Making and staying in the NFL is a matter of skill, strength, and athleticism. But making money in the autograph game is a far more simple competition. It’s a popularity contest akin to those first days in high school, when all the girls named Ashley claimed their spot in the cafeteria.
Exactly how good Cam Newton will be once he makes the jump to professional football from his gimmick Auburn offence is a story that will be told starting this summer (well, we hope so at least). The fate of Newton’s college rival Mark Ingram is even murkier, but both are already able to get quite rich through the squiggly lines of their signatures.
CNBC’s Darren Rovell spoke to Gary Takahashi, a Hawaiian man who’s at the top of the sports autograph game and owns GT Sports Marketing. Takahashi sizes up the popularity of possible future stars every year, and determines whose autographs will produce his pot of gold. He’s often handed out exclusive signature contracts in the neighbourhood of seven figures with guaranteed money. This year’s crop of players to sign a lucrative deal with GT Sports Marketing comes from both sides of the Iron Bowl: Newton, Ingram, and Alabama defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
The group’s marketing pull is generated by its two Heisman winners (Newton in 2010, Ingram in 2009), and Fairley being one of the strongest and most powerful prospects. The absurd world of autograph hounds may bump Fairley down a bit because of his sub-par performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, but likely not enough to make a serious dent in his value.
Takahasi doesn’t care if Newton, Ingram, and Fairley all flop in the NFL. Why would he? They may be at the peak of their value right now anyway.
I put more of an emphasis on who they are now. People will buy autographs of athletes that they know. I think the only guys that are known on a national level are Newton, Ingram,and Fairley. No one has any close who Blaine Gabbet is.”
Predictably, their values skyrocket further during signing sessions in their home state of Alabama. During sessions over the next few weeks Newton’s signed jersey can be yours for $150, while Ingram’s is $125, and Fairley’s will cost $85. Last year, Tim Tebow’s jersey came with a price tag of $160.
By the standards of professional sports, those prices may seem paltry at first. But for kids who have gone from being paid nothing to play (presumably, sorry Cam), that’s some pretty nice name value before taking a single NFL snap, and some pretty nice pocket change from Takahashi.