Football card collectors can rest assured that the man who manages the NFL's collectibles business is a collector whose roots in the hobby go back more than three decades.
Pete Quaglierini, the NFL's manager of trading cards, collectibles and NFL Auctions, has been in the licensing division for the NFL for more than a decade. He spoke with SCD about his childhood, and collecting cards, and how that history has helped him lead the trading card, collectibles and auctions businesses for the NFL.
SCD: Tell us about your collecting background.
Pete Quaglierini: My first cards were probably 1972, so I've been a collector since I was about 6 years old. We used to have a corner grocery store, and my mom would give me money to go to the store, and then with the change, I'd buy packs of cards. I'd buy Topps; I remember the 1972 Topps Football with the generic designs on the front. I'd buy football and baseball, mostly baseball.
SCD: What did you do with them? Trade them, collect them, flip them?
PQ: We flipped them. My sister would try to take mine and claim them as hers, so we had to write 'P' on some and 'D' on the others. I ruined a couple of good cards that way and I'll never do that again.
SCD: Did you manage to save any of those cards from your youth?
PQ: I still have them all. I put some rubber bands around them, so some of them still have the rubber band melted on them. But I have almost all of my collection. Some are in excellent shape, but I played with them, so they're not in great shape.
SCD: If they were in slab-worthy shape, would you get them graded?
PQ: I'm not a huge grading fan. I like the purity of a card, to be able to look at it and feel it. I might do it to protect an important card, but as a purist, I like to look at them and touch them and feel the paper. To me, grading is more of a protection thing than a status thing.
SCD: Did you collect autographs and other items, too?
PQ: I collected everything. I used to write to the players. I've gotten autographs back from Pete Rose, George Brett, Willie Mays. They all signed in the '70s and '80s. I got Hall of Famers with (Bill) Dickey and (Joe) DiMaggio. It was amazing. I put them in books, and I still have the books. I used to chase the players at the hotel. I'd go to the Grand Hyatt and Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium and chase the players for autographs when I was in my early teens. I used to chase the players for autographs, now they're chasing me for licensing.
SCD: Have you met some players in your professional life that you had received an autograph from when you were a youngster?
PQ: Yeah, Bud Harrelson was one. Mark Bavaro became a very good friend of mine; he actually attended my wedding. He was my favorite player and now he comes to my house and we're good buddies. It's pretty ironic.
SCD: What are your favorite collectibles in your own collection?
PQ: For non-sports, I would say the signed football from U2, my favorite band. I got that at halftime (of the Super Bowl) a couple years ago. I have a 1976, pennant-winning Yankees team ball that I bought for $200 at a National a few years ago. That was quite a find and I really treasure that one.
Card-wise, my favorite has always been 1977 Topps Baseball; it was the first set I really fell in love with. I have two or three of those sets that I put together as a kid. My dad would buy me a wax box and let me open one pack at a time.
SCD: Did your dad get you started in collecting?
PQ: Actually, my uncle got me started. He's a big collector and he exhibits at The National every year. His name is Sam Quaglierini and his company's name is Sports Treasures.
SCD: What is your collecting history? How did you get where you are today?
PQ: I actually started in the mailroom at the NFL when I was about 23 years old. I was working on Wall Street and I was hurt in a skiing accident, and they let me go when I needed surgery. I went to St. John's University and I looked on the jobs board and I saw a $6/hour job in the marketing department at the NFL. I thought, "Great, marketing, that's my field."
It was a glorified mailroom. It was sitting at the commissioner's house waiting to get his cable hooked up, or taking his shirts to the dry cleaners, just running odd jobs. Then I worked PR for a while, then I went to finance, then I landed in licensing, which I've been doing for the last 10 years. I started out in collectibles, then to collectibles and trading cards, and now I do collectibles, trading cards, the card show at the NFL Experience, and now I handle NFL Auctions.
SCD: Did your collecting experience help you advance in the field?
PQ: I think being a collector in the licensing world helped me think outside of the box. Actually, because I was a collector, the guy who had the job before me said, "You'd be great at this job, you should talk to them." And that's what happened.
SCD: What are your primary duties?
PQ: I oversee the trading card category and the memorabilia category, which includes novelties, photos, die-cast, bobbleheads, all of that on a daily basis, and it's a big category. Parts of the year I'm doing the card show for the NFL Experience, and in parts of my day, I'm doing NFL Auctions, talking to the clubs, trying to acquire items, setting up signings. NFL Auctions is a department on its own. The day goes by fast.
SCD: Tell us about the NFL Auctions. I saw at the www.NFL.com/auctions that the proceeds benefit charities of the NFL and Players Inc and that almost $2 million has been raised. Are they weekly auctions, or event-related, or ongoing?
PQ: It's weekly auctions, we have about 100-200 items a week. We see everything that's signed, so there's no question about authenticity. We have cool experiences like sideline experiences, photographer experiences, riding on the team jet. We put up Mike Shanahan's Harley-Davidson signed by the whole team. We've done items for Hurricane Katrina victims. We also work with the players associations and all the clubs to help out their charities. We're trying to get more established. We'll be attending the Rookie Premiere, so we'll get a lot of rookie items signed. At the Pro Bowl in February, we had 70 of the possible 84 Pro Bowlers sign items, so those will be available in the coming weeks.
We also have game-used items. We put the third (alternate) jersey from the Ravens up this year, everybody from Ray Lewis to Kyle Boller. We've done San Diego Chargers powder blue uniforms, including Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson. We've had Eli Manning's rookie helmet. We go from $20 items to $2,000 items.
We work with PSA/DNA so it gets their hologram and certificate. We stand behind everything, but we see everything signed, so there shouldn't be much of a problem with anything; it's 100 percent authentic merchandise.
We want to get the fan closer to the game, whether that's through trading cards or NFL Auctions. When you get a piece of your hero, whether it's a signed item or a card or a uniform, that's what it's all about.
SCD: There's been a major reduction in the number of licensees in pretty much every category within the past few years. Why did that happen?
PQ: At one time when I took over, we had the last remnants of Score Board/Classic, Collector's Edge and Pacific, plus Playoff, Topps, Upper Deck and Fleer, so it was seven or eight trading card licensees. We've pared down a lot of licensees. We picked what we feel are the best and strongest partners. The entire licensing category needed to be looked at. It wasn't just cards, it was everything - apparel, barbecue grills, video games. We went down to one in video games.
SCD: What's your view on how sports cards managed to reach 250-plus brands, and how have we managed to get back to 120-130 this year?
PQ: A lot of the brand quantities problem was that companies were putting brands out there for the sake of putting brands out there. When autographed cards and game-used memorabilia cards started to become expensive, companies couldn't do as many brands anymore. Brands became insert sets and the insert sets became the primary chase.
But there was just too much. It was confusing. I tell the companies now that they need to give us a rationale, every set's reason for existing. It can be price point, target audience, content, but we feel there has to be a reason for being. We've smartened up and saw that there was too much out there, too much clutter, too much confusion and we pared it down. It helps when the other sports do that, too. I think the hobby will be very healthy, and soon.
(Editor's note: The NFL has three licensees this season - Topps, Upper Deck and Donruss Playoff - and they're expected to produce 13 brands apiece).
To see the entire interview with Pete Quaglierini, see the May 5, 2006 issue of Sports Collectors Digest