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Collecting “is fun,” the youngest Erdmann said less than two hours after the doors to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center opened on the first of SportsFest’s three-day run in Rosemont, Ill.

The younger Erdmann is a Peyton Manning fan whose favorite team is, believe it or not, the San Diego Chargers. He has more than 1,000 cards in his collection, mostly football, and probably spends about $500 annually on the hobby, his dad said.

“Sports memorabilia intertwines with real life – you watch these athletes on TV, then get their cards and maybe an autograph, too,” Mike Erdmann said. “Brett sees me collecting, so he wants to collect too.”

Brian Wassell, 17, of Mokena, Ill., will be a senior this fall at Lincoln-Way East High School. His collecting passion includes the older cards, or, as he puts it, “the retro cards,” mostly baseball and basketball. Wassell is also an autograph collector. He plopped down $2 at dealer Kyle Boetel’s table for a “grab bag pack” of about 10 cards. His big score was a 1963 Fleer Tito Francona card.

“I was a big collector, but my interest kind of faded,” Wassell said. “Now I’m getting back into it. That’s why I’m here – to check things out.”

SportsFest’s successful run continued this year and was anchored by a solid autograph lineup. The Hall-of-Fame theme was a great foundation, and was offset nicely by the other sports legends on hand such as Ron Santo and future star Chris Duhon.

“Shows definitely have a place in the industry. They definitely are an integral part of the industry,” Boetel said.

In addition to the top-notch autograph lineup, those in attendance were also buzzing with the announcement of Upper Deck’s second edition of the Exquisite Collection Basketball.
“It’s a great product, the nicest ever produced,” said collector Doug Ayers, 44, of Buffalo Grove, Ill., who spent about $25,000 last year buying various Exquisite cards and packs.

“I’m a little disappointed that there is a second series, because I thought it was going to be a one-time deal. But I’m sure this second series will create some strong interest as well.”

Upper Deck previewed Exquisite at SportsFest and the product was available for sale about 48 hours after the annual summer-time show closed its doors on Sunday.

“Exquisite created a buzz last time for months after the product launched. We have no reason to think the same thing won’t happen again this time,” said Upper Deck Basketball brand manager Karvin Cheung.

Upper Deck also generated SportsFest excitement with its wrapper-redemption program, which provided collectors with numbered cards (out of 750) for baseball, basketball and football. Ken Griffey Jr., was featured, along with LeBron James and Michael Vick.

“The new card market is down,” said SportsFest spokesman Rocky Landsverk. “But I think the category will see some real positive growth within two years.

“There’s still an inherent interest in sports cards that has never waned. That excitement on a kid’s face is still there when he’s opening a pack of cards.”

If you were unable to attend the annual event, here’s what you missed:

Elite Sports Marketing

The new kid on the sports memorabilia market is only a rookie in name. Scot Monette is the Elite president, the same title he held with his previous company, Authentic Sports Investment, which is now run by Brad Wells.

Elite had some amazing pieces of game-used memorabilia at SportsFest, not the least of which was Alex Rodriguez’ game-used New York Yankees batting helmet from his first game which carried a $30,000 price tag. There was also a game-used A-Rod belt from 2004 ($2,500), a pair of Gary Sheffield game-used cleats from the 2004 game when he hit his 400th career home run ($10,000), plus a pair of Sheffield-worn cleats from the 2004 All-Star Game ($10,000).

“One of the ASI founding fathers, Brad Wells, chose to leave the company, so, we chose to start a new company in respect to Brad. But we have the same address, same athletes, same principles and the same authentication program,” Monette said. “The key to what we do is, authentication. Your reputation in this industry is crucial.”

The high-end memorabilia market has changed over the past few years due to the Internet, thus making potential buyers more skeptical, Monette said.

“Sales are a little bit slower than in recent years, Monette said. “The superstars, such as Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, always sell. But, the mid-tier athletes don’t sell like they used to,” he said. “The $300 or $400 game-used bat are selling better nowadays than the $3,000 game-used jersey.”

Chicago Memorabilia Market

Bill Buckner was scheduled to sign autographs at a Chicagoland Sports Collectors Association (CSCA) show back in 1983 or 1984. The night before the show a seemingly harmless winter storm turned into a blizzard, with more than a foot of snow dumped on the area.

“I didn’t think anyone was going to show,” said Bruce Paynter, the president of the CSCA at the time.

To make matter worse, there was an appliance show the night before the CSCA show and when Paynter and his associates arrived at the Hillside (Ill.) Holiday Inn, the ballroom that was supposed to house the card show was filled with refrigerators and washing machines.
“At that point, I thought, ‘Let’s just cancel the show. No one’s going to show up,” he said.

But how wrong Paynter was. Collectors came in droves and they actually moved the appliances into the hallway, so the dealers could display their goods.

“That turned out to be a great show, one of our best shows ever,” Paynter said. “That’s when I realized how important these shows were to people in Chicago.”

The CSCA was, no doubt, the foundation for what has become the best sports card and memorabilia market in the U.S. Chicago is annually the home to the best shows, year in and year out. And this year is no exception, with a pair of Sun-Times Shows, SportsFest and The National.

“I still get a great deal of enjoyment out of running into people who came with their dads when we were putting on the small hotel shows years and years ago,” said Paynter, who now sets up at three or four shows annually. “A lot of why Chicago is such a good card and memorabilia market is its neighborhoods and the history of having two baseball teams here. Plus, it seems as though Chicagoans have held on to our ties more than elsewhere, so interest in things gets passed along, including card collections, perhaps more than in other places.”

In its hey day, the CSCA had a membership of 1,500 families. And the group even produced membership ID cards that you could carry in your wallet. Rich Egen, the CSCA’s original president, had ID card No. 1. Paynter, the second president, had No. 76.

Egen was the president for only one year, before being replaced by Paynter, who held the post from 1976-88. He was later replaced by Jeff Blatt.

CSCA membership was a mere $3 annually and the only true purpose for the membership was so the organization could build its mailing list. CSCA members got into shows for free, and the group ran once-a-month one-day shows, plus one three-day mid-summer show annually.

“I always knew that there was a lot of collecting enthusiasm in Chicago,” Paynter said. “We tried to get a combination of the big-name stars to sign autographs at CSCA shows, along with the people who are just good guys, such as Ron Santo, Brooks Robinson and Al Kaline. They not only would sign the autograph, but also stand up for a photo, shake the person’s hand and thank them for asking for their autograph.”

Dealer tables were – brace yourself – only $2 per show.

“When we wanted to raise the fee to $5, I knew there was going to be an uproar,” said Paynter, who went to his first show in 1973 and set up as a dealer at his first show in 1974. “I told the dealers that there was going to be an advantage to the increased fee: they were going to be able to reserve their location in the ballroom. Some still complained.”

But no one is complaining about the Chicago show scene nowadays.

Current Card Market

The market is “a little soft,” said Adam Martin of Dave & Adam’s Card World.

Martin also noted “great sales” for new baseball and new football releases. The stuff is “flying out the door,” he said.

“I wish there were more products that were way above cost, that collectors were hunting for. But that hasn’t happened,” he said.

Martin noted strong sales of late for Donruss Classic baseball, 2004 Absolute Baseball, as well as 2005 Topps Baseball Series II.

Fleer products have all taken a severe hit after the company folded earlier this spring. The one exception being releases that are not loaded with redemption cards, Martin said.
Upper Deck’s announcement days before SportsFest that it was producing a second set of Exquisite cards surprised Martin and he believes the mainstream exposure Exquisite will generate is a good thing.

Dave & Adam’s sold about 50 three-pack cases of Exquisite last year. They are still available, for $5,000 per case, or $1,500 for one pack. “People really like to crack a case because, generally, one pack in the case is going to have a killer hit in it,” Martin said.
So, what about Exquisite Baseball in the future? Or Exquisite Football? Or even Exquisite Hockey?

“Without a question, I’d make ’em, if I was running Upper Deck,” Martin said.
Cheung said it “remains to be seen,” if a third series of Exquisite Basketball will be released, or if the name will expand to other sports. “It’s always a possibility, but there are no plans for that as of now.”

Locker Room Memorabilia

David Wright was hitting .270 for Port St. Lucie back in 2003 when his team was bracing for the Florida State League playoffs against Dunedin. Wright then came alive, hitting .391 with a home run.

Shortly thereafter, he signed autographs for Emil Bodenstein’s company, Locker Room Memorabilia. Wright again signed autographs for Bodenstein at the 2004 Future’s Game in Houston.

At spring training 2005, Wright signed an exclusive contract with Bodenstein.
The Wright Stuff, which featured signed, game-worn and game-used memorabilia was prominently featured at SportsFest, anchored by his only game-used fielder’s glove from 2004, complete with a $10,000 price tag.

“As good as David Wright is on the field, he is a 10-times better person off the field,” Bodenstein said. “I couldn’t have met a nicer guy than David Wright. When you hear other players say things like, ‘He’s the only baseball player I’d let date my sister,’ that says something about him.

“His memorabilia is selling very well. I think he’s already a huge celebrity in New York and soon across the country as well.”

Locker Room Memorabilia offers a wide variety of signed Wright goodies, from game-worn hats to sweatbands. The most-popular signed Wright item is a single-signed ball, Bodenstein said.

Terms and length of the deal between Wright and Locker Room Memorabilia were not made available but Bodenstein said, “We feel David is going to be with us for his whole career.”
Locker Room Memorabilia also offers one-of-a-kind relics of B.J. Upton, Brandon Duckworth, Jerome Williams, Robinson Cano and others.

Bodenstein stresses to his athletes the importance of signing so that the signature is legible. He also discusses where they sign an item. Wright, for instance, does not sign baseballs on the sweet spot for the public anymore, Bodenstein said. “If you’re a true fan of David Wright, I don’t think you care where on the baseball he signs,” he said.
For more information on Locker Room Memorabilia, call: 1-877-TEAM-LRM.

SportsFest Odds and Ends

  • Steve Young was the No. 1 autograph signer, followed by Ernie Banks.
  • About 10,000 autographs were signed for the public, another 10,000 in private for retail and wholesale outlets.
  • Why is it that Len Dawson and Jack Youngblood prefer to stand when they sign helmets in private?
  • Does anyone have a more legible signature than Pro Football Hall of Famer Raymond Berry? Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and James Lofton aren’t far behind.
  • Jim Bunning was a surprise SportsFest success, in terms of autograph tickets sold vs. the amount predicted he’d sell.
  • There’s still an aura around Jean Beliveau.
  • Vernand Morency and Roscoe Parrish had to feel out of place, given the Hall of Fame heroes they were surrounded by.
  • Did I miss it, or, was there no autograph authentication service available for the thousands of signatures signed at SportsFest?
  • Lee Roy Selmon was joking around with several people in the backstage area. What a class act he was. I think that could be said for, arguably, everyone on the autograph stage.
  • Several collectors asked Earl Weaver about his umpire arguments, as usual. Others were surprised how diminutive Weaver is, given his fiery ways on the field.

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