How Much is That Kid's Autograph Worth?

sports card collage

How Much is That Kid's Autograph Worth?
| Published March 3, 2014 |

By Earl H. Perkins
Thursday Review associate editor

Coming to a high school football field near you: sports cards with your children's pictures and autographs emblazoned on the face of the card, according to USA Today.

Controversy has struck the sports world from a very strange angle. That's right, you probably didn't even know they existed, but there's a controversy concerning the manufacture, sale and secondary market of sports cards honoring prep stars.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a game for top recruits bound for college, and one of the first places they visit at the venue is an autograph area. The players sign their name a couple hundred times and the cards could become very valuable—if the player becomes a star.

Redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler is fighting for the starting quarterback position at the University of Southern California, but he remembers signing numerous autograph sheets for the company that produced his commemorative trading cards.

"We sign like 200 in a row," Kessler said. "I didn't think twice about it. You just sit down and sign autographs. I thought it was going to the soldiers or something like that."

Well, it doesn't. Young players act naïve, but somebody needs to be telling them what's been going on. For decades, high school athletes have been taking steroids and anything else they think will improve their chances of becoming stars, and tons of other people also want to cash in on this potential revenue stream.

A U.S. Army card of Alabama's TJ Yeldon is priced at $499.99 on an E-Bay website. That doesn't mean that's what it will eventually sell for, and it ought to be obvious that a miniscule amount of players become stars, with all the lesser cards bound for a landfill.

Some do-gooders suggest that this amounts to exploitation of athletes, but for most of the players, this is the only time they'll ever see their pictures on memorabilia. It's also something fun that they can give to friends and family and save for when they eventually have to head out into the real world. The sales help publicize the US Army, Leaf and the players, with everybody benefiting from this situation.

The NCAA claims this is not an area for their concern, because players have not yet enrolled at universities. The one incident they did take exception to concerned Johnny Manziel. The Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner was investigated for allegedly receiving money for signing autographs, which is an NCAA rule violation.

Leaf prints relatively few card sets, which makes their cards fairly valuable in comparison to others. And Kessler doesn't feel like somebody's exploiting him.

"Big-time athletes know that people are going to want to associate with you and get anything they can from you," he said. "So if someone makes it big, then they can sell the card for a lot of money? That doesn't bother me. If that happens to me, it probably means I'm doing something good."

As a caveat, beware if you're considering the purchase of any autographed items that you did not see personally signed. Approximately half of all autographs for sale are counterfeits, and your fake autograph will denigrate the item's value.

A cottage industry has sprung up supporting the idea of trading cards, for kids of all ages in school, as a fun incentive to support their activities—sports or otherwise. One online company, Print, offers relatively low cost, high quality color printing of “trading cards” for almost every imaginable school or after-school activity, from art to drama, from soccer to football to softball. Print Firm’s website says “no matter [what] your child feels passionate about, printing trading cards encourages kids to follow their dreams!”

A quick search online shows that the variety of cards available for kids’ sports is limitless, with virtually every age category included, and every imaginable form of competition—girls softball, girls basketball, girls lacrosse, volleyball, boys football, soccer, basketball and baseball.