It’s an easy way for an athlete to make a very nice hourly rate of pay.
Agree to sit down for an hour or two–maybe more if he’s willing–and sign items sent in by fans and collectors. The private autograph session has become popular with current and former players who are willing to risk writer’s cramp to satisfy the demand for their autograph.
How does it all come together so everyone’s happy? In our latest Q&A with Matt Powers of Powers Sports Memorabilia, we talk about how it comes together on signing day, the guy who’s most in demand right now and a couple of favorite memories from his own autograph sessions.
SC Daily: Matt, you’ve been conducting and participating in private autograph sessions for a long time. We’ve talked about the private signing market during COVID, preparing items to send in and also about the best type of memorabilia to have autographed. Let’s talk about how the process unfolds on signing day. Obviously, things have been a bit different during the pandemic, but take us through what happens when you’re ready to conduct a signing session with a player and where do they usually take place?
MP: Typically, a dealer arrives the day before a signing to get items prepped to be signed. Most signings have a few hundred pieces if not thousands being signed. Having the items all laid out and ready to go so all the athlete has to do is show up and sign is paramount. You only get so much time with them so you need to be efficient. Usually private signings occur at hotels, sometimes at a player’s house. Hotels are easiest simply because they have large ballrooms to house the items and items can be shipped directly there.
Have any good autograph session stories you can share about particular athletes or moments over the years?
My favorite story of all time is when I was taking part in a Willie Mays signing 2003-2004ish. Guy showed up with a huge painting of Willie. Must have been 4×8. For items like this Mays doesn’t have a set price. He just makes it up on the spot. Guy walks up to Willie and says “Mr. Mays, you are my favorite athlete of all time. I would love for you to sign this painting of you. How much would it cost?”
Willie looks at the guy, looks at the painting, then looks back to the guy and says “How much you got?”
Guy was looking a little sheepish, this was his big moment. He stuttered for a second and says “How about $3,000?”
Mays looks at him for a second and says, “OK.” Then signs the painting in front of the guy.
Crazy thing was we didn’t make any money on the deal because we had to pay the credit card fees for the transaction.
Which athletes who do conduct paid autograph sessions simply can’t sign enough because the demand is so high?
Currently, it has to be Patrick Mahomes. He did what I believe to be his one and only public signing at GTSM a few years ago and it was just packed for him.
He is such a likeable guy, Chiefs are playing well, the face of the NFL, a recent MVP and Super Bowl champion. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Who are some of the athletes you’ve really enjoyed working with or who have a very good reputation about autograph dealers and collectors?
One of my personal favorites is Grant Wistrom. A three-time national champion with Nebraska and Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams. Has an AWESOME autograph, always overly courteous to get everything done correctly. Takes his time with the inscriptions and never has a problem doing them.
Ronnie Lott also comes to mind. Brought his Super Bowl rings to a signing I took part in one time. Let fans put them on their fingers. So cool.
How about some of the athletes on the other side of the scale?
Athletes are people. If you catch them on a bad day things can go south quick. I would say 95% of athletes are very good about most things. The horror stories you hear are very rare. Some guys just don’t like to sign, even when they agree to do a signing. While the signing can be a pain, sometimes athletes just don’t like being around a ton of people and that I totally understand.
Any particular occasions you can recall where players made interesting comments about autographs, the hobby or specific items that were sent in for them to sign?
It usually involves artwork of them in my experience. Anytime an athlete gets to see a piece of artwork of themselves for the first time some interesting things can happen depending on how much they like it.
An 18-year industry veteran, Matt Powers is the founder and sole owner of Powers Sports Memorabilia, based in the Kansas City area. You can connect with him through the company’s website and get insights on the hobby through his YouTube channel.