There is a mystique with sports collectibles. When a team or athlete delivers a performance that fans cherish, they can bottle up those feelings of elation and pride and relive them through visual items commemorating the moment.
Game-worn memorabilia and framed and autographed photos featuring those types of iconic performances from athletes’ careers have become commonplace in men’s sports. They haven’t been as accessible, however, for fans of women’s sports.
Brandon Steiner, founder and CEO of CollectibleXchange, has set out to shift the paradigm, launching an online platform in August that sells memorabilia and merchandise for athletes exclusively in women’s sports. With The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, he aims to highlight the one-of-a-kind athletes and show that there is a market out there for women’s sports memorabilia.
“I’ve always been a fan of trying to appreciate the greatness,” Steiner tells Just Women’s Sports. “When you look at a Sue Bird, or a [Diana] Taurasi, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, I mean, these are not athletes that will be easily duplicated, and we may never see talent like this again.
“I want people to see that and appreciate it, and that’s the purpose of putting this collection together.”
The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, backed by Wasserman’s women-focused division, The Collective, is athlete-controlled. That means the athletes Steiner works with can manage the commercial value of their exclusive memorabilia.
Among those currently selling game-worn jerseys, licensed products and autographs on the platform are Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Nneka Ogwumike, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. Currently, it’s the only online collectible marketplace dedicated solely to women’s sports.
The venture into women’s sports is new for Steiner, who founded Steiner Sports Marketing & Memorabilia in 1987 and worked primarily with men’s teams and athletes for over 32 years. (Steiner is no longer affiliated with Steiner Sports.)
When reflecting on why he made the jump, one specific moment comes to mind. Six years ago, Steiner was set to receive an award for his involvement in women’s sports. He asked his daughter if she would present him with the honor. She refused and told him he should, too.
“My daughter’s like, ‘No, I’m not giving the award. You haven’t done enough. What have you done? All I see you is making money with men and guys. Yeah, you help coach some women’s basketball and you do a couple of things, but you gotta do more,’” Steiner says.
The moment resonated with the career businessman. Realizing his daughter was right, Steiner vowed then and there to do something that would make an impact in the women’s sports space.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call, a little bit of a push that I needed to get into this thing, and it started with her,” he says.
Fans of women’s sports have grown accustomed to a lack of merchandise for their favorite teams and players. U.S. women’s national soccer team fans have lamented the shortage of jerseys on the team store. In the WNBA, a league of 144 players, the jerseys of only a select few players were labeled as “ready to ship” this season. The league has taken steps to increase supply after agreeing to a multi-year partnership with DICK’S Sporting Goods, but the concerns persist.
Athletes share fans’ frustrations, Steiner says, and recognize that licensing in women’s sports needs to improve.
The influx of sports memorabilia into the retail space helps, with items on Steiner’s platform ranging beyond soccer and basketball. Fans of April Ross and Alix Klineman, who won beach volleyball gold at the Olympics this past summer, can purchase signed memorabilia from their run in Tokyo. WNBA stars like Bird and Stewart have also taken their collections a step further, putting sneakers up for sale.
“I love Breanna Stewart’s sneakers,” Steiner says. “She’s a sneakerhead, and I love the fact that she’s got fashion.”
Steiner sees record-breaking accomplishments in women’s sports, like Bird and Taurasi’s fifth Olympic gold medal with USA Basketball, and wants them to receive the same attention as their male counterparts.
“It’s not a sidebar thing,” Steiner says, adding that he’d like to see women support women through investment.
“Guys are just into every sport, and they think because they watched something 20 years ago that now they’re an expert on women in sports,” he says. “But women should know. We’re going through a special time now in women’s sports.”
Just as increasing access to women’s sports games and coverage helps draw fans and grow the industry, expanding the market for women’s sports products can strengthen the foundation.
“You have an 11-year-old daughter — man, I want to put a picture of Diana Taurasi in her room rather than a picture of Steph Curry,” Steiner says.
Building the ecosystem of women’s sports, Steiner contends, will create a cycle of investment, demand and growth. The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is part of what makes that possible, all in one place.
“It just puts it in a nice bow and a package,” Steiner says. “I think that’s the stuff that we should be celebrating and enjoying. There’s a lot of greatness, a lot of winning going on.
“My goal is to bring that [greatness] out. And I think you can do that a lot with the collectibles.”
(Editor’s note: The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports)
Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.