|Bill Mattis: still a
Autograph collectors might feel that “hobby” shows have devolved into an “us versus them” standoff. Do the autograph guest signers really care? Do the show promoters want anything besides money?
There’s still hope, beginning with the old-school believers like Bill Mattis, CEO of AllStar, Inc. Just like the guy in the circus who keeps all the plates spinning on all the poles at once, Bill is perfecting the art of pleasing the show promoter, the autograph guest AND the customer-collector all at the same time. This man knows the difference between black and blue Sharpie (or ball-point) and makes sure his signers do, too!
Bill took time from his busy schedule to talk about life from the other side of the autograph table.
Q: I found out about your impressive agency from your son Will on the www.sportscollectors.net forum. Have you learned about the autograph hobby from him?
A: Will is not the only collector in the family. I have all kinds of autographed stuff I collect. Unfortunately, my lack of spare time has not allowed me to really work on it, but I still have them sitting around waiting for retirement age.
To show you just how hard core I am, I have an 1981 Fleer and 1984 Topps baseball card set I’m working on. I have about 600 different of each set signed or so. I also have a Phillies collection, a Pitt Panthers collection, and a few other sets I put aside for myself.
Q: What do your past and present baseball clients say in general about fan mail? How many sign currently for collectors through the mail?
A: Many of our guys sign through the mail. I know some of them charge something, but I think most sign for free.
They are really surprised how many requests they still get on a weekly basis. Even the more obscure guys we work with are surprised people can even find them. Many times I hear the remark about how they MUST be running out of these cards, I’ve signed so many there can’t be that many more out there unsigned!
Q: How many current and former players do you book for hobby shows yearly? What concerns do you (and your clients) have about these appearances? That is, what, besides a fee, do you negotiate (such as number of autographs)?
A: Oh geesh…I probably book about 70 or 80 deals for shows over the course of a year? It might even be more than that. In some cases we’ll have as many as 5 or 6 different guys appearing at one show on a given weekend. We work with about 80 different players past and present, but many times we can get somebody not on our list due to them knowing one of our guys…and then usually our list grows!
The biggest concerns we have at appearances is that our guy gets treated fairly by the promoters. Too many times these players have horror stories about being taken advantage of over the years. There are times when they walk away from the shows following a bad experience never wanting to do a show again.
The promoters we deal with on a regular basis these days are all VERY good people, otherwise we wouldn’t be dealing with them! So it’s not like we have to “police” them. But we always try to be there for our players in case there’s a problem or a disagreement about the deal.
We try to always utilize a piece count for our deals. A price per autograph and a minimum number of autographs for the deal. With a piece count deal, everybody knows what’s expected and the player can relax and enjoy himself. He can even interact with the public and talk to everybody.
If the deal is a “time deal” it always seems like a fire drill, everybody trying to get as many autographs signed as possible within the certain time frame and somebody usually feels like they got cheated. The player can’t even take a phone call or go to the bathroom without calling a time out.
In addition to the negotiations and the accompanying the player to the event, my company also provides the player transportation to/from the airport and/or hotel. We assist in arranging the flights, and we just try to do everything we can to make sure it’s a good experience all around. We want our players to be happy.
Q: Frank Thomas (1950s Pirates) told me that he lobbied Topps for years to get included in their Heritage sets. Do you have an example of helping former baseball players deal with card companies concerning their image or their autograph?
Not really. We certainly promote our players and would lobby for them to be in sets if they wished us to do so. But mostly they aren’t concerned with that stuff. Most of them have been on so many cards that it just doesn’t matter to them. They’re kind of numb to it all. I do notice that they usually know which card is their rookie card though, and I think that’s kind of cool.
Q: Will can tell you about all the complaints on the SportsCollectors.net forum about MLB Alumni Marketing, alleging how they’ve mishandled so many private signings in which collectors pay a fee to send in their cherished item to get an autograph. Has your group done these signings in the past?
What would it take for you to do these in the future?
A: YES! We’ve done a million private signings! Well, maybe not a million but definitely lots and lots.
My becoming an agent is probably owed to the days when we did private signings when I was working with Main Line Autographs (one of the BEST autograph dealers out there by the way). Many of the players were so happy with the job we did that they told me if I ever could get them deals, to let them know. “Instant Agent!”
It wasn’t quite that easy, but that’s how it started. Once the players knew they could trust us, we were able to expand it from there.
Sometimes people don’t understand how difficult private signings can be. It would be easy if you’re just getting 30 jerseys, 50 mini helmets and 100 photos signed by a guy and you sold items that way. But when you accept items mailed in to you, you have to keep track of what kind of pen they want, what color pen they want, where they want to have it signed and they also want the promoter to keep the cost down as low as possible.
If you have 60 or 70 people responding to a private signing ad, it can be very difficult. To make matters worse, some of these private signings are done through the mail to keep costs down. Then you’re relying on the player to get all of the instructions correct and you really have a recipe for disaster on your hands.
I am not very familiar with the MLB Alumni people and the job they do, but I would guess that they aren’t very experienced at this autograph stuff and they probably don’t know how particular collectors can be.
My suggestion to the collectors is kind of obvious…if you have something REALLY valuable that you’re not prepared to have messed up by an accident, hold it and wait until you can see that player in person, even if you have to spend much more at that time to get it signed.
I see lots of the “mail in” items in the back rooms of the shows and I have no idea how they keep that stuff straight. The people at the CSA shows are the best at it by far, I must admit. Their organization is outstanding there and they have people who have been in the business for YEARS doing the signings back there. Many of the guys associated with CSA are collectors themselves so they know what to look for. MLB Alumni?…Uhhhh…probably not so much I’m guessing.
As far as AllStarInc doing private signings again, I wouldn’t be completely opposed to it except that some of our promoters may take exception to us selling our own guys out from under them. I’d rather arrange the private signing through a promoter and let them sell it as opposed to us doing that. It may cost my player a portion of the deal but it also might get him booked again and again down the road.
We are true agents for the players, not middle men. There are some promoters/dealers who try to classify themselves as player reps but they really aren’t. They’re entrepreneurs who buy a deal from a player, and then sell it for as much as they can get. They really don’t represent the best interests of the player as much as themselves. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but they shouldn’t be calling themselves “the exclusive autograph agent of Player x” cause they really aren’t an agent.
Q: Any other news that baseball fans and autograph collectors would appreciate?
A: I have a feeling that many of your readers and members know me, at least they might recognize me from shows etc. I must say that everybody is always so nice when they come up and say hello and talk about the days when I was with Main Line Autographs etc. It’s very nice to see the same friends when we visit the different markets. Please, if you see me at a show, say hello.
We are now also certified NFL and MLB contract agents in addition to the appearance stuff we do, so hopefully down the road we’ll be representing some big names for their contracts as well.
I’m hoping we see a resurgence in the “little card/autograph show” philosophy again. I can remember the days when there were monthly shows everywhere and people had fun. I know the business/hobby has changed dramatically and has become unaffordable to many, but I would like to see more “one or two guest” shows make a comeback. It just seems that all we have are shows where 40 players are signing and it’s crazy.
If anybody is interested in having a guest at a show like that, let me know. I have many players who would like to appear at such a venue. Sometimes these guys get lost in the big shows. Also, if any of your members or readers would like to set up a private signing with any of our guys, have them contact me. I obviously have to make it worth the player’s time, but maybe we can work something out. I will try my best.
Q: I’m impressed by the website and Will. Thanks for sharing your perspectives. What can collectors do for you?
A: Thanks very much for your kind remarks. My son Will is going to be taking a much larger role in our company as we continue to grow in different directions (much like my waistline!).
It would be a big help to us if people would “like” AllStarInc on facebook and “follow” “AllStarInc9” and “AllStarIncAgncy” on Twitter. Please also have them check out our website at www.allstarincagency.com
We still do also have a retails site at www.allstarincwebsite.com
that is still active and people can order items. And lastly, we do still list items on eBay from time to time under the name of “AllStarInc”.
I know that many “true collectors” have hard feelings about the business side of this whole thing and may not be my biggest fan as a result. But we try to make the experience fun for everybody including the fans and the collectors.
Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about the hobby/business.
Readers: Do you have questions about the business side of the autograph “hobby?” Bill is willing to share his insights. Please, ask. E-mail me, or post your questions in the comments section below.