All sports fans dream of having a man-cave filled with signed memorabilia from their favorite teams and players. Those collectors at some point have probably bought or will buy something through Steiner Sports Memorabilia. Steiner Sports was started in 1987 by Brandon Steiner and has since grown to become the leading producer of authentic hand-signed collectibles and memorabilia.
I had the recent pleasure via email to conduct an interview with Mr. Steiner. Here is the interview in it’s entirety.
What did you do prior to starting Steiner Sports?
Growing up in an extremely poor family in Brooklyn, at a young age I saw the “light”, the kitchen light. For a period of time during my childhood, my father was out of the picture and my mother was very ill, thus my brothers and I were left unsupervised for days on end. At 11 years old, I decided that I would get a job and take care of myself and give back to my family whatever I could. My situation led me to working at a local fruit and vegetable stand and eventually baking and delivering bagels door to door (this was before bagels were a staple in the American diet). Long story short, my early experience in the food industry led me to managing the original Hard Rock Café in New York and developing some of the first true sports bars and clubs in country.
Why/how did you start Steiner Sports?
Steiner Sports was started with one simple premise; get fans closer to the game. As a huge fan and collector of EVERYTHING sports as a kid, I quickly realized the power teams and athletes have in our daily lives. An individual can most certainly live without sports, but just a 5 minute conversation with his/her buddy about last night’s game will lighten up there day. Now imagine what a signed item from their favorite QB or point guard could do! Steiner Sports started as a marketing company which helped consumers get closer to their heroes through events and collectibles and for companies to promote and retain new business through sports. I started Steiner Sports with $4,000, of which, $1,500 was spent on a Mac II desktop. Today Steiner Sports is a $40 million dollar company. I do not know where that Mac II is today.
What are the biggest changes in sports memorablilia/collecting you’ve seen over the years since you started Steiner Sports?
In 1987 when Steiner Sports was founded, sports memorabilia was not nearly as common as it is today. Game used items were not even a thought for most collectors (who would want a player’s used jersey?) and unique items like dirt and artifacts from the stadiums (chairs, bricks, etc.) were years away from being viable collectibles. Since that time, sports memorabilia and collectibles has become a legitimate business and is an integral part of athlete’s marketing mix. It used to be when you made it as a player you got your shoe deal, your car deal, and if lucky, your soft drink/Gatorade deal. Now, memorabilia deals are an essential ingredient to that mix. Legitimacy has given our business the opportunity to knock on the doors of Fortune 500 CEOs and get into the living rooms of all sports fans.
What is the most impressive item you have in your own collection and what is the most impressive item you have for sale?
Like I mentioned before, I am a huge collector of EVERYTHING. Cards, photos, wrappers, shoes; your name it I probably collect it. Really hard to tell what my most “impressive” item is, but I have always thought the most impressive item we have for sale is a sectional of the frieze from the Old Yankee Stadium. Originally when I bought the stadium, I thought every hardcore Yankee fan would be killing to have this artifact of Yankee Stadium. Little did I know that a sectional of the frieze was literally 10 feet by 30 feet and weighed as much as a compact car! Despite that mistake, we have converted some of the frieze into a beautiful 7 pound replica through a process. This is a much more attractive item for all the wives of the hardcore Yankee fans who wouldn’t let their significant other place a half ton object in their house or yard.
I know through your website that people can send in items (or photos of items) and you will give them an estimate for how much it’s worth. What is the most impressive item you’ve evaluated from someone else’s collection?
Again, coming across so many items over the years, it’s really hard to say which was the most “impressive”. What I can say is that I am always amazed how many people stop me in the street or in the supermarket on a day to day basis and tell me about their “one-of-a-kind” item they have and ask “how much is this worth?”. I have seen everything from a used cigar from legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach to vintage baseball cards dating back to when tobacco companies produced them. However, what it really comes down to is how much does it mean to you? The value of an item is based upon the memories it holds for the owner.
What are some tips you’d give to someone who wants to start collecting sports memorabilia? Is it better to collect signed cards, bats, balls, helmets, photos or lithographs? Or is it better to have a varied collection? Or is it solely on each person’s individual preference?
I would start collecting the players and items you like. If you are a huge Eli Manning fan, buy Eli. In addition, do not get too cute and start buying the entire Giants’ roster. Keep things simple and always remember to take the time organize your collection and invest in the proper cases and frames. Sports collectibles are similar to art or wine where you may have an item that winds up being valued 100-500% more than its original sale price, but there is no standard growth rate or return on investment for that matter. Stick with the “sure things” like Jeter, Rivera, and the Mannings. Their careers speak for themselves and their values do to. Lastly, you got to have fun with this. Once you lose the element of fun, collecting is just another worry in your life.
When I was a kid in the 1980s I had a huge collection of baseball cards. Then in the late 1980s, the major companies started producing way too many of them and baseball card prices seemed to drop across the board (not counting the older cards of course). The baseball card market seemed to hit rock bottom in the 1990s until the card companies started releasing cards that featured autographs and game-used memorabilia. Are baseball cards worth collecting today (the newer cards from the last decade or so)?
What has happened in the card industry over the course of my lifetime is pretty astounding. You always hear about the stories of kids in the 50s and 60s using cards in their bike spokes and years latter learning that same card now is worth several hundred dollars if not thousands. The same could be said for kids in the 80s and 90s who collected thousands of cards which were presumed to worth hundreds of dollars, but wind up being worth a little more than the paper they are on. Again, it comes down to having fun and not worry about the dollar value until that day comes.
Who’s autograph is “hot” right now?
Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Derek Jeter. These guys always sell regardless of the time of season or quite frankly how their teams are playing. They are all proven winners at the highest stage and of the highest class. Outside of those guys, I am excited to see how a few of the young guys pan out.
Outside of Honus Wagner’s tobacco card, what are some of the other “Holy Grails” of the sports memorabilia collecting world?
Any vintage items like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth are “serious” items when you talk about collecting. Keep in mind, because all of these guys have passed, the supply of these items are relatively low and the demands are at all-time highs.
Years ago I asked my wife to take a $20,000 loan from our bank to buy a freight load of Mickey Mantle signed baseballs. At that time, Mantle’s price was reasonable and he signed regularly. Of course, my wife thought I was a lunatic and dismissed this plan.
Today that $20,000 investment would be a couple of million dollars.
I don’t hold this against her.
What is the best way someone can verify they have a legitimate signature (outside of obtaining the signature from the athlete themselves)? Is it obtaining a “certificate of authenticity”? Isn’t it easy to “forge” those and if so, how can someone who is buying an item off of a site like Ebay, ensure they are spending their money wisely and getting what they paid for? Do you think that the secondary-memorabilia market (sites like Ebay) have soured athletes’ opinions on whether they will sign an item for free anymore (at the ballpark etc)? Do you think the athletes take this into account when they do sign items (do they say to themselves, this autograph isn’t for their collection, it’s for Ebay etc)?
The name of the game is all about authenticity. Whether you are buying a gift for a loved one, starting a collection, or selling your own. Steiner Sports prides its self in providing a certificate of authenticity and our famous tamperproof Steiner hologram on all of the items we produce. In addition, any items signed under the auspicious of Steiner Sports is backed by an affidavit signed by the athlete(s) stating they signed on a particular date. I cannot speak to our competitor’s products, but our collectibles’ value is tied into the fact it is backed by our authenticity process.
Despite all of EBAY’s security measures, and they do a great job, I would be hesitant to buy from them unless it’s a Steiner product.
What is your most favorite sports moment that you witnessed?
It’s two. Mantle hitting a home run from the left and right sides at a twinight doubleheader with my dad at Yankee Stadium (I didn’t do too many things with my dad, so that was pretty cool). And Game 7 of Rangers-Devils in 1994 and then Game 7 of Rangers-Canucks, when the Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup.
Do you have a memorable story about a meeting between you and an athlete that you’d like to share with our readers?
Tons. So many of my meetings with players are insane and fun and crazy. One of the most memorable was when I met Clyde Frazier for the first time; he came into the Hard Rock Cafe when I was the assistant GM and no one knew who he was. He was my idol growing up. That’s when I found out the dark side of sports. Because that was the first time he had come back to New York since getting traded to Cleveland, and he was bitter. I remember thinking, “How can I get involved with this guy and get him back to New York, where he belongs?” And that’s exactly what happened.
I follow you on Facebook and Twitter and I see that you’re always posting tips for succeeding in business and life. What are some of the top tips you’d like to tell our readers about how they can succeed?
1. Be grateful every day, all the time, with everyone; the more you think you should have this or that, the less you will have. Being grateful will put you in the best position to have more.
2. Time management is key. Your best days are not your yesterdays and you must plan your tomorrow today!
3. Nothing great in business happens in normal working hours. Don’t be a paycheck player. Get all in. If it means 12 midnight, all nighter, a trip to whereever….be the type of person that gets things done and doesn’t let anything get in the way. “Commitment isn’t convenient.”
4. The qulaity of your life will be judged on the quality of your relationships. Work for good people and have good people work for you. I feel the same way with friends and other relationships. Keep quality people around you
It is amazing to think that a company as big and at the top of the sports collecting market was all started with $4,000 just because a sports fan wanted a way to bring athletes and the fans together. It’s also nice to know that normal guys just aren’t the only ones whos wives won’t let them buy every piece of signed memorabilia they want.
Thank you to Brandon Steiner for taking time out of his busy day to answer my questions. Be sure to click the links I’ve posted to follow Mr. Steiner on Facebook and Twitter – you never know, you might just win a piece of signed memorabilia!
As a sports collector myself, it is because of companies like Steiner Sports that allow the normal fan a way to obtain those pieces of memorabilia for their man-caves and offices that they otherwise would not be able to get.