High profile stories involving sports memorabilia always bring attention to the hobby.
Radio junkies know who Mancow Muller is. Based in Chicago, the syndicated morning show draws millions of listeners in markets coast-to-coast. Your humble editor chatted with Mancow & company for a few minutes this morning about Bonds memorabilia, OJ’s case and the hobby in general. We also heard from a Las Vegas TV station looking for background and information.
Between the Wagner card, the Bonds baseballs and the OJ case, the term "sports memorabilia" has been all over the newspapers & airwaves in the last couple of weeks.
These high profile items aren’t really things that your average sports collector is after. They’ve become vehicles for promotion—websites, businesses or entrepreneurs who have other ventures for which they want media attention.
The 715 Bonds ball sold to an auto dealer who wanted to use it for PR; 755 and 756 are really being used much the same way. Todd McFarlane, who paid $3 million for the McGwire 70 home run ball in the late 1990s is considered a fool by a lot of people but he used that publicity to gain attention for the action figure company he had. He wanted to get into making baseball action figures but couldn’t get MLB to get him the time of day until he bought the McGwire ball. He’s made that $3 mill several times over since.
OJ isn’t the feel-good kind of topic you’d hope for when someone asks about "your sports memorabilia hobby", but a wise man once said, any publicity is better than being ignored.
A long time ago, OJ crossed the bridge from retired football star to one of those sort of weirdo sports celebrities. Take a left at Pete Rose Way, a right Mike Tyson Blvd, go up Michael Vick Avenue and you’re there. He’s not a guy that most sports fans identify with anymore.
The one question the media usually asks is "Is there really a market for OJ stuff?: I guess there are people who will sell or buy anything to turn a profit. There are enough folks out there who maybe like the guy in the black hat or are collecting something from all of the Hall of Famers and have to have an OJ item to complete it. EBay is so cheap to use, so accessible that if you can buy something cheap enough, you can make money if your sole motivation is to ‘flip it’.
OJ has always been very good about signing autographs. He enjoyed his celebrity…and still to a certain extent does. There is no shortage of OJ autographs out there. You can buy a very nice USC or Buffalo Bills or HOF helmet with his signature for under $100. If he goes to jail for a long time, maybe that supply will dry up just a bit.
Dealers who got stuck with OJ stuff after the trial and all of the bad publicity are turning cartwheels, because at least he’s back in the news, which does create the potential for a few new buyers to pop up—people who wouldn’t normally buy but get caught up in the moment– and they can unload what they have before it all calms down again.
It seems the two issues that come up most often when you talk with someone outside the hobby are 1) bogus autographs and 2) the value of items. The general perception in the mainstream is that there are a lot of fake autographs out there. Some of the issues have been addressed and one benefit of the ‘sign for pay’ industry that’s become so prevalent for popular athletes is that at least it does offer the public some kind of guarantee. The internet also provides a lot of excellent knowledge if you’re willing to seek it out.
Appraising items is difficult with auctions playing such a big role. All it takes is for two collectors to have an interest in an item for the pre-sale estimate to go out the window. I try to be honest about that when I speak with media members or site visitors who have something in their possession they’re looking to sell. "What’s it worth" is a tough question to answer with certainty sometimes.