When Upper Deck Authenticated rolled out Tiger Woods product, collectors' eyebrows shot north to the Arctic Circle. The signed and framed pin flags and photos chilled consumers with prices from $2,000 to $4,000 apiece.
Even though UDA says sales are "doing well," it's safe to say that product at those prices is hardly flying off the dealers' shelves. The real power in the millions of dollars invested in Woods right now is that he serves as a spokesman for the company, and his image graces packs of cards and other products.
The Carlsbad, CA memorabilia manufacturer recently made six of its Tiger Woods products available to the marketplace via Yahoo, the Internet portal. The items were "first of" editions of 250 or 500 pieces. Based on the auction results, the market spoke very loudly and very clear.
The much-ballyhooed items fetched less than half of their suggested retail price. A 2001 Masters Pin Flag, framed with photos, sold for $1,201 on the 17th bid. Such items retail for a penny less than $4,000.
A 16 x 20-inch photo showing Woods blasting out of a sand trap sold for $1,250 on 14 bids; a photo collage celebrating Tiger's "Majors Slam" had a bid of one penny less than $900 on 22 bids. Such items are offered by Upper Deck for $1,999.99.
A visit to upperdeck.com (go to "athlete" and click on "Tiger Woods") reveals a wide range of Upper Deck Woods products, as well as those of other athletes UDA has under contract. In golf parlance, the auction prices for Tiger fell short of the hole. Way short. That's not to say the items are unattractive or undesirable; the signed flags and photos are wonderful pieces. What golfer wouldn't want one? And Tiger's unhurried signature is like his blasts off the tee. But the price? Ouch, it's in the deep rough. Upper Deck was hoping for a better showing, but officials hasten to add that the idea was to create excitement around the product. Jason Taitano, UDA's executive for product development and marketing, said, "We wanted to capitalize on the hype of what Yahoo was doing."
UDA tried to suggest that a victory by Woods at the AT&T tournament at Pebble Beach would have spurred activity from the ripple of publicity he would have received. Yet, there's no correlation, scientific or otherwise, that a golfing victory will force golf fans to run to their computers, go to Yahoo and participate in an auction. "What we find is no matter who the athlete is, we're susceptible to the highs and lows of that athlete," Taitano said. "Had he [Woods] won the week before or won that tournament, sales would have changed dramatically."
UDA had hoped to get more value out of its No. 1's. Golfers don't wear numbers, so number one carries a premium psychologically. Art dealers use the same psychology in selling limited edition prints, though there's no guarantee that the No. 1 item is the first one to roll off a press. (As an aside, Upper Deck's Michael Jordan items that carry No. 23 fetch more money than other numbered items.)
"I wouldn't say the auction was an outright success," Taitano said. "Neither was it a failure. We did get a lot of media coverage, thus letting people know that we represent Tiger in signed and unsigned collectibles." (Gotta Have It Golf is also licensed to produce Tiger Woods items, though UDA claims the lion's share of his items.)
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Wayne Gretzky is long gone from the ice, and so are the big numbers that his items brought to the Hockey Fights Cancer auction. A 2002 NHL All-Star game goalie mask signed by members of the North American World Teams sold for $7,501 (53 bids) during the recently completed HFC auction. The mask was signed by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Roy, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek, Teemu Selanne, Ed Jovanovski, Eric Daze, Nicklas Ledstrom, Nikolai Habibolini, Tommy Salo, Sergei Federov, Alexei Yashin, Markus Naslund and Tomas Kaberle.
A collection of signed Gretzky replica jerseys from his NHL teams in Edmonton, Los Angeles and New York also sold for $7,501 -- a far cry from the $75,000-plus his All-Star game-used jersey fetched two years ago during the same event.
Among other items that sold were:
- A game-worn "C" jersey from Mario Lemieux of the Penguins sold for $6,203
- Steve Yzerman's game-worn "C" home jersey sold for $6,000
- Yzerman's game-worn "C" away jersey sold for $5,503
- Tony Amonte's game-worn "C" jersey with Chicago sold for $5,001
- A game-worn Mario Lemieux NHL All-Star jersey from 2001 sold for $4,853
- A game worn Patrick Roy NHL All-Star jersey from 2001 sold for $4,003
- Tickets and VIP passes to the 2003 NHL All-Star Game sold for $4,000
- Stu Barnes' Buffalo Sabres game-worn "C" jersey sold for $2,805 on 62 bids
- A game-worn Eric Lindros NHL All-Star jersey from 1999 sold for $2,589
- Brian Leetch's New York Rangers game-worn "C" jersey sold for $2,301
A 1909 Ty Cobb T-206 card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $8,600 in a recent auction organized by Teletrade of Kingston, NY. An Iron Man McGinnity card from the same set and grade sold for $1,100. Among other cards and their hammer prices from the sale were:
- A 1915 Sporting News Wilbur Good card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $140
- A 1933 Goudy Frank Crosetti card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $825
- A 1933 Goudy Monte Weaver card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $300
- A 1934 Goudy Bill Swift card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $300
- A 1934 Goudy Wesley Schulmerich card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $340
- A 1949 Bowman Duke Snider card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $2,100
- A 1953 Bowman Mickey Mantle card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $2,700
- A 1959 Fleer Ted Williams card (PSA 9 MT) sold for $1,650
- A 1972 Topps Nolan Ryan card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $200
- A 1948 Bowman Red Holzman card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $400
- A 1957-'58 Topps Jack Nichols card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $150
- A 1950 Bowman Joe Perry card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $280
- A 1950 Bowman Sid Luckman card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $200
Tom Fletcher, sports division manager for Teletrade Sports, said vintage baseball remains strong. Teletrade handles about 1,350 lots per week, with more than 60 percent of those items selling. The remaining cards stand to get "recycled" in a future sale. Teletrade conducts two auctions per week. "With graded and non-graded cards, there are really almost two different markets," Fletcher said. "You have those who can afford the graded cards and those who can't. The guys who are doing this as a business realize that the money to be made is in the graded cards. A lot of small Mom-and-Pop dealers deal more in raw [ungraded] cards." Fletcher estimated that Teletrade sales have non-graded cards outnumbering graded cards four- or five-to-one.
Wayne Terwilliger's 1952 Topps card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $1,320 during a recent Spotlight Auction organized by MastroNet. The card was among a collection from the legendary Topps set. Willie Mays' card from 1952 (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $5,060, including commission; a Roy Campanella card from the '52 set sold for (PSA 8 NM-MT) $3,289; and Smokey Burgess's card (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $1,252.
Among other 1952 Topps cards that sold in the Spotlight Auction were:
- Hoyt Wilhelm (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $2,087
- George Kell (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $690
- Billy Cox (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $1,002
- Dixie Howell (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $399
- Vic Wertz (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $373
- Hank Bauer (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $705
- Dutch Leonard (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $460
- Warren Spahn (PSA 8 NM-MT) sold for $1,380
Louis Bollman, vice president of MastroNet, said he's seeing a surge in set collecting now that there are avenues through the Internet to create registries. "People are motivated to collect or complete their sets and have them graded," he said. "Thus, there's a little more heat around the rarer commons."
MastroNet is attracting collectors from outside the organized hobby. Many of these collectors read about the prices cards are getting at auction and know they have something of value. Of course, the condition of cards varies and folks outside the hobby are generally unaware of the grading process. "For people outside the hobby, they don't care if the cards are graded or non-graded, as long as we get the most money for their cards," Bollman said. "At auction, you have a situation where you're partners. We receive a commission based on the sales price."
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Few sports events have produced bigger names than the Olympics. And while many have cashed in on their fame through endorsements, their demand at autograph shows has created insignificant fanfare. With the exception of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" hockey team, Olympians have done little through the organized hobby; they just can't compete with stars from the big four sports.
Besides, since they compete for a nation, perhaps appearances outside of charity events would be perceived as a bit too mercenary. On second thought, today's athletes may have a different mindset. It's all about the money. With this in mind, Ralph Paticchio, an autograph dealer for two decades, recently conducted an auction of signed photos of various celebrities, including winter Olympians.
The signed images were impressive, even if the prices were not. Signed 8 x 10s of Jean Claude-Killy, Alberto Tomba and Franz Klammer, heroes of the downhill, generally sold for between $15 and $25. Autographed photos of figure skaters Michelle Kwan, Katarina Witt, and Peggy Fleming went for slightly more money. Photos signed by Dick Button doing a split, and speedskater Bonnie Blair ripping around an oval got out of the auction gate at 10 bucks.
Is it the economy and, as a result, a soft market? Are the celebrities too accessible to the public? Not necessarily. Despite being the Mantles of their sports, Olympians carve out a market that's remarkably small. The passing of time, however, may increase interest in these heroes.