The Anatomy of a Signing

July 12, 2006

Steiner Sports Official Blog Post / Jason Klein
July, 2006

It's more than just ink on a baseball or glossy photo. Every piece of authentic Steiner Sports memorabilia tells a story. The signed jersey on the wall, basketball on the mantle, and helmet sitting on top of the television were all signed by different players, at different times, under different conditions. Some were autographed under ideal circumstances within the comfort of the famous Steiner Sports conference room in Westchester, New York; others on the back of a car in a parking lot, in a hotel room during a road trip, or in a confetti-strewn street amid a championship celebration. How much of the story do collectors really know when it comes to the pieces they collect?

"Our clients are very knowledgeable, but I think a lot of them don't fully realize what actually goes into a signing," says Chris Amoroso, Executive Vice President of Purchasing and Player Relations for Steiner Sports. "They might look at that photo hanging on their wall and not understand what went into creating that piece, and eventually getting it signed for them to purchase."

According to Amoroso, developing new product is an evolutionary process that begins with identifying the right player to work with. Sure, some players are obvious choices - stars like Derek Jeter and David Ortiz come to mind - but what criteria does Steiner Sports use when selecting someone new to add to their memorabilia repertoire?

"We look for what's hot market," says Amoroso. "Is there value to the signing? We try to think out-of-the-box, maybe for players who haven't signed with anyone in the past. We not only look to sign with top players, but also guys making a name for themselves at a young age."

Enter Melky Cabrera. On June 6, 2006, the rookie outfielder for the New York Yankees climbed the wall in the Bronx and came down with a game-saving catch, robbing Manny Ramirez of a game-tying homerun and the Red Sox of any shot at victory. Within hours, the Steiner Sports brain trust was hard at work.

"Melky made that catch and, the next day, we picked a photo, got it licensed, and set up a signing with him. Not many people out there are going to react that quickly," says Amoroso. "In less than 48 hours, we had a great new piece to offer our clients. That's the mindset we have - whatever it takes, we're going to get it done. Now, do you win all those battles? No. It's mostly about building relationships."

Amoroso insists that having a strong rapport with the athlete is key when it comes to locking down a signing. It couldn't be any more evident than what transpired following Derek Jeter's heroics on June 18, 2005 against the Cubs. Just days after hitting the first grand slam of his remarkable career, Jeter was at the Steiner Sports headquarters signing and inscribing photos, bats, and balls commemorating the long overdue achievement.

"Guys like Derek understand the wants and needs of our company, as well as our customers," says Amoroso. "He's going to hustle for us and accommodate what we need because of the strong relationship we have."

It's a bond that helped make the Yankees' shortstop an exclusive athlete of Steiner Sports. Jeter is part of a select group of players who will only sign with Steiner. This arrangement doesn't prevent players from signing in public, at the ball park, or for friends and family. It simply means that Steiner Sports is the only sports memorabilia company where customers can purchase authenticated hand-signed Derek Jeter collectables. Other exclusive athletes include David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Joe Torre, Tiki Barber, Eli Manning, Jason Kidd, Franco Harris, Martin Brodeur, and even skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. According to Amoroso, this elite fraternity of athletes serves as the foundation for the entire company.

"We look to build a brand with our exclusive athletes," he says. "It's important to build with a player, almost grow with him as his career advances. A guy like Eli Manning started signing for us right after he was drafted. As his career has evolved, so has our relationship. Players like Eli, Derek, David Ortiz...they are the face of our company."

Not every collector is into the "mainstream" athletes, though. To accommodate, Steiner Sports places an emphasis on signing with players outside its exclusive list, as well. Sometimes that takes a little creativity. Out-of-the-box signings with athletes like tennis superstar Roger Federer and auto racing sweetheart Danica Patrick have helped Steiner Sports carve special niches in the industry and provide a well-rounded inventory for collectors to choose from.

After identifying an athlete and negotiating with that player - yes, athletes do get paid to sign for Steiner Sports - the Steiner product development team creates a new line. According to AJ Romeo, the Director of Product Development for Steiner Sports, the motivation to generate new pieces isn't hard to find.

"It's my love of sports. That's what drives me," he says. "I see a guy like Martin Brodeur make a great save, or a guy like Derek Jeter show some emotion on the field, and it fires me up. I think the love I have for sports really shows in the product I help to create. Basically, I'm a sports fan creating pieces for other sports fans to enjoy."

Romeo often receives suggestions from the athletes themselves when crafting new pieces. Players like Mark Messier and Mariano Rivera have been instrumental in the development of recent product lines, giving their input on everything from which photos to use to product design and verbiage on nameplates.

With product in place, a signing is scheduled. Steiner Sports conducts approximately 500 signings each year. While many are privately held in the Steiner Sports corporate offices in New Rochelle, NY, others are open to the public at such venues as Hall of Heroes, a store in the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, NY or one of five Last Licks locations. Customers can always send in items to be signed and even personalized by their favorite athletes. According to Eric Levy, the "Autograph Handler" for Steiner Sports, sometimes the location of a signing can be just as unpredictable as sports itself.

"Ideally, every signing should take place in a big conference room with plenty of space to stack photos and equipment," he says. "Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I once did a signing with [New Jersey Devils great] Ken Danyko on the hood of a car in a parking lot and signed with Texas Western Coach Don Haskins overlooking the security checkpoint to get in and out of Mexico. No matter where the signing takes place, I always handle each piece with care and allow the proper time for each signature to dry."

Always on call, Levy's work schedule is dictated by what takes place on the field. While on a flight back from Tampa, FL in October of 2005, he watched the White Sox outlast the Astros in Game 4 of the World Series to win their first title in 88 years. Knowing Sox fans would be hungry for something to commemorate the Series, he realized his stay at home in New York would be a short one.

"I went home for a few hours, got some sleep, and the next thing I knew, I was in Chicago with photos, jerseys, bats, and balls, ready to go hours before the White Sox even arrived home from Houston. I'm always ready wherever needed," he says.

While the signing is taking place, Levy must deal with each individual athlete differently. Each player has a unique personality and requires a different level of attention. Amoroso believes the way a particular signing is conducted can often reflect that player's personality.

"Joe Torre is the ultimate professional. When he signs for us, everything is in order, very organized and laid out. His signings are very methodical, like his managerial style," he says. "Jeter is more laid back, but just like Joe, he will always stick around to make sure everything gets done the right way. Players see the kind of effort we put into our product. They know we won't accept anything but the best."

Levy also administers a high level of quality control during each signing. "Some players, like Hank Aaron, press down so hard with a sharpie," he says. "Every nine or ten items, I need to take the pen from him and give him a new one. I just want to make sure each piece has a dark, crisp signature on it. We want to make sure our customers are getting the best product out there."

After signing the memorabilia, athletes then sign a notarized affidavit recording the date and location of the autograph session. It also details the various items that were completed. This document is then secured within the Steiner Sports main offices. Newly autographed product is then received by the Steiner Sports warehouse where it is further inspected for quality and hologrammed with a tamper-proof Steiner Sports seal. A Steiner Sports Certificate of Authenticity is then issued to each piece that is put into inventory for sale.

Steiner Sports has become the leader in authentic sports memorabilia by building strong relationships with many of the brightest sports stars in the nation. Their superior reputation often attracts athletes not currently signing with Steiner to inquire about the possibility of working together. "They might look around, see other players signing for us, and say, 'hey, let me call Steiner to see if there are any opportunities for me,'" says Amoroso.

One athlete on the Steiner radar that has yet to sign is seven-time Tour de France Champion, Lance Armstrong. Amoroso would love to work with the cyclist who defeated testicular cancer, insisting that they "could really put together some great pieces and raise a lot of money for cancer research."

Until then, Steiner Sports will continue to bridge the gap between athlete and fan with the same hard work and hustle they've exhibited over the past twenty years. Every piece of hand-signed memorabilia produced brings a collector closer to their sports hero than they previously thought imaginable. It's a form or art for some; to others, a piece of history. There's no question, it's a lot more than just ink on a baseball.




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