Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Who Signs, Who Doesn’t?

Next time you consider asking a sports star for his or her autograph, you might as well take this blog entry along with you. We present to you the best and worst athlete signers of 2006, courtesy of the folks at Autograph Collector magazine, which published the list in its latest issue.

I’m really surprised Beckham is in the “Best” list. Thought he’d probably be among the worst. As far as the worst signers, I don’t think there’s one surprise in there. But I will say this, I don’t really think badly of them. When I was a kid, the people waiting on line for an autograph really wanted one. But since the advent of eBay, there are now more businessmen -- with their sharpies and glossy photos -- sitting around hotels and in parking lots.

A couple years ago, I was doing a piece for ESPN on how Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo had forced his players to sign autographs before games. I went around with Randy Johnson, who insisted that he personalize each autograph. (If the autograph had a name on it, it would make it less valuable, but a person who really wanted to keep it would love to have their name on it). So the guy comes to the front of the line and Randy says, “What’s your name?” and he tells Johnson that he doesn’t want his name on it. Johnson tells him his policy and the guy says his name is Joe. “I’m not signing this,” Johnson says. I later asked him why he didn’t sign it and he told me that the guys who are going to sell it are all named Ed, Joe and Jim. Why? Because if they get to their photo with rubbing alcohol within a certain period of time, they can erase the inscription. Johnson told me they go with shorter names so it’s easier to erase. What a great insight into the ridiculous business that this is. That’s why I really can't completely bash these athletes.

The other issue of course is autograph deals. Autograph companies always say they don’t prohibit their players from signing at games, but signing at games does devalue what they can sell. Barry Bonds rarely signs, but when he signs at the ballpark, it’s usually a B.B.S., not the full Barry Bonds. That you’ll have to get from

One more great autograph story. In the late 1990s, Tony Gwynn went to a San Diego Padres gift shop in Oceanside, Calif., to do a signing. What happens next is classic, according to a story in the North County Times:

"I went into the shop and as I walk into the store I see a picture in the window with Cammy (Ken Caminiti), (Steve) Finley and I," Gwynn told the newspaper. "All of them are autographed, and all of them are forged. All of the stuff, every last 8-by-10 forged. I knew it right away because the T wasn't looped. I always looped the 'T' on 8-by-10s. I see Caminiti's and Finley's every day. And I know it's not mine."

The fact that this was happening at the official store is just priceless.

The Wisdom Of Crowds

It’s a big sports movie week. “Rocky Balboa” hitting yesterday. “We Are Marshall” debuting tomorrow. Now the greatest business story in these two movies is in the crowds. Getting crowds for sports movies costs an absolute fortune. A live human costs about $75 on average per day of shooting, not including food and transportation. That’s a lot of money if you’re looking for thousands to sit in an arena or stadium.

Sylvester Stallone handled this issue like many sports movies have done in the past -- by shooting scenes at a live event. (The Jermaine Taylor-Bernard Hopkins rematch in Las Vegas last December). By doing this, he didn’t have to pay for anyone.

The folks at “We Are Marshall” took another route. Instead of hiring extras, they took a page out of the movies “Seabiscuit,” “Dreamer,” “Cinderella Man” and the classic “Nacho Libre,” all of which had blow up dolls in the stands. Sure enough, there’s a whole business behind all of this. This movie reportedly used the folks at The Inflatable Crowd Company. While there’s no pricing info on the site their competition, Crowd In A Box says it would cost about $8 per blow up per day.

Professional Baseball Video Gaming?

Baseball super agent, Scott Boras, in between negotiating his deal for clients, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Barry Zito, announced the formation of the Professional Baseball Video Game League (PBGL). It’s basically baseball players battling online against each other and their fans. Partners in the project include Boras, MLB Advanced Media and a media company called GGL. Boras’ client, Johnny Damon, will serve as commissioner. Other players in the league will be Prince Fielder (Brewers), Corey Patterson (Orioles) and Derek Lowe (Dodgers) among others. The league will debut this week with Project Gotham Racing 3 for Xbox 360.

Political Battles

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t get what they wanted yesterday as the Isle of Capri didn’t win the slots license, which means they won’t help build the team a new arena. The NHL this morning is making it out like there would be a million places for this team to move to. Email me if you think I’m wrong, but I think Kansas City is the only place this team could possible go. What makes this really interesting is that the team is now up for sale again after RIM founder Jim Balsille backed out.

The New Jersey Nets are back on pace to move to Brooklyn by the 2009 season with the Public Authorities Control Broad approving the proposed development built by Bruce Ratner, owner of the Nets and president and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies. Ratner still has to fight against the people who are suing him for mischaracterizing eminent domain laws, but this was a big obstacle that is now over.

A Couple Nuggets

Allen Iverson’s No. 3 Denver Nuggets jersey goes on sale today at the NBA Store in New York. The jerseys are authentic, and cost $170. Last year, Iverson’s jersey was the fourth most popular in the league behind Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We’re taking a guess here, but this has to be the first time a jersey for a player traded in the middle of the season has gone on sale before that player has played a single game. Iverson is scheduled to play his first game for the Nuggets tomorrow.

What did Iverson’s move to the Nuggets do to wagering? I swear I don’t gamble, but it’s my job to cover it. Well, odds on went from 50-to-1 for the Nuggets to win the title this year to 18-to-1.

Business of Tailgating

Some of you might have seen me today on the air doing a piece on the business of tailgating. Huge business. Here’s some stats I thought you’d enjoy, courtesy of the American Tailgaters Association.

  • This year, an estimated 35 million to 50 million people will tailgate in the United States. Many of them (50 percent) will tailgate at least six times during the year.
  • The average tailgater is male (almost 80 percent), well educated (over 60 percent have college degrees) and relatively affluent (67 percent of hardcore tailgaters have an average household income of more than $75,000).
  • Most (70 percent) will spend more than $200 annually on tailgating products, but many (41 percent) will spend at least $500 annually.

My favorite items of the year, which I had on CNBC today are: Cruzin Cooler, a cooler that you can drive. It costs $349 and $499, depending on which motor you want. No back pain carrying that cooler and it’s fun to drive around.

The second item is Insta-Bench. It’s basically a bench in a bag that comes in a three ($65) and a six seater ($90). There’s never too many seats at a tailgate and this is a great item.

By the way, one item you can’t buy is Marilyn Zilka’s sliders. Every time I go to a Northwestern game, Marilyn - decked out in her purple - always makes those sliders for me. If I were smart, Marilyn, I’d sell them right out of your kitchen.

Card Collecting On The Rise?

When I was younger (here I go again), all my friends used to collect trading cards. Today, that’s definitely not the case and with rare exceptions, there’s no gum anymore. But card collecting is coming back, according to some new research. According to KidSay tracker, a marketing research company that tracks kids attitudes and behaviors, 28 percent of boys 8-11 collected sports cards this year versus only 9 percent last year. The firm says that 23 percent of boys 12-15 collected sports cards versus just 8 percent in 2005.

Mixed Martial Arts Report

When I reported on the International Fight League last Friday, shares skyrocketed. I wasn’t surprised that people were interested in investing, but I was surprised at how high it went. Well, it seems like everyday something about mixed martial arts comes across my desk. This morning, Century LLC - the world’s largest martial art supply company, announced it signed a licensing agreement with the top brand in the sport, Ultimate Fighting Championship to produce a line of products that will debut in retail stores next Fall.