Stroll through the field level concourse at Miller Park during a Milwaukee Brewers game and the smells leave no doubt where you are. Brats and hot dogs sizzle. Popcorn pops. Beer flows. Near section 111, though, another market has opened. This one carries items that come with a whiff of game action. The Brewers have become one of a number of Major League Baseball teams who have stepped up their game when it comes to game-used gear. An expanded kiosk carries memorabilia worn or used this season, some of it, in fact, just a few innings old.
Game-worn jerseys, caps, helmets and game-used bats, baseballs, bases, lineup cards and other items have become a major part of the sales equation for big league teams since the MLB Authentication Program launched in 2001. Taking greater control of the market and understanding the interest of collectors, baseball officials worked with individual franchises to make the availability of authentic memorabilia a priority and not just during important games or potential history-making events.
Many big league teams have sold game-used memorabilia in their team shops for years but the demand has grown and sales have been strong enough to push stand-alone shops forward. Prices range from around $40-50 for a cap worn by a coach or reserve player to hundreds of dollars and up for jerseys of star players.
“We have had a great response from fans on our new Authentics Kiosk,” Jill Aronoff, the Brewers’ Senior Director of Merchandise Branding told Sports Collectors Daily. “Many of our items are available to touch and feel. Fans love to hold a baseball in their hand or see the dirt of a base up close. We have added autographed items to the mix and have had a tremendously positive reaction to those items.”
The process starts with the official MLB hologram applied to items that are removed from play, either while the action is in progress or in the clubhouse. What happens on the field often determines how many items are tagged with the hologram and entered into an online database.
“We have one or two authenticators at every game,” Aronoff explained. “The number of items depends on events that occur during the game or any milestones. The number of items can range from 15-100. Our Authentics staff works closely with the Clubhouse team to get the items from the clubhouse to the players on the field and eventually to the Authentics Kiosk.”
Among the items recently on display at Miller Park were bases used during the final Milwaukee appearance by Derek Jeter and even champagne bottles and corks from the Brewers’ last trip to the playoffs.
Some of the caps and jerseys offered by the clubs are from special events such as spring training St. Patricks Day contests or camo jerseys and caps from Memorial Day games. However, collectors might be surprised to know players don’t normally swap uniform pieces on a regular basis just to keep sales flowing.
“Bats, helmets and caps are used all season unless they become damaged,” Aronoff explained. “Jerseys are swapped out when we have a customer request, when the jersey starts to show too much wear or if a milestone occurs.”
For fans who just want something that was used in play, one of the less expensive options is a game-used baseball and yes, even those that simply bounced foul or wound up in the dirt after an errant pitch often find new homes.
“We sell at least five baseballs from a game day, during the game,” Aronoff revealed. “We usually are able to acquire a slew of game used baseballs by the fourth inning and have them available for sale at the Authentics Kiosk. Broken bats and jerseys are available immediately after the game.”
Teams who sell memorabilia to fans now have a strong sales record to draw from and often what works for one franchise is applied by another.
Aronoff indicated sales have increased since the Brewers established their new, larger kiosk thanks in part to a better understanding of what collectors and fans are looking for.
“All of the MLB teams are great about sharing information and ideas. We spoke to many different teams before designing our kiosk. MLB also has a dedicated team for Authentics that provides information to all 30 clubs. The group has continual communication through conference calls and Authentics Summits twice a year.”
Some of the most desirable items, those staff members believe would generate strong interest among collectors, will be sent to MLB Auctions.
Many clubs, including the Brewers are trying to make it as easy as possible for collectors and fans to make a purchase, going so far as to accept ‘orders’. and making in house deliveries.
“A fan can request a baseball, base, jersey and the lineup card from any Brewers home game,” Aronoff explained. “Many fans pre-order baseballs and bases to be sure they are able to get one before they are sold out. Fans can pre-order items by calling our Authentics staff at 414-902-4479 or sending an email to [email protected] Fans can also stop by the Authentics Kiosk on the day of the game to pre-order an item. In addition, fans can order Authentics merchandise through the MLB At the Ballpark app. The items will be delivered to the fan in their seat. “