Monday, November 23, 2009

This Dirt Is Free

It started with some advertising disguised as a comment on my blog. It was a little different than usual, in that "Tom" almost seemed like a real person who just happened to be pitching the giant memorabilia company he was connected to in the middle of a topical comment. I did a search on the text of his comment to see if it popped up all over the place, but aside from Allan (Joy of Sox) confirming he got a similar comment from "Tom," I didn't find anything.

A few days later Tom returned with a new comment containing the same ad for his "client" (I'll reluctantly mention their name: Steiner Sports), proving he's not actually a reader of my blog by not reacting to the post I wrote about him. So I Googled again, and this time similar comments of his came up all over the Web. His M.O. was to read the top post at a blog, come up with an opinion on it from the perspective of a fan of that blogger's team, throw in his ad into the body of his comment, and then wrap it up with a "go team." So now this guy was pissing me off in more than just the "sneaky advertising" way--he was saying "Go Red Sox" in one breath, and "Go Yankees" in the next.

Tom spent a lot of time on this during his mid- to late-October spree. Before disappearing as quickly as he arrived, he posted under names like "Tom Palomino," "Tommy P," and "," victimizing over a dozen Red Sox blogs and at least 25 Yankees sites among others, even fooling some bloggers into responding to him. Google "my client, Steiner Sports" to see scores of his comments. Another good way to see his work in action is by looking at this page, (or see photo at left) which shows his activity at different team sites within the same larger site which he has one user name for. You can see a "Go Yanks," a "Go Sox," and a "Go Mets" written by the same person right in a row! How's that for "authenticity"?

But it gets worse. As if Steiner Sports's methods here aren't shady enough, they also appear to be instructing their henchman Tom to go to their own memorabilia auctions to jack up the prices. That is, unless there's another guy calling himself "Palomino" who happened to be bidding on Steiner-MLB memorabilia right at the same time Tom was making his comment rounds (the main listing pages show the Steiner logo), there's something really fishy going on here.

But fishy is nothing new to Steiner, who seem to be involved in a different lawsuit every week. In the last month we've heard about their "refurbished" Yankee Stadium seats and the jacket they stole. Then there was the time they deceived fans through an e-mail promotion. And the time the Players' Association sued them. And the time they stole Ralph Branca's money. (They've also been on the other end, suing Yadier Molina and David Ortiz for not signing enough autographs.)

Regardless of how they do business, Steiner Sports is a massive memorabilia and marketing company tied to MLB, the Yankees, the Red Sox, and over 5,000 athletes. They do not need any more money, and it stinks that they'd go around to blogs trying to sneak advertising in. To bid on their own auction items to drive up the price, though, is a whole other (immoral if not illegal) pack of wax. It's no surprise the BBB gives them an F.

This whole episode has really got me thinking about memorabilia. As you know, I love the thought of getting stuff that comes from Red Sox players or Fenway Park. My house is probably the only one in the world that contains both a speaker from Fenway and a game-worn undershirt of a Red Sox hitting coach. And I appreciate what companies like Steiner set out to do, which was to make stuff like that available. But to say Steiner "legitimized" the sports memorabilia industry is like saying the Internet ticket agencies legitimized the scalping industry. A guy in an office in a suit can fuck you over just as well as a guy in sweatpants on the street can--at least the sweatpants guy doesn't charge "convenience fees."

Think about what Steiner does. They sign athletes to exclusive contracts that force them to sign only their collectibles and only at their shows. They have them come to an office and sit there signing literally thousands of items, as their authenticators monitor the action with dollar signs in their eyes. Then they sell each item for a ridiculous price to you. Example: how much would the average Yankee fan pay for a Derek Jeter autographed picture? I'm not talking about a picture in a solid gold frame complete with a tuft of Derek's pubes. I just mean a glossy piece of paper, picture of Jeter rounding the bases, his rushed John Hancock on the side in blue ink. 50 bucks? A hundred? Try 600 dollars. ($700 with frame!) So if Brandon Steiner has Jeter sign 1000 of these, he stands to make 600 grand. Add to that jerseys ($850--super cheap because it's just a replica), cleats (a bargain at $2,500), balls (pocket change--$500 each), and you can see how this company is basically Devlin-McGregor.

What does this do for innocent kids who want their favorite player's autograph? I'd say it makes it unattainable, wouldn't you? Unless their dad is a Rockefeller, or they're lucky enough to get close to the player. But that would only happen if that player chooses to sign in the first place (much less of a possibility thanks to their exclusive Steiner contract). Ironic, isn't it? The player thinks, "I wouldn't want this autograph to get in the hands of baaaad people, so I better not sign," yet they're keeping the autograph out of the hands of a real fan, while allowing "collectors" to get their officially authenticated stuff, signed mechanically in a closed-off room for pay, at obscene prices. (Can you say TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS for a Joba Chamberlain game-used jersey?)

It's just like when people defend the zoo for locking up animals: "Hey, they get fed, and they don't have to worry about predators." Okay, well why don't you hop in this cage here for the rest of your life--don't worry, there's plenty of food in there! You'll never worry again. You like Cheetos, right?

The point is, memorabilia is no longer in "the wild," but in the only place worse: a sterilized office on the top floor. And forget about running a card store these days. Unless you want to sell out to Steiner, the Wal-Mart of sports junk, with a blue light special in the jock strap (literally?) department.

And now Steiner has yet another venture, the "Last Licks" ice cream/card stores. Since Brandon Steiner loves kids so much (kids who have 20 grand burnin' a hole in their pocket, I guess), he's developed a store where they can get an ice cream treat, buy some five dollar packs of baseball cards, and get autographs when their favorite stars periodically stop by. You know what this is leading to, right? Pretty soon these stores will be all over the country, pulling athletes in every city away from the local card shop, and into the Steiner store to do signings. (I actually came to that realization before reading that the chain is "soon to become a franchise"--so there you have it.) And guess what, kids? It ain't free! Make sure you bring your wallet to the ice cream store, because friendly Mr. Steiner will not only charge you for the autograph, he'll make you pay extra if you want an inscription or a certificate of authenticity.

Everybody has the right to make money. Brandon Steiner is an admitted "entrepreneur since birth"-type, and that's fine. The guy would sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and include a certification hologram. Not the way I roll, but his right nonetheless. But just because a businessman can come up with an idea, that doesn't mean he should go through with it. An autograph is a souvenir of a special moment--Brandon will tell you that. So what is it in his mind that says, "if I pay the celebrity, he'll sign all the autographs I want, and I'll resell them to make a profit, while taking the personalization completely out of the whole experience"? That's not giving to kids, that's taking from kids. Are the millions worth it? I can't imagine this man gets much sleep at night.

This is just the latest industry to become globalized and monopolized. Every MLB web site looks the same. Every NFL coach wears the same kind of jacket. Everybody's on facebook. Every car, phone, store, restaurant, and cable provider comes from the same little pool of corporations. And soon, every piece of sports memorabilia will have a Steiner hologram on it. Where's the variety and the locality? There should be limits on how far a company can stretch, how much money they can make. It's okay to go for as much as you can get, but why shouldn't we limit that amount so everyone gets a fair chance?

Until that happens, and aside from boycotting, which I know I'll be doing, what can be done about Steiner? It's up to the athletes! These guys who make so much money anyway should think about not whoring out their signature to the highest bidder (which is always Steiner). We know David Ortiz and Yadier Molina won't be doing any more business with these guys, buy how about everybody else? Why not decided for yourself who gets your autograph? It's a piece of you. Do you not sign enough contracts?

Note to bloggers: If you're on the following list, you have a comment from Tom and an ad for a mega-corporation that they DIDN'T PAY YOU FOR that you might want to delete:

Sox and Dawgs, Sawxblog, Over the Monster, Bottom Line, Mighty Quinn, Red Sox MLBlog, Brownie Points, Cursed to First, Red Sox Video Diaries, Sox Monster,, River Ave Blues (who warned him), Pinstriped Bible,, In Mo We Trust, LoHud, iYankees, Son of Steinbrenner, Toasted Joe, Bronx Baseball Daily, Pinstripe Alley, Ultimate Banter, Daily News, Yankees MTM, No You're a Towel, Pinstripes PA, Jorge Says No, TYBW, My Pinstripes, Flair for the Dramatic, Sox vs. Stripes, 3:10 to Joba, Weblog That Derek Built, Behind the Moat, Yanks Baseball Whisperer, NY Baseball Hack, Kim Jones' blog, and even that silly woman who "divorced" the Yanks that one time for publicity. And that's just the Red Sox and Yankees blogs.

Sometimes Tom claims to feel guilty and that he needs to push merchandise to support the family. Other times he admits he's getting paid and that he "LOVE(s) IT." Sometimes he goes to Yankee blogs as a Red Sox fan or Mets fan for a nice twist. He also goes to Celtics blogs and Laker sites, as a fan of both rivals. He also likes the Mets, Phillies, Tigers, Dodgers, and Alabama football (and delves into women's tennis), usually pretending to be a fan of the team being blogged about, and always plugging Steiner. You can also find him at neutral sites like FanGraphs and message boards, and even Steiner client Derek Jeter's blog (on which he called Steiner his "boss" as opposed to "client.") My favorite one, though, is when he went so far as to pretend to be a UMass-Lowell RiverHawks basketball fan.

I know thinking about the personality of this hired gun is like reminiscing about what it was like when Mrs. Doubtfire was our nanny, but I really wonder about this Tom guy. Who knows who he really is--if it's just somebody within Steiner, or someone they actually recruited to go on this mission. It's funny how all his comments have the feel of an outsider who comes in with all this knowledge, but just can't seem to mix in with the group. He comes by, reiterates what the host is saying, then makes an awkward, incongruous comment about why you might want to think about joining his religion, and when he sees everybody's avoiding him, he moves on to the next group. And who's the marketing genius over there at America's top sports marketing firm who decided to have him use the same damn name to post as fans of different teams? I guess it doesn't matter now, as the entity known as Tom Palomino has retreated into the e-night. Since I doubt the company made too much money from Tom's reign of terror, the only possible effect Steiner could see from his filthy footprints now is its own undoing. But we should be so lucky.

Well said, and well researched. I just killed the comment you mentioned, which totally slipped by me before. It went up Oct. 23 on my site.

Followed this link from redsock's site... great write-up, Jere! These people are just amazing (and not in the good sense of the word). They'd pimp their own mum for $5.
A home run into the monster seats, Jere. Way to fisk this poseur and the silly company behind him.
Thanks, RS, RSM, FF, and ECI ECI YBAB...
Excellent article, Jere. Thanks for all the great info. I'll delete this crap off my blog...
Thanks for bringing this to my attention. The plug has been deleted but the comment left up, for posterity (evidence?).
Good job man!
Wow, what a read!!! Great piece here, jere.

I'm amazed the great lengths people go to ("Tom" and Steiner) to hawk this stuff that SHOULD BE 'free'. I am a supporter of free markets and deregulation for the most part...if people want to pay ridiculous amounts for this memorabilia, let em. But I do agree with everything that you said about it sucking majorly for the kids and the company fleecing people on this stuff. Fact is, the prices are that high because people are willing to pay that. You or I certainly wouldn't, but there is a huge market of bottomless pocketed, unsentimental, "gotta have it to look cool" sports "fans" out there that actually pay these obscene prices. Steiner is just taking advantage of a market. Granted, they're clearly a shady company with shady business practices, and I think this will eventually catch up with them.

But, from looking at the Steiner/MLB auctions, this is THE company that MLB has tagged to represent them and sell authentic I guess piss on MLB. Piss on Steiner too for being so shady.

I say shame on the athletes for shamelessly selling out like this. I'm glad Ortiz and Molina had the good sense to get out. Their desire for more money is what keeps Steiner going. They choose to sign the contracts and sit in the top-floor room signing stuff, they choose to make appearances to sign autographs at places they know charge money, they choose not to sign stuff at games because they are under contract. I can't say what I would do if me signing my signature garnered a profit - hell, I might take advantage of it too. But as an outsider and true fan of the game, if I was making big league bucks, I would do my best to be the most accessible player to kid (and adult) fans....not that thats here or there, or relevant at all....I've gotta stop rambling.

Anyway, I really do appreciate your research into this guy. I've been following your posts about him since his original comment, and it made me curious to see exactly how in-depth this guy was. Thanks for the read!

That being said, check out my client, Blowjobs Inc, it'd mean a lot to me but not as much as a blowjob from your favorite team and mine, the New York Yankees. Lord knows I can't see getting another BJ from that awful franchise in Queens.
I guess it's time to fess up that all of my comments over the years were really just meant to be a subtle form of advertising for the Acme Corporation.
Jere, not sure if I should be flattered or insulted that they haven't hit Subway Squawkers with these ads disguised as comments!
Thanks for bringing this guy to light. Got rid of him on our site, which you had listed.

Not to give him advertising even more, but it turns out the dirt is, in fact, not free:
Yes, that's the reference I was going for, their much-maligned dirt-selling.... don't ask Mike Francesa about that stuff....
I admire your tenacity in rooting this out, Jere. Thanks.
Thanks for everybody's comments on this. Glad you cared.

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