Trading Cards Hope to Raise Tennis’ Profile
For decades, athletes have been besieged by fans brandishing sports trading cards for autographs. Although tennis trading cards have been available for years, the latest products being launched by Ace Authentic are designed to enhance name recognition of the sport’s international stars while enhancing fans’ knowledge of the history of the game and its all-time greatest matches.
Ace Authentic President John Reichel says relationship-building with players has been the key to the Georgia-based company’s growing success. In exchange for the right to use their names and images on trading cards and other memorabilia, Reichel says he has partnered with more than 350 active tour players and legends of the game by agreeing to promote their racquet, apparel and other sponsors on Ace Authentic products.
“Once we got established, players started coming up to us and asking how they could get on a card,” says Reichel, a former Silicon Valley executive. “We’re lucky to have very good, close friendships with many of the players on both tours. That kind of personal relationship is what makes our business special.”
In 2005, Ace Authentic released its first product: the 98-card Debut Edition, including fan favorites such as Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Lindsay Davenport and James Blake. Since that time, Ace Authentic has marketed several new series of trading cards — with many sets featuring randomly inserted cards with a swatch of match-worn apparel or an autograph — as well as posters, matted photographs, figurines, match-used items and other memorabilia.
The newest offering, Grand Slam III, is a limited-edition set of trading cards that contains at least one autograph and one match-worn swatch card in every pack. It also features the company’s first-ever autograph and jersey cards from legend Pete Sampras, as well as newcomers Melanie Oudin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Ace Authentic tennis trading card sets also showcase up-and-comers such as Sam Querrey and John Isner, as well as information about great moments, achievements and Grand Slam matches.
To meet the demand for popular hand-signed autographs, Ace Authentic recently launched a Secret Signature Series product — each pack contained an autographed 8 × 10 of a professional tennis player. The Series virtually sold out within 30 days. Federer fans have already scooped up all 500 reproductions (at $50 each) of a 6-inch-tall figurine depicting the tennis legend in mid-backhand swing with his Wilson [K] Factor racquet. Other memorabilia items currently range in price from a $30 Rafael Nadal matted photo to a limited-edition, framed and autographed Wimbledon Champions Memorabilia piece, signed by Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg, for $1,500. Certificates of authenticity are included.
While fans can buy the same apparel styles as their favorite players from Nike, Adidas and other clothing manufacturers, Ace Authentic offers the actual clothes they’ve worn on court. Autographed apparel includes a shirt worn by Lindsay Davenport for $500; a $150 hat worn by Bob Bryan but also signed by his twin brother and doubles partner, Mike; and a shirt worn by Roddick selling for $1,000. For those who prefer to get autographs first-hand, Ace Authentic has booths at about 30 tournaments each year offering free autograph-signing sessions with players such as Vince Spadea, Liezel Huber, Cara Black and Bethanie Mattek.
“The whole purpose is to grow the game by getting kids interested in players other than the same few they see all the time on TV,” Reichel says. “Adults gravitate toward memorabilia, but kids love running up to players and asking them to sign their tennis cards. The players love it, too.”
Mattek says she also enjoys participating in Ace Authentic trading-card releases. “Plus, being part of this program allows me to feature my sponsors, which is great for them and for me,” she says.
“I think that being featured on a trading card is cool,” Spadea adds. “It is amazing how many kids come up to me during tournaments asking me to sign my card. Now I know how all of those baseball players feel.”
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of Tennis Industry magazine.