Monday, January 5, 2004 Updated: January 14, 2:07 PM ET
Embracing the scarlet Rose
By Darren Rovell ESPN.com
Pete Rose may be banished from Major League Baseball and ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame, but "Charlie Hustle" has been anything but unwanted over the past decade.
His autograph on a baseball cost $89 and a jersey with his signature goes for $750. And despite the enormous supply, the lines of autograph seekers often grow long with those awaiting their turn with perhaps the sporting world's most prolific signer. The demand is due, at least partly, to the intrigue behind baseball's controversial ban of the game's all-time hit king.
Now that Rose has admitted that he had bet on baseball games, including those that his team played, the man who arguably played the sport with more passion than anyone else could be positioned for reinstatement by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and, thus, eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame.
But if Rose is no longer The Banished One, will he still maintain the same market value in commercial and merchandising opportunities?
"There won't be a great deal of opportunities for him," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, a sports marketing firm. "But he'll get a lot of press, and some companies will be willing to forgive and forget for business sake."
But others, including Jeff Chown, managing director of The Marketing Arm, an entertainment and sports consultancy firm that advises Fortune 500 companies, says Rose's admission hurts his marketability.
"He's coming out and saying I have not told the truth for the last 14 years," Chown said. "Most companies don't want to be associated with that type of person. It's not like he's being exonerated of a crime, he's admitting to doing something unethical and that shouldn't make him more marketable in the near future."
Rose has had limited endorsement deals over the years. Most recently, he was a pitchman for Maaco, from 1999 through 2002, and in May signed a one-time deal with resurrected shoemaker Pony, which used Rose and former Oakland Raiders Ken Stabler and Jack Tatum for its "Injustice Campaign." Stabler and Tatum both await their induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1999, when Rose was named to MasterCard's All-Century Team, NBC sideline reporter Jim Gray questioned Rose about why he had not apologized for betting on baseball. Rose deflected the questions, which many fans -- who wrote and called NBC affiliates and MasterCard offices -- thought were unfair.
John Esposito, who worked with Rose on business endeavors from 1990-2001, said Rose's Web site received more than 10,000 e-mails in the 72 hours after his interview with Gray. "Pete Rose will always be in demand from now until the end of time," Esposito said.
Rose was included in MasterCard's "Memorable Moments" campaign during the 2002 season, despite the fact that his banishment meant that he was not included on the list of retired players who could be used by sponsors in association with their league-licensed products or services.
Accordingly, Rose has not appeared on a league-licensed baseball card or video game over the past 15 years.
"There has never been a licensed autographed card or memorabilia card produced (with Rose on it) because these ideas came into our industry after Rose was banned," said Bill Dully, president and chief operating officer of Donruss, which has produced licensed baseball cards since 1981. "The hobby is so hungry for something like this. It will be like making his rookie cards again."
But even if Rose is reinstated and eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, league licensees do not automatically have rights to use his name or likeness. Rose would have to agree to become part of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame member licensing program, which currently includes 53 baseball greats. Licensees have the right to use members on that list in conjunction with their league sponsorship.
If Rose is reinstated and doesn't join the Hall of Fame member licensing
program, companies like Donruss could also choose to work through Dreams Inc., which has exclusive marketing and memorabilia rights to Rose. Dreams Inc., which signed a new five-year, multimillion-dollar deal with Rose last year, owns the firm that represents Rose, The Greene Organization.
"If he gets reinstated, we want him on our packaging and in our packs," proclaimed Dully, who acknowledged that he has initiated talks with Dreams Inc.
Although some in the collectible industry believe that Rose's possible induction into the Hall of Fame will result in a drop in Rose's marketability -- since he will be cleansed from a historical perspective -- those that sell Rose items insist that won't be the case. Being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame traditionally increases the value of a player's signature by at least 25 percent.
"His popularity will go up even more," said Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports Marketing and Memorabilia, which is selling a Pete Rose signed Cincinnati Reds hat for $149 and a signed bat for $325 on its Web site.
Steiner says he doesn't expect Rose, who is known for giving out free inscriptions at shows, to raise his price per autograph in the near future.
Jeremy Katz is technically the first investor in the Pete Rose post-admission market. Katz is executive editor of Men's Health and Sports Books for Rodale, which will release a first printing of 500,000 copies of Rose's book, "My Prison Without Bars," on Thursday.
"A printing of that size serves as a mark of confidence," Katz said. "Pete is a perennially fascinating person. He has a great story, he played with the kind of work ethic and kind of hustle that America respects."
Although sales of autobiographical sports books have often suffered when excerpts are revealed, Katz said he believes that Rose book will be worth its $24.95 retail price. By Monday afternoon, the book was ranked No. 15 on Barnes & Noble's Web site and No. 16 on Amazon.com's sales rankings.
"This book includes so much more than what the media has already covered," Katz said. "It's not just for baseball fans. It's for people interested in morality tales -- the price of mistakes and the possibility of redemption."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com