Super Bowl memorabilia scores with collectors
NEW YORK — The February 13 matchup between the L.A. Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI (56 for all of us who forgot our Roman numerals) will draw millions of football fans to their televisions to cheer and groan as the teams clash on the grid. Pro football’s championship game will also stoke the passions of memorabilia collectors, who are just as interested in the action.
One of the biggest segments of the sports memorabilia market is football, with Super Bowl items topping many collectors’ wish lists. Championship rings and game-worn items from jerseys to helmets are certainly desirable, with top examples bringing six- or seven-figure sums. Super Bowl programs, ticket stubs and related material has its own loyal contingent of fans, too.
Only a small percentage of players make it to the Super Bowl during their careers, and only a few of those will earn a Super Bowl championship ring. In at least one case, bigger is just better. In July 2015, Heritage Auctions sold the 1985 Super Bowl ring that had been custom made for Chicago Bears tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry. His fingers were so big the jeweler did not have a device to measure them, but the ring was estimated at a size 25, distinguishing it as the largest Super Bowl championship ring made. After leaving Perry’s hand, the ring changed hands several times before it achieved $170,000 plus the buyer’s premium in Heritage’s sale. “It ended up being one of the top ten most expensive items sold [in 2015] through LiveAuctioneers,” said CEO Phil Michaelson.
A different Super Bowl ring sold at auction merits fresh interest now that the teams who will meet in this year’s contest have been confirmed. While they are known as the Los Angeles Rams today, the Rams were initially franchised in Cleveland, Ohio as part of the American Football League, which was ultimately subsumed into the National Football League. The team later moved to St. Louis, becoming the first pro football team to leave the West Coast, and in 1999, it won Super Bowl XXXIV (34). A championship ring from that game sold for $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Dan Morphy Auctions.
Chris Nerat, consignment director at Heritage Auctions, said the Super Bowl has carved out its own place in the world of collectibles. “I think that anything Super Bowl-related is always a magical category in the sports memorabilia world,” he said, noting game-used items are particularly collectible, as is ephemera, a popular sub-genre that includes tickets and sports programs. “One of the big things that everybody is going after now are tickets, from ticket stubs to full unused tickets from the Super Bowl. That category has really taken off, it’s really pretty crazy what is going on with ticket collecting. It’s a pretty exciting market right now to be collecting,” he said, adding, “There’s always football cards of players that were in a Super Bowl, anyone that has won a Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady, Bart Starr, Joe Montana and guys like that,” he said. “People definitely collect their sports cards, and when you win a Super Bowl, you kind of are catapulted into a different spectrum of collecting. People want to collect those players.”
Speaking of Brady, while being called the GOAT (greatest of all time) might be hyperbolic, the newly retired quarterback had an amazing career that includes a record nine Super Bowl appearances. His memorabilia typically brings robust prices at auction, including a 2002 Topps Finest X-Fractor card, one of only 20 made and boasting a PSA grade of 10, which achieved $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Saco River Auction in January 2022.
Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, echoed Nerat’s comments about the collectability of tickets. “Super Bowl tickets from the first few NFL/AFL matchups are extremely desirable right now. We’ve seen prices go up and up for unused tickets for Super Bowl 1,” he said. A pair of ticket stubs for the first Super Bowl game in 1967 and Super Bowl II, back when the game was still officially called the NFL-AFL World Championship Game, brought $3,553 plus the buyer’s premium at RR Auction in November 2019, well above the estimate.
Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1960-2006, often receives credit for coining the Super Bowl name a few years after its debut, but major newspapers such as the New York Times had called the championship game the “Super Bowl” as early as January 1967. By the time of the fifth contest, the game was officially known as Super Bowl V.
As with most ephemeral material, Super Bowl programs were not designed to be saved and collected. “Because Super Bowl programs from the early days are typically frayed and used, finding one in good condition really helps the value,” Livingston said. “People collect these because it reminds them of when their team made it to the biggest game of the season. I’m old enough to remember Super Bowl 7 and even though my football team lost, just seeing artifacts from that game makes me smile.”
Whether you love Super Bowl Sunday or not, you have to admire the diligence and persistence required to build a collection of 35 Super Bowl programs from 1967 through 2001, which earned $7,775 plus the buyer’s premium at RR Auction in February 2019. Not only is there a program for each game in that timespan, but each is signed on the cover by that game’s MVP.
“Many collectors want something from each and every Super Bowl. This is always a little more challenging, but the markets are very strong for the early games,” Livingston said.