Regardless of what Eli Manning does with memorabilia from this point on, his signature and those of other athletes are about to be rendered meaningless.
Last week, the New York Giants quarterback handed over an email that plaintiffs in a three-year lawsuit against him claim links him to widespread memorabilia fraud. As first reported in The New York Post, the email that Manning sent on April 27, 2010, to Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba asked for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.” The helmets had been requested by Manning’s marketing agent, Alan Zucker. Twenty minutes later, Manning sent Zucker an email, saying, “Should be able to get them for tomorrow.”
The Post describes that email as a “smoking gun” in the lawsuit, but there’s a strong chance that said gun was only used to shoot those filing the lawsuit in the foot. These are collectors Eric Inselberg, Michael Jakab (who paid $4,300 for one of Manning’s game-worn helmets) and Sean Godown (who bought the helmet on eBay, but later sold it to Jakab). The trio alleges that Manning has been passing off regular memorabilia as game-used to his memorabilia dealer, Steiner Sports, to fulfill his contract with Steiner while keeping game-used memorabilia for himself. Game-used items fetch a substantial premium over standard and even signed items, so it isn’t a minor distinction.
The collectors have filed a civil racketeering suit against the Giants, Manning, Skiba, Steiner, Giants CEO John Mara and others alleging a grand cover-up of memorabilia fraud. Yet, in 2011, it was Inselberg and five other memorabilia dealers who were charged with selling fake game-used jerseys.
While the other defendants all pleaded guilty, Inselberg had the indictment against him dismissed by arguing that Skiba and other Giants employees lied to the grand jury to cover up what Inselberg alleged were their own fake memorabilia sales. However, none of those Giants employees were charged with perjury, and Inselberg hasn’t exactly had success pleading his case back in Jersey.
Though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vociferously sided with Inselberg, the courts haven’t. Not only did a federal court kick his case against the Giants down to the state level, but it refused his claim that the Giants should pay his attorney fees. According to NJ.com sportswriter A.J. Perez, those fees set Inselberg back $301.74. He’s also been dueling in court over media-related patents that are also loosely tied to the Giants.
One of Manning’s former teammates had game-worn memorabilia problems, but voiced support for Manning, as did the Giants organization. Then again, the controversy over game-worn memorabilia authenticity is nearly moot. According to a survey by online memorabilia dealer SportsMemorabilia.com, the market for licensed (unsigned) sports merchandise is $12 billion. Meanwhile, the autograph market is estimated to be $1.5 billion. While signed collectibles are typically authenticated by one of three agencies (Professional Sports Authenticator, James Spence Authentication and Global Authentics), those more lucrative unsigned products have been tougher to vouch for.
Both are problems for the NFL, whose items make up 34% of all signed memorabilia. A day before the news about Manning broke, an email from a representative for former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith made it into my editor Steve Kutz’s inbox. Smith’s company, PROVA, has created a scannable smart chip that it sews into jerseys, footballs and other memorabilia. When a fan scans the chip with a smartphone, a mobile app confirms the item’s authenticity, the game it was worn in, the records set during that game and the number of pieces (if it’s a cut-up jersey, for instance) that it was cut into. PROVA chips were sewn into every Dallas Cowboys uniform during the 2016-17 season and were recently added to trading card company Panini America’s 10-card, $1,500 set teeming with signatures, jerseys, footballs and other memorabilia.
For game-worn jerseys, having the proof of authenticity sewn right into the material and digitized (so long as nobody’s able to hack it) would eliminate scenarios in which it’s the word of a memorabilia dealer versus that of an equipment manager, player or team. Smith says he launched PROVA after a memorabilia dealer was selling signed Emmitt Smith helmets that he clearly hadn’t signed, and notes that certificates of authenticity are often worth about as much as the paper or cardboard they’re printed on.
By Professional Sports Authenticator’s own estimates, up to half of popular autographs are fake. The FBI regularly reminds consumers about fake memorabilia. A signature on its own is already worthless, but authentication technology that contains a helmet or jersey’s entire back story has the potential to become a far more sought-after signature.
source”times of india”