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Want an Autograph? Know Your Collector’s Etiquette

by Rob Bertrand (01/01/14).

There’s a right way and a wrong way of getting autographs before and after games. Rule one: Let the kids go first.

I have written before about best practices and proper etiquette for acquiring through-the-mail autographs, but what about acquiring autographs in person?

There are many different schools of thought on the proper dos and don’ts when it comes to in-person autographs, and many of them are specific to the venue and circumstances in which they are being acquired. Here are some practical guidelines for different situations you may find yourself in while adding to your autograph collection.

Scheduled Signing Events
This type of environment, in and of itself, can take on several forms—from designated autograph pavilions at a collectibles convention to in-store appearances for promotional and marketing purposes. Regardless of the reason, here are some things to keep in mind to insure you walk away from the event with a memorable experience:

Athletes typically are contracted for a period of time for major signing events. Arrive early.

• Arrive early. Whether it is a free event or ticket purchase is required, you want to be one of the first 50 people, if at all possible. Free events can draw significant crowds, and typically the athlete has agreed to sign for a specified amount of time not for a specified number of people. You don’t want to be the next person in line when the athlete has fulfilled his or her contractual obligation and leaves;

• Bring what you want to have signed. If going to a paid event, some athletes put restrictions on what they will sign and, more importantly, what they will not sign. You can usually find out this information in advance on the show promoter’s website. While promoters and conventions will often have items available for purchase, don’t count on it and bring your own photographs, cards or memorabilia. Because of the usually ample space provided to the signers at such event, this is the perfect place to get larger items like jerseys, bats and posters signed;

• Bring the signing instrument you want the athlete to use. While promoters usually have a variety of different pens available, plan ahead. If you want a signature with a gold or silver paint pen, bring them with you, shake them while waiting in line and quickly test it on a piece of paper before handing it and your item to the athlete. The last thing you want is to discover your paint pen is clogged and leaves a clumpy signature that isn’t legible;

• When handing over your item to be signed, thank the athlete for taking the time to be there, ask him or her to sign specifically where you want the signature, ask if you can take a picture while it’s being signed (this can serve as partial provenance) and, if allowed, ask if you can have your picture taken with the athlete (the person behind you or the athlete’s assistant is usually willing to do this). Sometime photo opportunities are not allowed or cost extra. Know the rules before you get to the front of the line;

• Don’t ask for multiple signatures unless you have paid for them;

• Thank the athlete again.

Tiger Woods was intending to sign autographs until the unruly crowd pushed over fences. Then nobody got his signature.

Stadium Venues, Pre- or Post-Game
Many teams across multiple sports and leagues provide player access for autographs inside the stadium, either before or after games. Not all athletes participate. Though a fence typically restricts access to the player parking lot, often it is usually acceptable to wait outside this area pre- and post-game, as some athletes will sign a few autographs as they leave or arrive to the stadium:

• The usual elbowing and pushing of these situations as autograph collectors crowd and jockey for position is prohibitive of having larger items signed. Balls, photos and trading cards are easy to carry and won’t get damaged in a crowd;

• Harassing athletes by calling their name in an attempt to get them to come to you is usually futile, but people do it anyway. Don’t be that person. Wait patiently and if someone wants to sign he or she will. No amount of begging or pleading will make any difference;

• If an athlete does come over to sign, don’t be pushy. I have seen athletes first-hand turn right around and say, “Forget it.” Be courteous. Let kids go first. Even if you don’t get an autograph as a result, it’s the right thing to do;

• Ask the athlete if he or she would sign your item specifically where you would like it and say thank you.

If you seek an autograph at a team hotel or known hangouts, be courteous and gauge the player before asking. And be courteous!

Player Hotels
There are ways to find out where a visiting team is staying, but I will not share them here as I think the practice comes close to crossing a line. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you know the hotel team members are staying, follow these guidelines for the best chance of success:

• Blend in. Pro players stay at nice hotels. Don’t show up in the lobby in cargo shorts and a team jersey. You will stick out like a sore thumb and typically be asked to leave by hotel security;

• Do not bring more than one item to have signed per player and keep the items small. A dozen baseballs can easily fit in a backpack, but try that with footballs and, again, you will stick out like a sore thumb;

• Try to position yourself in the lobby where you have clear sightlines of the entrance, the elevators and the bar. These are where you will have your best chance of success;

• When you see an athlete, do not run up to him or her. Walk over and say something disarming like, “Great game today,” or, “You’ll get ‘em next time.” This sets the tone for the engagement. Based on the reaction, you may decide to not ask at all. However, if the athlete responds, makes eye contact, laughs or smiles, go ahead and politely ask, “Would it be alright if I got your autograph for my personal collection?” Combined with the disarming comment, you have respectfully asked for the autograph and at the same time let the athlete know you don’t plan on selling it on eBay.

With a little luck, patience, manners and these tips, you’ll have a good chance, over time, of acquiring some great signature pieces to add to your collection.


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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