The long-pending lawsuit against the Giants over allegedly fraudulent game-worn memorabilia exposes a pair of truths about this industry: (1) it could be extremely lucrative; and (2) items must be harvested and sold in a way that ensures authenticity.
Agent Neil Schwartz is spreading the word about the potential benefits of selling game-worn jerseys, helmets, cleats, and other equipment, both at the NFL and college level. He estimates that, currently, the market for game-work memorabilia accounts for $100 million of a broader memorabilia industry (trading cards, autographs, etc.) that generates $1.5 billion per year. Schwartz believes that the market for game-worn memorabilia eventually could be worth $1 billion per year on its own.
The key, according to Schwartz, is the authenticity of the items.
“If people are truly buying a piece of history so that they can feel connected to that moment in time, the NFL and its players need to make sure that memorabilia is genuine,” Schwartz said.
The best way to ensure authentication is to identify reputable companies that specialize in ensuring that, for example, a jersey worn by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50 really was worn by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. Apart from the money that players could make by selling game-worn memorabilia in the immediate aftermath of a memorable game or performance, fans will know with full confidence that they are purchasing an item that legitimately and actually was used during a specific game by a specific player.
The NFL and NFL Players Association likely would have to work out some of the details, given that the teams technically own the jerseys. Still, game-worn jerseys have no additional value unless they are (duh) worn by a specific player during a game.
As applied to college football, retaining and later selling game-worn memorabilia could help ensure that players who aren’t being paid find a way to obtain compensation for their services, albeit on a belated basis. Put simply, college players can take steps to properly preserve game-worn gear and then sell it after their eligibility has concluded.
Schwartz believes that agents could become involved in facilitating game-worn memorabilia sales, with a cut of the proceeds potentially replacing the agent’s fee on, for example, the player’s first NFL contract. Or (more likely) the schools and the NCAA could create a system that gathers, retains, and markets the game-worn gear after the player’s eligibility expires.
Consider the potential value of, for example, jerseys and other gear worn each and every week by the player who eventually wins the Heisman Trophy, or by the player who becomes the No. 1 pick in the draft. If there were a way for fans to bid on those items close in time to, for example, a dominant performance in a major bowl game, the value of the item could skyrocket.
Last year, one jersey worn by LSU running back Leonard Fournette drew a high bid of $101,000 at an auction benefiting South Carolina hurricane victims. How much would each of Fournette’s 2016 jerseys and other equipment be worth if he sold at auction if promptly after his eligibility expires?
Currently, items often are sold under the table by still-eligible players, who end up getting far less than the items would be worth through a process of competitive bidding. An organized system for gathering and selling game-worn gear at the appropriate time would maximize the return, and minimize the chances of a player’s eligibility being undermined by trading gear for something of value, like tattoos.
If done properly, players will be able to buy their own tattoos along with plenty of other stuff, fans will have access to one-of-a-kind items, and a largely-untapped market could mushroom.