As technology changes, the way fan mail and autographs are exchanged between Major League Baseball players and their fans is also changing.
In November, lettrs announced that it is partnering with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to add Major League ballplayers to its messaging and media application available for mobile devices. The licensed lettrs app provides mobile FanMail messages with original, authenticated digital autographs and branded, digital FanStamp stickers.
According to the lettrs press release announcing the agreement, the lettrs “autografs” app offers athletes, entertainers and fans an innovative way to enhance the quality and profitability of their social communications, turning a mobile device into an autograph store with the use of lettrs’ patent-pending autographs biometrics. MLBPA digital FanStamp packs will also activate collectible stickers.
The free app uses a phone’s biometric thumb authentication to activate a unique serial number and seal of authenticity for the autograph, including its original price, location, device and whether the original autograph was purchased for charitable dollars. The technology was patented by lettrs CEO Drew Bartkiewicz, a cyber expert and former Army officer.
“For years, the traditional autograph was the cornerstone of a priceless communication, the ultimate in fan mail memorabilia,” Bartkiewicz said. “We are giving that experience new life for the over 3 billion fans in the world with a smartphone in their hand, including millennials whose parents collected autographs on baseballs and legacy paper medium.”
“One of our main goals at MLBPA is to facilitate and enhance the player-fan connection,” said Michael Amin, category director-interactive games, digital products and services at MLBPA. “The lettrs platform allows fans to have meaningful interaction with players that they can’t get anywhere else, in multiple languages, and provides a lasting and unique memento of that interaction, which could provide a lifelong connection.”
Bartkiewicz, who grew up a New York Yankees fan, said he often wrote letters to Yankees players when he was a kid, but seldom received a letter back.
“When I did get a letter and it had the original autograph of a player, it was something that was almost magical,” Bartkiewicz said.
Amin said the MLBPA is always trying to find new and innovative ways to improve the player-fan connection.
“Effectively what we’re doing, we’re allowing a fan of any player to have that personal connection, that personal touch point with the player of his or her choice,” Amin said. “If we can increase that connection, we’re going to increase that connection to baseball with that fan.”
Bartkiewicz added, “I’ve been in the tech world long enough to know there are a lot of fans now on their mobile devices. The autograph technology is not to take away from the physical world of collectability, but it’s to bring the concept of collectability to a much younger fan base. That’s really what the players association likes. It gets young people thinking about purchasing, certainly at a lower price point, mobile autographs as something to introduce them to what memorabilia even is.”
Amin said the MLBPA recognizes that not only the industry, but the world is moving toward digital and mobile platforms. These devices are becoming part of everyday lives for all fans.
“There’s an opportunity here to expose a whole new group of fans to personalization and personalized memorabilia,” Amin said. “Having this enhanced method of doing that can really increase that player-fan connection.”
Another goal is to bring memorabilia to a younger audience.
“If they start collecting digital memorabilia on our application through collectible FanStamps of teams and players, or they start collecting digital autographs of players on these letters, on these messages, then it’s a natural progression [to physical memorabilia when they are older.]”
Amin said he wasn’t sure if it will ultimately lead fans to transition to collecting physical memorabilia, but said there will always be a place for traditional autograph collecting.
“As with any technology you have to put it out there and then see how it evolves,” Amin said. “As the technology evolves and the platforms evolve, as an organization and a business we want to evolve with it. Fans are getting more sophisticated everyday, the way they interact with sports they love and the players they love.”
Once a fan downloads the lettrs app, fans have the opportunity to “Pen Pal” their favorite Major League players and write digital letters directly to them. In some cases fans can purchase a personal, autographed message back. Players can use a Stylus pen or their finger to sign the autograph.
Bartkiewicz said the players decide how many digital autographs they will sign and how much they will charge for their autograph. Players can allocate all or a portion of the proceeds to charitable causes.
“When he signs the autograph, only that player’s thumbprint on their device will activate the seal of authenticity,” Bartkiewicz said. “We use technology to be the certifying agent on this one. We never copy, paste or replicate autographs on the app. They are all originally signed messages.”
Amin also stressed that the players will be writing and signing the letters.
“Fans are savvy, they know when they’re being lied to,” Amin said. “This app will really enhance, show and demonstrate the players’ personalities. The players’ personalities will come out in what they write.”
Amin said the players are excited with the idea of being able to communicate with fans during the best possible times for them.
“Our players are always welcoming new avenues to enhance that connection with their fans,” Amin said. “This platform is so attractive because it’s so simple for the players to use. It’s very easy for both a player and a fan to use.”
The autographed message can then be shared on users’ social media channels.
Bartkiewicz said fans buy the digital rights to the autographs, which are serial numbered in the lettrs system. The information is captured by lettrs and stored in the Cloud.
The rights of the autographs can be traded between collectors.
“The consumption of media and communications of young people is so heavily driven now from iPhones and Androids we better bring fan mail and autographs to that world or we’re going to miss a whole generation of young people for autographs,” Bartkiewicz said.