Autographs certainly are the right stuff. Not just the write stuff.
The 42nd annual Chicago Sun-Times Sports Collectibles Convention, held March 11-13 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center near O’Hare International Airport in suburban Rosemont, was a flashback to shows of years past. Certainly this was different from before the economic crisis of recent years. The show was quite the spectacle, with more than 6,500 people attending, which was the most for the twice-a-year Sun-Times Show in several years.
As witnessed by the mass of humanity Saturday and Sunday in the autograph pavilion, collectors clearly still covet their autographs.
“The show was a big success, probably the busiest show since I’ve been a part of Mounted Memories. Saturday it was a madhouse and a lot of signers exceeded their pre-show expectations,” said Brian Schwartz, vice president of Mounted Memories. “Years ago, a show like this was the norm for this industry. Now, though, everyone is all excited with a show like this. Maybe this show was a sign that the economy is coming back, and a show like this will be more of the norm as opposed to a surprise.”
To his credit, Schwartz built an autograph lineup that certainly appealed to the masses. He had way more hits than misses among the signers, and many who did surprisingly well. Members of the 2011 Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, except Clay Matthews, were the biggest surprises – for how poorly they drew. But hey, this is Bears Country, not Cheese Land.
“As a group, they didn’t sell quite as well as we would have expected, based on the crowd size,” with the lone exception being Matthews, Schwartz said.
Despite their Super Bowl glory, there wasn’t much interest in John Kuhn, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, B.J. Raji, James Starks, Donald Driver, Sam Shields, A.J. Hawk, Mason Crosby or Brian Bulaga.
Matthews sold more than 300 autograph tickets to the public. None of the other Packers sold 200.
“We probably won’t do any other Packer-themed shows in the Chicago area,” Schwartz said with a chuckle. “You need to bring in the athletes who people want. And price might not be as big of an obstacle as it was, oh, a year ago.
“Clay Matthews and Scottie Pippen each were expensive guests, yet they were two of the biggest draws. Having guests who do not do many autograph signings, or are super hot, like Derrick Rose, is the way to go.”
Around the show
The show kicked off with Cy Young Night on Friday, featuring autograph appearances by Jim Lonborg (1967 Cy Young winner), Jim Palmer (1973, 1975 and 1976), Vida Blue (1971), Denny McClain (1968, and 1969), Rollie Fingers (1981), Randy Jones (1976), Steve Bedrosian (1987) and Jim Perry (1970), among others.
The Saturday lineup featured Rickey Henderson, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Jose Canseco, Dan Marino, Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, Michael Vick, Mike Schmidt, Arian Foster, Devin Hester and more.
The Sunday lineup featured Bobby Hull, Pete Rose, Tim Raines, Dennis Rodman, Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Scottie Pippen, Tom Seaver, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, “Mean” Joe Greene, Joakim Noah and others.
“The economy certainly still affects our business,” Schwartz said. “Friday was a typical Friday. It was fair, nothing overly crazy. Many came Friday to buy tickets for Saturday. And the last 50 of Derrick Rose’s 250 tickets went on sale, and they were sold out in 15 minutes.
“Saturday, the only time I remember it being that crazy was when Peyton Manning was at the show when he won Super Bowl MVP, and he was there along with Butkus, Brian Urlacher and Singletary.
“We had a really good lineup. The Bears did real well this season, so people are excited about the Bears again. That helped. All Bears, current and former, did really well.”
Henderson was making his first Chicago-area autograph appearance since making the Hall of Fame. Same for Blyleven and Alomar, and each did well, Schwartz said.
Marino autograph tickets started at $99, which probably was the cheapest his autograph tickets have been at a show in 10-plus years, Schwartz said. “That definitely was a big draw.”
The biggest overall draws were Butkus and Singletary, followed by Marino, Matthews and Pippen. “If we had the chance, Derrick Rose probably would have sold 500 tickets. But he was a sell-out at 250,” Schwartz said.
Singletary and Butkus each sold more than 350 autograph tickets to the public, no doubt a surprise considering how often each has signed locally.
Henderson and Vick each sold more than 200 autograph tickets, which surprised Schwartz.
On the other end of the spectrum, Schwartz said he was surprised by slow sales for autograph tickets of Foster and Ryan. “They might have gotten lost in the shuffle of all the other stars, or out of place in a Chicago show,” he said.
Pippen, according to Schwartz, has been the No. 1 name on his list for signers wanted by collectors for the last several years, and this was his first public autograph session in more than 10 years.
So who’s next?
Schwartz’ list, comprised from collector input, includes Mike Tyson, Mia Hamm and Greg Maddux.
“Collectors still really want to meet the stars and get their item authentically signed. They really like the opportunity to shake someone’s hand when they get a signature, not just buy the signature online,” Schwartz said.
On the floor
New York-based dealer Lisa Stellato of (Never Enough Cards Inc. commented, “It was nice to see the large turnout of consumers this weekend with lots of families with children. New card sales seemed to be more to the casual fan. True collector sales were light, and we would like to see more of that type of collector attend. But overall, taking the economy into consideration, it was positive.”
New Jersey-based dealer Alan Rosen was at the show, front and center, with cameras rolling, filming his dealing for a possible reality TV show to be aired on TruTV. Details are forthcoming.
“It was packed, incredible,” Rosen said of the show. “Gosh, there were a lot of people there. It was amazing. This was one of the biggest, largest-attended shows I have ever been a part of, ever. Sunday was just as good as Saturday. It was jammed all weekend, thanks to a great autograph lineup. It was a good show; I had a good time.”
Rosen’s camera crew conducted 65 interviews, and watched as the fabled Mr. Mint spent $50,000 during the weekend.
“That’s good, above average in this economy,” he said. “It’s nice to see the hobby is strong. There were a lot of kids there, and that’s a good sign.”
Rosen’s reality show, still pending, would be a 10-week show. The Sun-Times Show was the first time cameras were alongside Rosen at a show.
“Everyone wished me luck; no one was negative,” said Rosen, who also went to several dealers for comments, such as Dave Bushing who talked about bats.