Aaron Hernandez jerseys: if you're banking on a profit . . . buyer beware

Jerseys a hot seller after player is charged with murder
Joe Centers
Jul 6, 2013

 

A few months ago, an official New England Patriots jersey licensed by the NFL and adorned with the No. 81 of Aaron Hernandez would have cost anywhere from $100 to $250.
Hernandez was an All-Pro tight end, a popular player on an immensely popular team. It was common to see the No. 81 jersey scattered throughout Gillette Stadium on a Sunday.
But the name "Aaron Hernandez" forever changed last week. Charged with first-degree murder, Hernandez will never again be associated with his accomplishments on the football field.
The Patriots moved swiftly to erase connections with him, releasing Hernandez within hours of his arrest last Wednesday and then offering a jersey buyback last Friday. Fans can trade in their No. 81 jerseys for another jersey, provided that jersey was bought at the Patriots Pro Shop or online at PatriotsProShop.com. The window of opportunity is Saturday from 1 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it must be done at the ProShop in Foxborough, Mass.
There is no way to know the size of the crowd that will gather, and Patriots spokesman Stacey James would not give an exact number of official Hernandez jerseys bought from the ProShop, either in person or online, but did say that it was in the "thousands."
Some people already are buying and selling Hernandez jerseys. Within days of the team's announcement of the jersey trade-in-weekend, Hernandez jerseys began saturating the secondary Internet market.
Autographed Hernandez jerseys were selling for more than $1,000 early in the week, with one signed red jersey reportedly netting $3,050. Even jerseys without a signature were drawing bids of $300 to $500, significantly more than the items would cost in retail.
The bidding seems to defy logic. As Hernandez sits in jail, daily stories seemingly emerge of his abhorrent behavior, and his already tarnished reputation continues to sink. It is yet another in a classic case of a professional sports figure gone bad.
Yet there is a faction of memorabilia collectors that seems to be banking on an eventual market on Hernandez items.
They'll probably be disappointed.
"I find it ridiculous," said Newtown,Conn.-based sports memorabilia expert Mike Riccio, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years. "If someone is buying something at $1,000, usually it's an investment at that point. And I can't imagine anyone paying more than that or even that kind of money, to be honest with you. It just makes no sense. ... .If you're spending $1,000 on a Hernandez jersey, to me, good luck to you. You just wasted $1,000."
Sean Morrow, 29, of Watertown, Mass., said he remains unsure of what he will do with his No. 81 Patriots jersey. He has considered throwing the jersey away, going the eBay route, or he might just keep the jersey and wear it in the fall to games, bars or parties.
"But with all that has happened, is it the smartest decision on my part?" Morrow said in an email. "You certainly don't want to get in arguments or get dirty looks from people while you're trying to enjoy the game."
Morrow said he might bring his old Kevin Faulk jersey into circulation until a new player catches his eye _ and wallet _ and he purchases a new shirt. Hernandez was his favorite until the events of the past few weeks.
"Sometimes we just don't know what happens behind closed doors, and it's unfortunate because he could have been a hell of player for the Patriots," Morrow said.
Riccio once operated a store that sold sports memorabilia and organized signings with some of the biggest names in sports.
The best comparison to Hernandez that he can conjure is O.J. Simpson, who was charged with two murders in 1994.
"At one time O.J. Simpson was a sought-after autograph," Riccio said. "Now, no one cares. You can't even give O.J. Simpson stuff away these days. This is going to be like O.J. Simpson."
The other comparison that Riccio makes is to baseball stars tied in any way to performance-enhancing drugs. The autographs prices of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are limited because of their alleged use of PEDs.
"The McGwires and the Sosas ... compare them to the other 500 home run hitters and there's a significant difference in (memorabilia) value," Riccio said. "Any of those ballplayers who are questionable ... Barry Bonds' autograph went from several hundred dollars to you can't give it away."
In the case of Simpson, demand for autographs and memorabilia might be weak among sports collectors, but there is a niche world of collectors who seek items tied to notorious figures. The term "murderabilia" was coined by Andy Kahan, director of the Houston mayor's Office of Crime Victims Assistance.
Riccio, for one, doesn't think that's driving the price of the Hernandez jerseys.
"People think they can make money off it," Riccio said. "But at this point, it's a real long shot."
Rich Mueller, editor of Sports Collector Daily, doesn't believe that the buyers are seasoned collectors. Mueller's website specializes in trading cards, but he sees the price of memorabilia driven by inexperienced buyers.
"I think a lot of what you're seeing is probably fans who mistakenly believe it's going to be worth money someday rather than collectors buying it," Mueller said.
Meanwhile, the Patriots await whatever the weekend will bring. Undoubtedly, some people will try to bring back non-NFL licensed jerseys, but they will not be accepted. The jerseys in question cost either $249 (Nike Elite, Reebok Authentic) or $99 (Nike game, Reebok replica).
"We know that children love wearing their Patriot jerseys but may not understand why parents don't want them wearing their Hernandez jerseys anymore," James said in a statement last week announcing the buyback program.
And that's how the idea of the jersey swap was born.
"This is not a clever way to eliminate the 81 jersey from the marketplace," James said Tuesday. "That was not our goal or intention."
And come fall, if a fan happens to be wearing a Hernandez jersey to a Patriots game, they won't be barred from Gillette Stadium. James said No. 81 shirts will be allowed in the stadium.
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