The big business side of sports memorabilia is the subject of another long form story on a network TV news magazine show. 60 Minutes Sports, which airs on Showtime, will investigate the game-worn and game-used side of the market, paid autograph signings and more in its December 4 edition.
Veteran reporter Armen Keteyian, who also looked in on the hobby for CBS Sunday Morning in the spring of 2012, is again handling the interviews.
This time, he chats up Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports about his exclusive contract to sell Yankees game used items, including stadium dirt. He talks authentication and autographs with Derek Jeter and also speaks with Troy Kinunen of authentication specialist MEARS who tells a funny story about a Lou Gehrig bat (see video preview below).
You know it’s a thriving business when even the dirt they play on is worth good money. That’s how big the “game-used” category of sports memorabilia has become. Athletes’ jerseys worn only once are going for six figures. Bases used for a single inning – and that a cleat may never have even touched – are fetching five figures with a star player’s autograph on them. Bats, hats, you name it. If a big-name player used it in a game, collectors will pay big bucks for it. But buyers beware: a significant amount of the game-used material on sale, especially over the Internet, is hard or even impossible to authenticate. Correspondent Armen Keteyian explores the lucrative world of sports memorabilia, where even a thimble-full of stadium dirt mounted on a plaque can command $100, on the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS premiering Wed. Dec. 4 at 10 p.m., ET/PT only on SHOWTIME.
One of the biggest purveyors of game-used memorabilia, Brandon Steiner, is already making big money and has even bigger plans. “My goal is to sell $100 million of dirt. The margins are unbelievable. And underneath that dirt is more dirt,” he tells Keteyian. He has partnerships with several major league teams and as long as infields are made of dirt, he will always have product. The dirt from places like Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park sells encapsulated on plaques with photos for $69, or sprinkled over glue in cases with autographed baseballs for $130. Dirt collected during the 2009 World Series won by the Yankees, and now incorporated into a key chain, is a bargain at $19.99.
“Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter…think about who’s walked on this dirt and now you have a little bit of it,” says Steiner. Dirt is at the bottom of his product line, which includes a 20 x 20 NY-logo patch of sod from Yankee stadium for $50,000 (installed), a game-worn Derek Jeter jersey for $25,000 and a locker used by Johnny Damon while he played for the Yankees for $17,500. And Steiner goes through great pains to make sure it’s all authentic.
60 MINUTES SPORTS cameras capture one of Steiner’s operations at Yankee Stadium in which the bases were removed after the first inning to be signed by the team’s future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. These sell for nearly $6,000 each. Major League Baseball provides the means of authenticating such material at every ballpark; in this case, an off-duty New York policeman overseeing the process.
Some outfits selling these kinds of items are not authenticating them the way Steiner’s company does. And proving that vintage items are real can be a tricky business. Collectors who buy items on the Internet, from a friend, or find them in an attic, often turn to Troy Kinunen. His company specializes in authenticating game-used items, and he tells Keteyian that “25 to 50 percent” of what he sees is not genuine. One customer who bought a Michael Jordan jersey supposedly worn by the superstar during his rookie year may be looking at a loss of $250,000. Using a microscope and an already-verified jersey, Kinunen was able to verify that it was a Chicago Bulls jersey from the period, but “it was way too big for Michael Jordan. If you look at any shot of him, he was a skinny rookie…I would not be able to authenticate this jersey as Michael Jordan’s based on the size of this jersey,” says Kinunen. His database told him Jordan wore sizes 42 or 44, the one he saw was size 46.
Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter says there are things out there he didn’t sign or wear. “People would say ‘Well, I have this item that you signed for me.’ And I’m like ‘No, you know, I didn’t sign it.’ And they sit there and argue with me and tell me what I did sign and what I didn’t sign,” Jeter says. “Authenticity is such a huge problem in the memorabilia business.”