By Greg Bates
As a professional athlete’s popularity plummets due to off-field incidents, so does his stock with collectibles and memorabilia.
With the recent disturbing revelations of NFL stars Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, shop dealers in Baltimore and Minneapolis, as well as national companies, are paying for it.
Some memorabilia dealers have decided to pull the merchandise they have of Rice and Peterson, while others aren’t condoning the behavior of the troubled athletes, but they are still trying to sell the items they have stock. For the most part, sales have been slow.
“It’s tricky,” said Brandon Steiner, who is the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports. “For us, we take a much more conservative approach today than I did 10 years ago because of the different things that can happen and happen so quickly. I do my due diligence. When you look at our roster, we really make a conscience effort to get as high quality people as we can and try to use as good a judgment in sorting that out.”
Rice is one of Steiner’s athletes who was signed to an exclusive collectibles agreement in 2010. Rice isn’t just a normal client for Steiner, however. Steiner has known Rice and his family since Rice’s days playing football at New Rochelle High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. In fact, Steiner Sports’ corporate headquarters is just 1.7 miles from the high school. Steiner even coached at the school in the past.
“Knowing what I know about him, I would leave my kids with Ray Rice,” Steiner said. “I would leave my kids with Ray Rice if I had to go somewhere for the day. I would never have a second thought. I trust him with my life, I can honestly say that. However, do I know every last thing about Ray Rice? Obviously not. . . . I do think he should be punished. But to destroy someone’s life over a mistake, I don’t know if I agree with that.”
Steiner decided to pull all his Rice memorabilia from his company’s website long before the elevator surveillance video leaked, showing the Baltimore Ravens’ second leading rusher in franchise history knocking out his then-fiancée with a left hook, leaving her unconscious.
Steiner said he didn’t have a lot of Rice stuff to sell when he took it offline. Rice hasn’t conducted a signing with Steiner Sports since 2013.
Steiner plans to wait to sell his Rice items until there is a resolution to the case.
“Right now it’s not appropriate to be connected with that product and we understand that. And we don’t want to be disrespectful to the process as it works its way out,” said Steiner, who has owned his business for 27 years.
Steiner would like to see Rice get another shot in the NFL.
“Ray Rice is a great, great guy and he’s got a great story and he’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met,” Steiner said. “It’s shocking to me what happened, and I know that Ray will do the right thing to make this right, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m behind him. I’m behind him to help get his career back on track hopefully one day.”
As for Peterson items, Steiner Sports is still selling his stuff on its website as of press time.
Owners still trying to sell Rice, Peterson
Rick Hubata, owner of the DugoutZone in Ellicott City, Md., which is just outside of Baltimore, decided to keep the dozen or so Rice items – including helmets, photos, footballs and McFarlane figurines – he has on his shelves.
Back in 2012, Rice was one of Hubata’s best sellers. However, Rice didn’t do much during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run that season and didn’t play very well a year ago.
“There hasn’t been interest since February when the incident first broke,” Hubata said. “That’s typical, and that’s knowledgeable collectors that have probably been burned in the past thinking that O.J. (Simpson) stuff would go up or Michael Vick stuff would go up. I think people have learned their lesson on that sort of thing when it’s negative publicity, that’s what happens throughout.”
The weekend after Rice was cut by the Ravens and suspended by the NFL, Hubata put a different twist on his sales approach. He teamed with two local charities – Grassroots Crisis Intervention, which deals with family problems and suicide prevention, and HopeWorks, a domestic violence center – to run a special promotion. Any Rice item that sold, 50 percent of the money would go toward those two charities, as well as 10 percent of general sales for the weekend.
“We didn’t get a lot of takers,” Hubata said. “We had people come in that wanted to support the charities, but not a lot of takers for the Rice items themselves.”
After the promotion ended, Hubata slashed his Rice memorabilia prices in half in hopes of getting them to sell. It didn’t help.
“There’s no reason to hold it,” Hubata said. “But my gut feeling is he’ll be playing football again.”
In Roseville, Minn., just outside of Minneapolis, Three Stars Sportscards owner Dan McKinnon is stuck with thousands of Peterson cards. He also has a couple of smaller autographed items in his store.
Before Peterson was indicted for abusing one of his children, the Minnesota Vikings’ all-time leading rusher was McKinnon’s top seller for football cards.
“His cards have always sold really well until this happened,” McKinnon said. “Anything we’ve sold since everything went down was just somebody finishing a team set or finishing a regular set. I image people aren’t journeying here to pick up his cards. We haven’t had anybody ask. We haven’t had anybody bring in anything to sell yet.”
McKinnon doesn’t plan on taking his Peterson stuff off his shelves or out of his special Vikings card section.
“We will probably feature him less, but if anybody requests his cards, we will get them,” McKinnon said. “People have asked for Aaron Hernandez since everything happened to him.”
McKinnon thinks he might sell a few Peterson cards here and there, but he won’t be a best seller any longer.
“People may still get his 50-cent base cards just because they are trying to get every Viking or just because they’ll remember him, but I think his autographs and his patches and things that we have higher prices on, we will probably have for a while now,” McKinnon said. “We’ll wait until it sorts itself out more.”
Similarities with Vick case
JT Smith knows exactly what the sports collectibles and memorabilia dealers in Baltimore and Minneapolis are facing right now.
Back in 2007, Smith was selling Michael Vick memorabilia left and right at JT Sports Collectibles & Memorabilia in Marietta, Ga. When Vick was arrested and later convicted of dog fighting, his items sunk faster than the Titanic.
“I would imagine the dealers in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area are going through what myself and other dealers went through here when Vick went through all his nonsense,” Smith said.
Smith figures he had around 100 pieces of Vick memorabilia – pictures, jerseys, footballs – and it was easily Smith’s biggest seller amongst Falcons players.
“Vick was probably more popular memorabilia-wise than Rice was,” Smith said. “It’s probably the position they play, but the quarterback is kind of the king of the team. Back then it was Vick. He was the name. He was the preeminent name probably country-wide.”
Smith didn’t wait to pull Vick items from his shelves.
“I literally cleaned the front half of the store of that stuff,” Smith said. “I didn’t throw it out. I was going to get something for it, so I put it online and it sold. It just brought 10 percent of what it should have brought, maybe 20 percent.”
Smith had more of a personal stake in Vick memorabilia because he had Vick in for personal and private autograph signings about a year-and-a-half before the ex-Falcon got into trouble. Smith accumulated a lot of product from those signing sessions.
The Rice and Peterson cases are very similar to what Vick went through. Public outrage and a total loss of fan support are already underway for the two running backs.
“Very similar,” Hubata said. “A very hot-buttoned issue. And a hot-buttoned issue that has emphatic supporters. It was a fall from grace. You couldn’t give Michael Vick stuff away. People would joke coming into the store, ‘Do you have any Michael Vick stuff?’ And they were kind of laughing. That turned around a bit when he came back. I kind of expect Ray Rice stuff to come back.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.