Passion of Red Sox fans tested by efforts to cash in on success


Saturday, December 18th 2004, 12:14 pm
By: News On 6


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The passion of Boston Red Sox fans is being tested like never before this holiday season. Everyone, it seems, is trying to cash in on the team's first World Series win in 86 years _ including the players.

From pennants to T-shirts and limited edition Christmas tree ornaments to glittery jewelry, there's something in every price range marking the team's memorable triumph.

But if you want an autograph from Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon or any of the team's other stars, better have your checkbook handy or visit an ATM first.

Want sweet-swinging Manny to sign a ball or photo? He was at sports collector shows in Providence and Marlborough, Mass., this weekend, where promoters charged $195 and $179 respectively. Prices were even higher for autographs on bats, jerseys and other items signed by the series most valuable player.

How about ``Big Papi'' David Ortiz and ``Caveman'' Damon? They were signing on Saturday at the Providence show, dubbed ``The Sox Spectacular'' by New Jersey-based promoter Reverse The Curse 2004. Prices were $175 on balls and photos and $250 for so-called premium items _ and that's after a $20 fee just to get into the Rhode Island Convention Center.

``It is unbelievable, prior to the World Series, guys like Damon and Ortiz were reasonable, in the $30 to $40 range'' for photos and balls, said Mike Riccio, a veteran Connecticut show promoter. ``The prices have simply skyrocketed.''

Tom McDonough, a longtime collector who's run a popular collector's show in Rhode Island for 28 years, says the jump in prices starts with the players' appearance fees.

``The players are cashing in ... then the promoters have to make a profit,'' McDonough said. ``Winning (the championship) changed everything. These guys are going to go down in folklore.''

But the autograph prices ``are unprecedented _ way out of line,'' he said.

Promoters of the Providence collector show declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

Jeffrey Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of Texas-based TRISTAR Productions, said autograph prices at the company's Marlborough show reflect higher appearance fees for Red Sox players and pent up demand from fans.

``We haven't seen anything in sports that really matches this, the fan base and their hunger after 86 years,'' Rosenberg said.

He said the company has raised the initial lofty prices it charged immediately after the World Series for team-signed balls and bats, to $2899 and $3999 respectively. Signed jerseys sold out between $3,000 and $4,000, he said.

``The market will dictate whether prices ... are fair,'' Rosenberg said.

Interest in Red Sox merchandise intensified after the World Series victory, when merchants throughout New England reported being unable to keep caps, T-shirts, jerseys and other Red Sox-related items on shelves.

Sales of team-related memorabilia, particularly items tied to the World Series, also peaked and remains strong, based on dealer reports and auction sales. On Thursday a search on eBay for ``Red Sox World Series'' turned up 3,600 items for sale.

New York-based Photo File produced a composite photo of team players that in two months has become the 17-year-old company's all-time best seller, besting New England Patriot Adam Vinatieri's winning kick in the 2001 AFC Championship Game, company President Chuck Singer said. The company has also produced dozens of other images related to the World Series, including one with a Red Sox cap atop Babe Ruth's grave.

``Everything has been popular, we can't keep it in stock,'' Singer said. ``There is a passion for (the Red Sox) that I have not seen anywhere else.''

Game-used items _ which many collectors then pay to have signed _ are among the most sought-after and costly.

The lineup card from the final game of the 2004 World Series received a top bid of $165,000 on a Web site sanctioned by Major League Baseball.

At the Marlborough show TRISTAR was selling for $69 and $99 pieces of the wood bench the Red Sox sat on during the final World Series game in St. Louis.

``People are buying history,'' Rosenberg said.

Some memorabilia dealers, however, can no longer afford to carry signed Red Sox merchandise.

``I just don't have an outlet for it,'' said Tom Shaughnessy, a retired Waltham, Mass., firefighter who now sells sports memorabilia. ``My customers wouldn't mind paying $40 for a signed Damon ball, but I doubt they'd pay $150'' or more.

Riccio and other dealers say there's little chance Red Sox items autographed at today's prices will maintain their value in the coming years.

But that might be good news for many fans, including kids, who can't afford it now.

``People think of this as a kids' hobby but it really isn't,'' he said. ``It is it an adult hobby and it is expensive.''