For sale: Championship sports bling
The recession is causing more athletes to part with their Super Bowl rings and other sports memorabilia.
(Fortune) -- Whether Kurt Warner's Cardinals or Ben Roethlisberger's Steelers win the Super Bowl on Sunday is up for grabs. One thing is certain, however: The winners will get some serious bling. Per tradition, members of NFL and other professional and college championship teams get a big, diamond-encrusted ring commemorating their victory a few months after the big game. But in this dismal economy, will they keep it or sell it?
More than ever, former champions are saying "sell." There's no official count, but cash-strapped former and current sports stars, players' families, and staff seem more willing lately to part with their old championship rings and other personal memorabilia. Eager vendors use sites like championshiprings.net, tjscollectiblesinc.com and championshipsportsrings.com to sell MLB, NBA and NCAA rings for as much as $40,000 to buyers around the world.
Tim Robins, who owns online vendor championshiprings.net, says the offers from players and others with rings have increased dramatically since the economy turned sour. Over the past 90 days, Robins says he has bought more than 400 rings; he typically purchases about 100 a month.
"We're buying more rings than we ever have," says Robins, who's based in Trabuco Canyon, Calif. "It doesn't matter how famous a player is or how much money they've supposedly earned; the hard economic times are affecting everyone."
A player for the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers sold his 50-gram, 14-karat diamond Tiffany & Co. ring this month, Robins says, after falling behind on payments for his home. The player got in the "mid-to-upper 20s" for the jewelry; Robins plans to put the ring up for $29,995 shortly.
Robins says he has bought rings from current and former players on nearly all the Super Bowl championship teams of the decade, including the 2008 New York Giants, the 2007 Indianapolis Colts, the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers, and the 2005, 2004 and 2002 New England Patriots.
It's the same story for T.J. Kaye of T.J.'s Collectibles in Boca Raton, Fla. He says it's usually "the four Ds" -- drugs, destitution, divorce and death -- that bring rings onto the market. Now, Kaye says he adds an "E" for "economy" to the equation.
Kaye, who typically buys 200 to 300 rings a year, estimates he has bought 15% to 20% more items since September. "Whatever they did with their money when they earned it...it's unfortunate," says Kaye. "That's when I take over and resell 'em."
Kaye says one retired NFL champion recently sold his Super Bowl ring and trophy so he could pay to go back to school. T.J.'s sold the ring for $27,000. The site's other recently obtained items include a player's ring from the 1995 Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champion team for $28,500 and a staff member's ring from the 1999 New York Yankees World Series champion team for $34,500.
Even if they're not buying more, vendors say players are recently more willing to negotiate on price. Yee Mar of Salina, Kan., sells championship rings on eBay and through the site championshipsportsrings.com and says sellers have been more flexible on price recently, although he notes that there were plenty of desperate sellers before the economy turned.
"The economy being the way it is, it may push some people to sell more," says Mar, who hasn't seen the same increase in player sales since September as other vendors. "If they are totally desperate and their family needs to have food on the table or bills that need to be paid or things like that, jewelry and cars and houses may be the first things that go."
All the vendors say sales are relatively strong for the economy but haven't kept up with the increase in available rings and other items. Still, they say, the big gold and diamond ring that Warner or Roethlisberger will get in a few months after their Super Bowl victory Sunday could fetch a pretty penny.