On Saturday afternoon at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, Cam Newton will be glad to sign an autograph for you.
Its going to cost you, though $125 if hes signing a photo, $150 if hes signing a football and $175 if hes signing a jersey. If you want an inscription like To John, Best Wishes added to the signature, that costs an extra $50.
I dont like this.
But I do understand it. Newton has the right to charge three figures for his autograph in his backyard, just as I have the right to disagree with him doing so.
And to be clear, this doesnt mean Newton will stop signing free autographs. He already signs free ones, by the thousands. That most notably occurs at the Panthers training camp in Spartanburg, where hes frequently the last player to leave the field so he can accommodate more fans. He also signs for free at other various charitable events, at youth speaking engagements he did yet another one Wednesday at Ardrey Kell High and on merchandise donated to charity. All that will continue.
What the memorabilia people are selling Saturday is guaranteed access, and its a common thing to do in the sports world. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are among the hundreds of athletes who do occasional signings, for instance, and both of their signatures are more expensive.
Its not a cheap hobby, said Gary Takahashi, whose Hawaii-based company has Newton under a multi-year contract for autograph shows. His company will run the for-profit show at SouthPark.
This will be the sixth autograph signing that Newton has done for GT Sports Marketing since he signed with the company in early 2011, Takahashi said. Three shows in Alabama and two in New Jersey came before this one.
With this, Takahashi said, you know you are going home with a product. There are hundreds of people who come to an event like this, and a lot of them think its the best deal around. People really shouldnt get mad about it. No one is being forced to come.
Newtons 1:30 to 4 p.m. appearance Saturday is sandwiched between Bo Jackson (noon to 1:30 p.m., $75-$100 for signatures) and Larry Johnson (4-5:30 p.m., $55-$65 for signatures). Saturdays event is not a charitable endeavor and no one is pretending that it is. We are not a charity, Takahashi said. We are a business.
Carlos Fleming, Newtons marketing agent for IMG, said Newton agreed to sign a memorabilia deal in part to deal with the fake and unauthorized merchandise that is rampant in the sports collectibles industry.
A lot of the merchandise out there is not authentic, Fleming said. Ive been with Cam before and hes seen something with his name already on it and said, Thats not my signature. Ive seen 10-year-old girls begging him to sign a mini-helmet, and then you look behind them and they have a bag full of 20 more mini-helmets for different teams.
Adults sometimes use kids to do the chasing because athletes are more prone to sign for kids, Fleming continued. Theres a real underground market out there. So this sort of thing is in the fans best interest. Its an opportunity that wouldnt exist at all for fans if it wasnt set up in this way. They get real access. I cant emphasize the authenticity factor enough.
OK, so thats the argument for the signing.
But this just doesnt pass the smell test with me.
Newton has done almost everything right in Charlotte since he arrived. This, though, is a false step.
For some reason, it feels different to me when Newton is charging for autographs in Alabama. That was from a different time in his life. Thats like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith going back to Dallas to charge for autographs (which they do).
In Charlotte, though? Newton shouldnt charge for autographs in his current hometown. Thats part of just being part of the community.
You see Cam in Charlotte? Lucky you. So then he signs the napkin you thrust in front of him or he doesnt, which he also has the right to do and thats that. No money is exchanged.
There are a lot of high-profile quarterbacks who wont sign in the city that they play for, acknowledged Takahashi, the businessman who CNBC once labeled the Autograph King in a headline. At the same time, there are people in those cities who are buying fake autographs online because they really want one.
I dont know exactly why geography matters to me in this case, but it does.
In many ways now, Cam and Charlotte are intertwined. Good neighbors. Newton has recognized that by increasing his charity work and community service and starting the tradition of handing balls to fans in the stands after touchdowns using his superpowers for good.
The Panthers pay Newton plenty of money.
Charging for autographs in Charlotte seems a little cheap.
CAM AT SOUTHPARK
Cam Newton, Bo Jackson and Larry Johnson are all scheduled to appear at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte Saturday to sign autographs for a fee.
Times: Jackson from noon to 1:30 p.m.; Newton from 1:30-4 p.m.; Larry Johnson from 4-5:30 p.m.
Prices: Newtons autographs range from $125-$175; Jacksons from $75-$100 and Johnsons from $55-$65, depending on what is being signed.
More information and advance tickets: GTSportsMarketing.com