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The Autograph Situation

Posted by houstoncollector on May 14, 2009

One of the things that a number of us have complained about over the years is the advent of sticker autographs and redemptions.  Most of us, by now, have come to just accept what we cannot change, and to be honest, redemptions and sticker autos  both appear to be on the way out from most of the companies.  One of the questions that I had on the subject, however, was this:  What, if any, legal ramifications do the card companies have toward players that do not fulfill their contractual obligations, or in the case of a number of football players, provide shoddy autographs?

With this in mind, I contacted Donruss/Panini, Topps, and Upper Deck.  I also contacted the NFLPA and MLBPA with the question more of what position do the player organizations have as far as players who do not fulfill their obligations or provide the shoddy autographs that we’ve grown sick of?

First, I would like to thank Chris Carlin of Upper Deck, Steven Judd of The Sports Card File, as well as Carl Francis and Nicole Krenzy of the NFLPA for taking the time to answer my questions on the subject.  We received no response from the MLBPA, Panini America, or Topps at this date.

Generally, the information I obtained is that while the card companies probably have the ability to sue players that fail to meet their obligations to provide the autographs as agreed to, they don’t, for the simple reason that it could possibly lead to the various player associations pulling access to the players en masse, which would be crippling to the card industry.   Essentially, it’s a matter of maintaining relationships between the players, their agents, and the players associations with the card companies.  

For their part, the NFLPA was unable to comment on any legal matters, which to be honest, I quite expected.  I do want to point out to them that my question is more:  What is the NFLPA’s stance on players that do not hold up their end of the bargain, although I will admit that this is probably a legality issue as well, and I respect that they cannot comment.

Upper Deck’s stance is that they have deals through either the player’s associations or the athletes themselves.  When athletes aren’t fulfilling their obligations, Upper Deck generally doesn’t deal with those people in the future, and the same goes with the people with the sloppy signatures, although Chris did state that many times when this happens, that they’ve already signed with the player through a certain number of signatures in that year.  However, he also stated that after a period of time, as those player’s signatures dry up and demand increases, that they will sometimes go back to them, but they look at the customer experience first and foremost in those cases.

It’s good to know that Upper Deck has an Athlete Relations team that is in constant contact with athletes to make sure that the signatures are being done so that we have fewer redemptions than a few years ago in most cases.  I believe it would be safe to presume that Topps and Panini America have similar ideas in play, and I can verify that as of 2009 Topps Finest baseball, the wording on the back of an autograph (even if it’s a sticker) says that the autograph was witnessed by a Topps Representative, which means that they’re at least trying to stay on the ball.

Essentially, what it comes down to is that the power is pretty much entirely on the athlete’s and player’s associations side, which probably also explains why some athletes charge the card companies a high rate for their autographs, and also why autograph checklists are invariably full of minor stars and young athletes, who are likely just thrilled to be able to have their name on products.  While I understand that these athletes are extremely busy, in an ideal world players would be thrilled to autograph products for the companies at a reasonable rate (I’m not talking $200 per signature, Mr. Pujols), do a decent job of their signature (Chris Johnson and Vernand Morency, among many others), and do so in a timely manner.

Of course, if it wasn’t for us (the collectors) demanding more and more autographs and game-used matierals as our hits, and the card companies cranking out as many products per year as humanly possible with them, this wouldn’t be as bad as it is now, although admittedly it’s gotten quite a bit better.  

I am open for a rebuttal or any comments from the card companies, the player’s associations, any athletes or agents, or sports lawyers, if any of you read this blog.

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