Autograph seekers and players stay ink-free with a new autograph board that can double as a display.
Michael Cunningham saw something quite ordinary when he visited a ballpark back in 2004. Fans wanting autographs. He also saw it wasn’t exactly a smooth process.
"One autograph seeker didn’t have a pen," he remembered. "Another player was awkwardly signing a ball against his thigh." Sometimes the ink wasn’t dry on the ball and it smeared while being passed from player to fan and from fan to backpack or pocket. It was one of those "necessity being the mother of invention" moments.
Cunningham had always been the entrepreneurial sort and fancied himself a bit of an inventor. He set out with a plan to try and improve the autograph experience. A meeting with a Princeton, New Jersey patent attorney revealed that no product appeared to match the vision Cunningham had not long after watching the on-field autograph session. In 2005, he obtained a design and utility patent. The final result was unveiled this summer when the "Sign and Sho" autograph board received licensing approval by Minor League Baseball and made its debut at the Lakewood BlueClaws minor league park.
Advertised as an "All-in-One Signing Kit", the board is shaped like home plate, with a plastic ball holding case mounted inside. A pen made of hardwood is attached to the board. When presented to a player, the lid is lifted off the case with the flick of a thumb and the ball is signed while the player rests his hand on the plastic board with the ball still inside. The player then simply closes the lid, returns the pen to the clip and hands the board back to the fan. When the fan returns home, frame stands can be installed to the back of the board for table or desk display or an additional "Wall Frame" unit can be used to hang the board on the wall.
"Without question, the visual impact of this product draws the attention of our customers," Cunningham said. The Sign And Sho board can be customized with photos and designs. "The product you see today is the culmination of years of hard work by a team of professionals (League Design Partners LLC) that shared a vision of producing a high quality product that ultimately and quite simply makes our customers happy."
League Design Partners plans to create autograph boards for other sports as well. The company set up a booth at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, exposing the product to collectors and came away impressed. "I personally have never met a more sincerely helpful and friendly group of individuals as those I’ve met while introducing our product," Cunningham said this week.
"This is a totally new concept. It will take time for players and fans to become familiar with it, but we are confident that in the very near future everyone will respond as did the thousands of fans we’ve already introduced to it by saying ‘That’s cool. I wish I’d thought of that."
Cunningham is a chief in the Navy reserves and the company is donating 10% of its proceeds to the Fisher House, which provides transportation, housing and support to the families of military men and women as they recover from traumatic injury.