by Craig Paulson
What began in the late 19th century with baseball cards being distributed by tobacco companies looking to boost sales has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Sports memorabilia is now sometimes part of the day's headlines.
While packs of baseball cards and sticks of bubble gum where once the standard in the industry, times have changed, and so have collectibles. Over the years, there have been many new gimmicks and several variations on older ideas as well. Starting in the late 1980s, "game used" memorabilia began a steady march to the forefront of the industry. Today, the game used market makes up a significant portion of the overall bottom line.
The term "game-used" simply means that the item being purchased by the collector was used during an actual game. For fans, there is a special connection that comes from owning game used items. But the appeal of game used items is not confined to the just the hardcore fan or collector. The opportunity to own an item that has historical value as well as personal value is one that even a casual fan will be hesitant to walk away from, especially if the items represent a buyer's alma mater.
These items also often gain value in a relatively short period of time and are seen by some as more of an investment than a souvenir. This has helped to drive the market and provide the industry with an expanded customer base. It has also helped to create what is perhaps the biggest issue facing the industry; what happens when the demand outpaces the supply?
For some athletes, the game used markets demand for more and more "authentic" items means nothing more than an few extra uniform changes during a game as teams look for any and all ways to capitalize on the interest.
But for those playing under the banner of the NCAA, the rules forbid players from selling items for personal gain. So, how do companies get game used items from these players?
In order to keep up with the demand for game used products some companies, such as College Jersey have deals in place with certain schools that provide a steady supply of game used and game worn merchandise. Some schools, such as USC, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin, and others even hold their own auctions. While such contracts and auctions may seem to be somewhat questionable ways to make money, they are not in conflict with any NCAA rules.
But, when it comes to making a dollar, some sellers refuse to let the rules get in the way of profit.
Players are constantly sought out by both companies and individuals looking to cash in on their popularity. As the demand for game used gear grows, the temptation for players to score some fast cash and the ease by which they can do so, has been at the heart of several high profile scandals.
In the wake of the latest such incident, six Ohio State football players were suspended for the first four games of the 2011 season for selling and trading game used jerseys, conference championship rings, and other team items to the owner of a local tattoo parlor for cash and/or tattoos. While the Ohio State scandal has helped to shine a light on a gray area of the sports memorabilia market, they are certainly not the first college athletes to sell game used gear to companies as well as individuals. Earlier this season, University of Georgia receiver A.J. Green was suspended for selling his Independence Bowl jersey. Many others have never been caught.
With new companies dealing in game used memorabilia popping up on a regular basis and the demand for game used items showing no signs of dropping off among collectors and fans, the questions surrounding the industry seem to be here to stay.
For collectors, the best advice when purchasing game used items is to do all that is possible to verify the items authenticity and, whenever possible, only do business with those companies willing to disclose how they came by their inventory. While there are many sellers who are more than willing sell bogus items or pay players for the items, there are still plenty of companies out there who do business the right way and provide collectors with the sort of enjoyment that only comes from owning a real piece of the game.