Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky lean over the boards to watch the play against the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
By and large, hockey players are seen as some of the most humble and accommodating professional athletes around, which is why it’s so awkward to see some of the game’s stars getting snared in uncomfortable business deals lately.
You see, there are autographs and then there is the autograph industry. And the autograph industry is getting players in trouble.
Earlier this season, young Edmonton Oilers stars Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano were put in the odd situation of signing autographs at a memorabilia show without realizing their fans were getting charged $25 per signature for the honor. The two sophomores weren’t aware of the fee until they were actually at the show and by that time, they were caught in a catch-22: disappoint their fans by walking away or stay and give them the impression hockey players aren’t satisfied with the pay they get for their day jobs.
More recently, as reported by the excellent Vancouver Province-based Orland Kurtenblog a trio of Canucks had a similar run-in with the industry. Fortunately for Alexandre Burrows, Taylor Pyatt and Ryan Kesler, they were alerted to the steep fees the promoter planned to charge – $30 for a small item, $40 for a big one (and as a quick aside, why charge more for a stick than a puck? The signature is the same size, isn’t it?) – and excused themselves from the engagement before it happened.
The whole thing makes me feel uneasy. Like many kids, I was in awe of pro athletes when I saw them in person. Getting a face-to-face autograph from Wendel Clark or Felix Potvin was huge because I got to see them in person, three feet away from me. It’s the same for kids today when they wait outside the arena gates for Henrik Lundqvist or Corey Perry or any other star.
Those sorts of connections are what make sports intrinsic to the lives of many kids (not to mention grown-up fans) and to have that spoiled by third-party commoditization just seems so disappointing. As Burrows noted in an interview with the Province, he didn’t even think his autograph was worth $30 – he signs things for kids all the time after games and he does it for free. That’s the sort of attitude hockey is known for and it’s something to feel good about.
Of course, there’re a lot of unscrupulous folk out there who will get autographs just to turn around and sell them at exorbitant prices and it’s not like the players can tell who these types are, so here’s the solution: personalize everything.
If there was anything even better than an autograph when I was a kid, it was an autograph that said “To Ryan, best wishes…” and then the signature. Of course, if I wanted to re-sell that glossy 8 X 10 photo now, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone interested in buying it, despite the fact I have a very common first name.
And that’s how it should be. I was always suspicious of autographed merchandise for sale, because I didn’t see the player sign it himself. How do I know someone didn’t forge it? Trying to determine signature forensics is probably pretty tough when a Sharpie is involved. Game-worn jerseys are very popular now, but they have strict authenticating procedures to make sure no one gets ripped off.
If the NHL or a team like the Canucks or Oilers wants to sell player-autographed merchandise and donate the proceeds to charity (a common practice), that’s totally cool. But third parties that trade in ink without giving customers (ugh) the tangible reward of actually meeting one of their heroes seems like a pretty hollow enterprise and a rather sad comment on where some people’s priorities are.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.