|Wednesday, April 17
Practice makes the perfect signature
By Darren Rovell
David Carr's signature on his NFL contract should be John Hancock quality. Not because it's on a deal that includes a guaranteed $11 million signing bonus, but because the Fresno State quarterback has signed more than 2,000 times for trading card companies over the past couple of weeks.
"On a given year, top players can make $30 to $50 per signature," said Brian Edmonds, manager of athlete marketing for Octagon, which arranged card deals for clients Carr, Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, Hawaii wide receiver Ashley Lelie and others.
The prices are a function of how rich the draft is.
Last year, Edmonds was able to get $50 a signature for Michael Vick, whom the Atlanta Falcons made the first pick of the draft. Vick was able to get that price because every company wanted him in their sets. Typically, a player projected to be a mid to late first-round pick commands about $10 per signature.
Since cards of the players often aren't available before the draft, most players sign stickers provided by the companies. The stickers are eventually placed on the cards after they've been manufactured. The process speeds production and ensures that card sets hit the market soon after the draft.
Even though there's good money in the signing, there are always stories of players whose signatures weren't up to snuff.
Reche Caldwell, a University of Florida wide receiver who is rated fifth among flankers in this weekend's draft, had to re-do 700 of his 3,000 autographs because they were unreadable, said Tom Geideman, president of Sage, a company that has had 43 potential draftees sign for this year's HIT set. Sage is the only card company that releases its product before the draft.
Four years ago, Geideman said one player turned in eight different signatures with three different spellings of his name.
But Geideman said he has been impressed with the penmanship of such players as Sedrick Irvin, who was featured in 1999 draft set, and Antonio Bryant, who appears in this year's set.
"Their signatures were so unbelievably consistent that it looked like they were done by machine," Geideman said. "But there were small differences. I guess they just spent a lot of time in the back of the classroom practicing them."
In the Sage set, which will be released on Wednesday, the signatures of 15 players, including Bryant, are analyzed for personality traits.
Greg Norman writes on his Web site, Shark.com, that the hopes of the nation's top golfers to beat Tiger Woods in the future depend on one factor: Tiger's Swedish girlfriend. "Maybe Tiger Woods will become so head-over-heels in love with his new girlfriend, Elin Nordegren, that he'll want to get married, have children and quit playing golf for a living," Norman says. Internet searches on search engine Google.com for Nordegren during the week of the Masters (April 8-15) were approximately 90 times greater than the number of searches for her name the previous week, Google spokesperson Eileen Rodriguez said. Last week, 46.9 percent of ESPN.com users responding to a Page 2 poll voted Nordegren their favorite nanny.
Although they didn't make the playoffs, merchandise of two Los Angeles Clippers -- Lamar Odom and Darius Miles -- are among the 10 best-selling players in the league, and the team is also among the 10 most popular teams in stores this season.
Brisk sales of jerseys of newcomers to the list such as Miles and Odom, combined with the return of Michael Jordan, will help the league increase merchandise sales by 35 percent this year.
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has been on the top-10 list for the past 10 seasons, the longest streak among active players.
The Dallas Mavericks, who debuted their new logo this season, made the list. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, however, attributed the team's sales to other reasons. He told ESPN.com it was due to "the charisma of our training staff" and that the "coaches are babe magnets."
Keep on quacking
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com