Steiner Sports and Mounted Memories have been spirited competitors for years in the rough-and-tumble world of autographed memorabilia, but that hasn't precluded the two giants from occasionally joining forces when a particular opportunity presents itself.
Such was the case with the recent announcement by Dreams, Inc. that Mounted Memories, its wholly-owned memorabilia division, and Steiner Sports, have signed Peyton Manning to a multi-year autograph deal.
"Peyton Manning is the most recognizable face in the NFL today, and is a certain future Hall of Famer," said Ross Tannenbaum, president and CEO of Dreams, Inc. "His off-the-field persona has propelled him to a level of public acclaim shared by only a handful of athletes in all of sports."
Steiner Sports will partner with Mounted Memories to manage and control the vast marketing opportunities for authentic Manning-autographed items. The enterprise has a high-profile public launch: Manning will appear with his brother, Eli, and his father, Archie, as the marquee guest at the March 16-18 Chicago Sun-Times Show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
"Mounted Memories and Steiner Sports are the premier brands in the memorabilia industry and among a small and exclusive group of preferred licensees with each of the professional sporting leagues," said Jared Weiss, president of Steiner Sports. "This is a formidable team to control the autograph of one of the greatest athletes of our time."
The joint venture to bring Manning into the autograph arena could be an important marker as the industry copes with the challenge of finding ways to entice the highest-profile stars to spend a weekend signing autographs and posing for pictures.
"I felt it was kind of a landmark deal, in signing Peyton Manning with the two companies together, from the standpoint of the agents," said Weiss.
"No. 1, there are only a few people in this industry who are going to be able to make a deal like this one, a deal of this magnitude, because the marketing agents usually end up bidding the jobs out and getting the most money they can.
"And I think (Mounted Memories and Steiner) just realized in this situation that having the deal that they wanted - Peyton wanted a big deal - was probably too much for just one company to handle, but bringing in two companies would make it less troublesome and burdensome for our companies and also would keep the price points down because we didn't end up negotiating against each other. And that's ultimately what happened," Weiss added.
"I think from a collector's standpoint, we ended up with a lower price point. It's not so cheap, but it could have been a lot more expensive." Peyton signatures at the Sun-Times Show will be $199 for flats and mini helmets, $249 for footballs and $299 for helmets, jerseys, numbers and artwork, and he will be limited to 500 tickets.
"We did a smaller deal with Mounted involving Eli Manning, though we didn't really publicize it as much, but this is a much bigger deal and the first time in this kind of magnitude. We are partnering up on appearances, autographs, the whole thing," he continued. "One of the reasons it works is we have different customer bases; we have some crossover, some of the bigger customers and distributors, but we go into different areas. (Mounted Memories) are very big into their own retail distribution, they have their own Field of Dreams and their websites, and we have our ice cream stores and our retail stores and our website, plus we have a lot of corporate business, which is where a lot of Steiner product ends up going.
"We were both in negotiations with Peyton and we mutually agreed that it was better to work together on this deal," Weiss added.
"We have worked with Steiner Sports on a few player deals over the years, but this is the biggest one we've ever done with them," said Ross Tannebaum, president of Dreams, Inc., parent company of Mounted Memories. "We feel it's a win-win-win situation, certainly for Manning with our superior products and distribution. It's tremendous for both of us, with our own retail outlets, and we'll also be able to compete in some areas as well," Tannebaum continued.
Weiss also pointed out the the idea of joining forces in certain instances can be a powerful tool in their business. "I think it's a trend going forward, and something that you can count on that we are going to try to work together, because otherwise the pricing gets out of control," said Weiss. "Even for retired players, you have guys that want more money. Everyone always wants more money, and this is one of the ways we can maybe help control the costs.
"I know there are some collectors who will say, 'This is the price you guys came up with working together? I can't even imagine what the price would have been if you hadn't worked together.' And the answer is that the price would have been a lot higher, and we would have had to flood the market with autographs.
"We want to keeps things limited and keep things special."
Weiss said there are a couple of players coming up in the draft, guys who have never thrown a pass in the NFL, and they want money "that's just incredible, and this is before you know what team they are going to play for and what market they are going to be in. And they want a lot of money. So we've been saying no a lot.
"And we have more than 20 athletes exclusive at the moment, but at the same time we've said no to five times as many, because the deals just didn't work," he lamented. "And the people have spoken and said that they are only willing to pay so much for autographs, and we tried to listen to that."
And they are always working on finding others, perhaps even for other collaborative deals, but nothing far along enough that Weiss could offer any hints. "This was about getting our relationship going and working together, and figuring out how to play nice in the sandbox together."
The Manning deal is a multiyear pact, length and terms undisclosed, and like his Steiner Sports counterpart, Tannebaum concedes that the big-money climate in the autograph business creates a need for the kind of cooperative arrangement that the two auction behemoths have engineered.
"I do think you'll see us working together in the future," Tannebaum added. "I would say that in this day and age it's getting more and more difficult, and this kind of arrangement spreads out the risk over a couple of companies. And it does bring into play some deals with players that might not otherwise be possible."
The history-making occasion of having the three Mannings signing together at the March 16-18 Chicago Sun-Times Show could end up being the sole opportunity this year to see the Super Bowl MVP signing in that kind of formal setting. "I believe that will be the only show he will be doing this year, so it's a good opportunity," Tannebaum continued. "The contract with Manning doesn't include a lot of personal appearances; we don't believe that's really necessary."
Noting that another autograph and show promotion power, Tristar Productions, had invested in Dreams Inc. in 2005, Tannebaum stressed that the link with Steiner Sports was a continuation of that broader philosophy. "We try to work with the industry leaders, and I think it's very important for us to find ways to work together, because it shows our commitment to getting everybody working together to grow the industry."
- T.S. O'Connell