CollegeJersey.com has grown from an eBay sideline to big-time business in eight years. Everything is bought and nothing is wasted, game-worn or not, from the Wilmington College Quakers to the Miami Hurricanes.
Eight years ago, Scott Kent had a freshly-minted MBA and was working as a financial analyst for McDonald’s Corporation. Certainly a respectable job, but his hobby was sports memorabilia and it was calling him.
“I collected baseball cards as a kid and I was always a huge sports fan. That’s what motivated me more than anything—just being a fan.”
His specialty was college jerseys. There were plenty of people dealing in uniforms worn by pro athletes but it took a lot of digging to find anyone who had a quantity of jerseys from university athletic programs. While browsing eBay in 1997, he became convinced he could buy and sell college jerseys on-line. He made his first purchase of ten jerseys from a school’s athletic department, sold them and bought more. By 2003 he had left his ‘real job’ and started CollegeJersey.com, a web-based business he hoped would fill a niche.
“I saw an opportunity in the market for college game-worn stuff,” he told Sports Collectors Daily from the company’s offices in Miami. “You can make the argument that the market is actually bigger for college items. There are many people who may not be big sports fans but have pride in their school. Someone may have gone to Texas Tech and not followed the teams that closely but they probably went to a football game or two and once they graduate, having a jersey or piece of memorabilia is a way to continue their association with the school.”
Kent also believes college gamers are significantly more rare than items from a player’s professional career. “Take Chad Johnson. He may play ten or twelve years in the NFL. These days, players will wear a new jersey every game. That means there are conceivably 180 Chad Johnson Bengals jerseys on the market before he’s through playing. At Oregon State, he may have only had a couple of jerseys for the entire season and he was gone in four years. There just aren’t the same numbers out there which adds to the value and scarcity.”
CollegeJersey has arrangements to purchase game worn jerseys and other goods from over 100 schools and boasts of having over 10,000 items in stock. Not all of the jerseys on company’s site are game-worn, though. Many were team-issued but not put into use for a variety of reasons. “We do every sport and buy it all. We literally clean out the athletic department storage room. Someone even sent us a jockstrap once.”
His most popular sellers are, not surprisingly, from schools like Notre Dame, Miami, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Tennessee but he’s just as enthusiastic about dealing with smaller institutions. “We don’t discriminate,” he says. “We purchase from schools at all levels.” What isn’t marketable to memorabilia collectors is often sold for re-use by a wide variety of teams in various levels of competition who need an economical way to outfit their players.
Kent recently found an untapped market for American football products across the Atlantic. He began selling a large quantity of jerseys in Europe and has, in fact, opened a ‘branch web site’ called CollegeJersey.co.uk. “The players and teams love it because a Mississippi State jersey we might have is better quality than anything they can get over there and we sell it for half of what they’d have to pay.” Kent has also dealt with motion picture studios who need to outfit “teams” of actors for their productions.
Most of the inventory has been purchased directly from the schools and collectors but sometimes former athletes contact him to sell their old equipment. One thing he won’t do is to buy from players who are currently active or have just left a program. “We don’t want to put them at risk. You’re dealing with a 20 or 21 year-old kid who just wants to make a few bucks but they may regret it later.”
CollegeJersey recently sold a Carson Palmer USC jersey for $4,000, but Kent’s favorite piece of college quarterback memorabilia involved a pair of pants.
“Rick Buehner was a backup quarterback during Joe Montana’s days at Notre Dame. The school was pretty typical of most back then in that they kept using their uniforms—if they were still in good shape—for another year or two. Montana played in the Cotton Bowl and the following year, Buehner was issued a pair of pants with “Montana” stitched inside. He wore them that next season but he was smart enough to hang on to them. He sold them to us and we sold them recently for over $5,000.”
Fundraising programs are also available with Kent using his stock to assist charities or schools in their attempt to raise money for various projects through memorabilia auctions.
The company has now branched out from game-used equipment into items that are of a collectible nature such as throwback replica helmets or newly manufactured products bearing a school’s colors. That part of the business has grown quickly enough along with the overseas sales of equipment that the two areas combined account for nearly 50% of CollegeJersey.com’s sales.
Like many new businesses, CollegeJersey.com is internet-based. The company has poured most of it’s resources into marketing on the internet, eschewing most print advertising in favor of search engine optimization and an affiliate sales program. “The internet is the only real way to market now,” he says of his site, which he says attracts some 7,000 visitors per day.
If the ideas sound simple, Kent begs to differ. “If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not easy, but I’ve developed a way to approach the schools and make things happen through hard work. Each school is different in how they handle things. It’s just become a process that happens over time.”