Hall of Fame Marketing

So Ripken and Gwynn are elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Ripken is going to be the one making more bank. Why? Because Ripken - a tremendously astute businessman - has been building up his two-year-old memorabilia company, Ironclad Authentics, into a legitimate player. And the Hall of Fame announcement is really the company’s coming out party.

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Virtually every other Hall of Famer in the past got paid a fee for his signature, while a middleman agent took a cut from it. By having his own business, Ripken knocks out the middleman in his life and serves as the broker for others. Even for Gwynn, who will be exclusive to Ironclad over the next month.

Literally within minutes of Ripken and Gwynn getting announced as the Class of 2007, Ironclad had its Hof07.com up with plenty of items and prices.

A Ripken “HOF 2007” ball is $279, while a Gwynn signed ball with inscription is $179. A Ripken signed jersey is $699, while a Gwynn signed shirt is $599.

I had a chance to talk with Ray Schulte, general manager of Ironclad Authentics, to talk about the plans.

Tell me about the business?

Schulte: We started out very slow. Cal does everything 100 percent and highest quality. Our strategy was to enter the marketplace on a slow basis and gain momentum. We started with Cal, (Don) Mattingly, (Roberto) Clemente and a few other players we have great connections with. And quietly we have been gaining momentum. Three months into our existence, we joined forces with MLB. Going into 2007, we’re prepared to make a significant impact on the collectibles business.

What have you planned for this?

Schulte: We’ve established the portal Hof07.com that will have Cal Ripken Hall of Fame merchandise and also Tony Gwynn merchandise too. In planning for 2006, we didn’t want to be presumptuous in thinking that Cal would get into the Hall of Fame, but we had a plan. We wanted to have our own platform. So we created a memorabilia show that will be conducted in Baltimore on January 26-28 and we have Cal and Tony for the first time in a public signing their Hall of Fame inscriptions.

How much has Cal and Tony signed so far?

Schulte: Cal and Tony are, well I wouldn’t say superstitious, but they take this honor as something very dear to them. They haven’t signed any Hall of Fame merchandise yet. Now that the announcement has been made, we have plans to do signing with Cal and Tony this Thursday and Friday for the first time with their Hall of Fame inscriptions.

Your Web site has an exclusive offering for an official baseball with a Hall of Fame logo, how did that come about?

Schulte: In preparing for this year, we had conversations with lots of our suppliers and we started talking with the Rawlings group. In the past, we’ve done really well selling the Cal Ripken No. 8 ball and the retirement ball from 2001. So we went to the Rawlings people and asked if they’d be interested in a Cal Ripken Hall of Fame ball. That’s in process in the meantime, we’ve come out with the Hall of Fame ball.

What else do you guys have going?

Schulte: We did a full deal with QVC, three shows starting January 10th, one on Opening Day and one in July. QVC has proved to be a great partner from a sales and branding perspective. We’ve got probably over 25 to 30 MLB licensees with lots of things coming out this week.

How about Cal Ripken Jr. Hall of Fame peanut butter?

Schulte: We don’t have Hall of Fame peanut butter, but we are very into creating new products. We have Cal Ripken government issued stamps and you’ll see plenty of things being rolled out through the second week in February.

Gator Frenzy:

The Florida Gators romp of the Ohio State Buckeyes in Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game was incredible. But so too were the amount of items I found on GatorZone.com today.

I’d say more than 100 items include dual championship shirts (basketball and football) - including one that says “The King of College Sports: Never Been Done Before, Football and Basketball National Champions in the Same Year.”

Now that’s the way to take advantage of the hot market.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com