand, many dealers will compete to secure that autograph contract and raise their offers in hopes of landing the deal.
#2 - Incentives
This might be surprising or new information to some people, but many pro players will put stipulations in their contracts that essentially say "...if I win a title or an MVP award, my autograph is immediately worth more money..." Take Bryce Harper for example, he's been having a solid season so far, so if he were to win a World Series MVP, you can feel pretty sure that you would see some price increases happen on his items. Obviously, the one who ultimately pays for this increase is the final customer.
#3 - Exclusive deals
The industry didn't always necessarily work this way, but in the last five or six years we've been seeing this happen more and more with players, signing athletes to exclusive long-term contracts. For instance, many athletes are under exclusive contracts with companies such as Fanatics, meaning any autograph signing the athlete does is controlled and handled by them.
This leads to increased prices for consumers because the company who has the exclusive deal now controls the market on that player. Raising or lowering the price as needed.
Having that kind of control over an athlete often seems to come at the expense of the hobbyists. Companies need to recoup their investment as quick as possible and often charge more for a player's autograph than if they didn't have an exclusive deal.
This particular point has been brought up before. Athletes these days are paid millions of dollars to play. For many people, numbers like those are basically unthinkable. With that in mind, why would athletes want to spend 2-3 hours of their day to sign a bunch of items, and ultimately only get a couple thousand dollars? Of course, $5,000 or $10,000 is a lot of money to most people, but to an athlete making 10 million a year it's understandably chump change in a lot of ways.
Why do the athletes end up getting so little from signings? Well, a lot of things go into a signing. First off, that money is considered income, so they get taxed, and because they make millions in a year, they get taxed pretty heavily. Plus, most athletes have agents, and all those guys get to take a cut as well.
#5 - Expectations
Some of the price increases are due to forecasting a player's potential. Often times, dealers will sign a player who maybe has the potential to become an all-star or MVP, and price their autograph accordingly, even though they have never won that award or made an all-star team.
Also, many of these younger players haven't signed autographs before. It can be challenging to find a price point that works for everyone.
#6 - Travel and logistics of signings
With the cost of gas and air travel going up and up, the cost to get to and from signings has become astronomical lately. Adding up the cost of a plane ticket, hotel, food, and shipping product back and forth to signing, you can see how costs can add up quickly. All those costs get factored in to the final autograph price.
#7 - Overhead and payroll
This easily piggybacks on the last point, but memorabilia businesses are just like all other industries. They have rent, insurance, payroll, that all factor in to the final autograph price.
Payroll can really add up, especially if the autograph signing is a large one that needs to have 2-3 people travel to it.
The finale, are dealers greedy?
The quick answer to this is yes and no. You have to remember, dealers are providing a service and a product, and ultimately it is the customer's option to take part.
As the consumer, you don't have to purchase the autograph If you don't like the price, ignore it for you. It sounds a little cheesy to say, but as the consumer you do have a lot of the power because if people aren't buying, the dealer is going to react based on that behavior. When consumers and hobbyists stop buying, it let's the dealer know that the prices they are charging are too expensive, and that's when you see prices come down.
There are instances where maybe the dealer is just trying to get a little bit more off the top than usual. There have definitely been instances where, for example, an autograph is typically sold for $200 by everyone around, and then you'll see that one dealer who is selling it for double. Same price still being paid to the athlete, they just decided that the autograph should be $400.
From my experience though, majority of dealers just want to make a living, and help people get the items they are looking for.
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