by Jeff Johnson
Signed programs are a fairly inexpensive way to create a collection that’s more than just eye candy, incorporating a bit of history with a traditional collecting staple.
Current game programs are something you can buy at nearly any game in any sport– usually for around $5.00.
Programs are a unique collectible in that, like tickets, they are a way to show that you were at a certain game. Whether it’s a big game like a playoff or championship event or a preseason game, a program is something fans can look back on and remember that ‘they were there.’ They’re bulker than a ticket stub, but more interactive and a collectible in their own right, even without an autograph.
Out of the four major sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey), baseball programs are probably the easiest to have signed. Many stadiums allow fans to enter the stadium up to two hours before a game is scheduled to begin to watch batting practice. Some players make themselves available during this time to sign autographs once their pre-game work is done or before it starts.
Baseball in general is more of a laid back sport than the others and players will take time to autograph items for fans. If you purchase a program immediately upon entering and head down to the railing along the baselines, you should have a chance at securing some autographs. Another option is to bring programs from previous games you’ve attended – that will allow you to head down near the field as soon as you’re through the gates and skip waiting in line to purchase a new one.
Most basketball arenas will let fans get close to the court during warm-ups and if you hang around there or near the tunnel where they enter and exit the court, some players may stop and sign autographs. Football is a different story. Players generally don’t sign before games, but you can always have a program signed during the following year’s training camp or catch them at one of the public appearances they make in the evenings during the season.
Want a really unique collectible? Buy a Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or World Series program from previous years and bring it to a game or public signing to have participating players autograph it. A program from a championship game or series is much more significant than a regular season game. Even if your local team didn’t participate in a championship game or series, there are still reasons to buy one of these programs. You can have visiting players autograph it before or after a game or even at card and memorabilia shows that are in the area, like the one this weekend in Chicago.
Programs, unlike most other items which collectors have signed, can be signed in either Sharpie or pen. A blue or black pen can work just as well as a marker in this case, though most fans will stick with a Sharpie for a bolder signature. Sharpie ink is available in a variety of colors and you can match it to the colors in the program for a more striking appearance.
When it comes to deciding where to have players autograph a program, there are two main options – either the front cover or the inside. If signed on the inside, many collectors prefer to have a player autograph it near their name or biography as many programs include a bit on each player. Most, however, prefer the autograph on the front. If you’re getting multiple signatures, it’s probably best to stick with the traditional pen ink when collecting since a marker will take up much more room.
Signed vintage game programs are among the most underappreciated and undervalued collectibles in the sports memorabilia market. Regular season programs from decades ago carrying signatures often sell for less than $50, even though they may contain a star or two. The signatures are often in pencil, since that’s what most fans got with their program and pens weren’t quite as prevalent as they are today. But who cares? Vintage programs carrying autographs look great on display. Multi-signed NFL programs may contain several Hall of Famers and cost far less than a team-signed football or photo would. College programs are even cheaper.
Be careful with condition, however. A fragile older program that was passed from player to player and carried around for the day by a fan may have a loose binding, creases or other issues. It all depends on how much you’re willing to overlook.
Signed programs are a special way to remember your time at the stadium, arena, or ballpark, but they’re also an undiscovered niche that savvy collectors would be smart to consider.