The show and autograph circuit seems to be rebounding a bit in the first half of 2010. I’ve attended several major shows already this year (Houston, San Jose, Chicago and Chantilly to name a few) and the turnouts seem to be heavier than they were at this same time last year. From my vantage point, it seems to have leveled off at a minimum, and things appear to be on the way back up.
There are several reasons the negative trend could be reversing. The first, of course, is the economy. No one really knows what’s going to happen in that regard, but it seems the general feeling is that things are getting better. The stock market has recovered, unemployment seems to have leveled off and people just seem to be getting back to normal spending habits. As far as the autograph industry itself is concerned, promoters seem to be trying to help the business in a couple of ways.
First, they have reduced the autograph prices of guys you would call “regulars” on on the circuit. It has not been unusual to see retail pricing for autograph tickets at shows dropping by as much as 35 percent on some of the more common guys. Guys like that (I won’t mention any names, but you know who I’m talking about) have just about maxed out their potential at their high-water price marks. The only way they are going to sell more autographs is going to be at a lower price. If the price becomes reasonable enough, even the collectors who thought they had all the autographs of a particular player they needed will find a few more items they can use a signature on.
Another factor in the recovery is the promoters making the show guests lists a little more attractive to collectors. They’ve mixed in a few tough (and expensive) names to help draw some people back to their shows. In recent months, guys like Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Jake Scott, Don Shula, Jared Allen, Drew Brees, Bud Grant, Alex Rodriguez, Joe Torre, Bernie Williams and Chris Johnson have all come out to make public appearances. Some of them haven’t made public appearances in more than 10 years. When you get a big name who doesn’t do a lot of signing and the price is somewhat reasonable, you’re going to see good turnouts.
I hope my read is right on this situation. The business needs things to turn around. Guys who make their living off of it need it, and collectors who have poured their hard-earned money into it in previous years need it. The devaluation of inventory and collections is whatdrives people away. While the business needs a certain amount of attrition from time to time to help the healthiest of interests keep going, it was getting a bit scary there for a while.
In a related note, you might think that Emmitt Smith would be a big draw in his Hall of Fame year. Trust me: He won’t be. He’s priced himself out of the market. Collectors are only willing to bear so much, and the NFL’s all-time rushing leader appears to have exceeded that point. Asking the public to pay $350 to sign a helmet is ridiculous, but asking for an additional $190 just for the HOF inscription is going too far by a longshot. If he does another signing this year and you need an autograph, don’t worry about spending too much time waiting for it. The line will be short.