A few days ago I passed on the information that Cam Newton would be at SouthPark mall this Saturday to sign autographs along with Bo Jackson and Larry Johnson as part of an organized event for fans. At the time of that writing I wasn't aware this was a paid event, which has since been revealed-- it now has come to my attention that the company organizing the event, IMG Marketing, are charging $125 for Newton's autograph, along with the appropriate authentication needed for the secondary market.
Scott Fowler wrote an article for the Charlotte Observer today that takes exception to Newton and his representatives charging for the event, and I thought it appropriate to respond to the issue also. Fowler is quick to ensure we know that Newton normally does everything he can to accommodate fans in non-paid events:
He already signs free ones, by the thousands. That most notably occurs at the Panthers' training camp in Spartanburg, where he's frequently the last player to leave the field so he can accommodate more fans. He also signs for free at other various charitable events, at youth speaking engagements - he did yet another one Wednesday at Ardrey Kell High - and on merchandise donated to charity.
The masses will pick up on this as 'selfish Cam trying to squeeze the fans', but in this area we know better. There is a clear disparity between getting a signature in training camp vs. heading to an organized event and paying a premium price. I've always thought it would be really neat to see a buffalo in the wild, but understand that if I want to be guaranteed I can see one then I'll have to go to Yellowstone National Park.
More after the jump
Fowler doesn't take exception with the idea of a fee-driven signing, as much as he does the location of the signing.
I don't know exactly why geography matters to me in this case, but it does. In many ways now, Cam and Charlotte are intertwined. Good neighbors. Newton has recognized that by increasing his charity work and community service and starting the tradition of handing balls to fans in the stands after touchdowns - using his superpowers for good.
The Panthers pay Newton plenty of money.
Charging for autographs in Charlotte seems a little cheap.
If we want Charlotte to be recognized as the growing, attractive metropolis that it is then we need to stop treating it like Mayberry (RIP Andy). Yes, part of Charlotte's attraction to players is the smaller, family atmosphere fostered in the area, but we can't juxtapose the Queen City with New York and say "This simply can't fly here".
The memorabilia market is universal. It doesn't matter what city you're in, or which team you support, it's a major industry. Cam's paid signing isn't so much money-grubbing the good people of this area, as much as it's a recognition that we finally have an athlete in this area worthy of attracting that memorabilia market. Are there growing pains associated with this transition? Absolutely. This is typified by angry fans on the Observer page who feel slighted by this event, but such is life in a world where everything is expected to be free.
A few years ago they opened a Chipotle here in Greensboro, and as part of their opening they gave away free burritos for the first day under the guise of 'employee training'. Some people arrived at 9AM and waited until 2PM in the heat, just to get a free burrito-- that was their choice. Me, I went the next day, paid my $6.50 and was out in 15 minutes. Want a free autograph? Head down to Spartanburg and join the throngs of fans wanting the same thing, want the convenience of avoiding the cattle-call and staying out of the heat? Pony up the money.
Just because something is the biggest show in town doesn't mean we need to fawn over it 24/7 and over-analyze all the minutia. I'd rather critique Cam's footwork and over-throwing receivers, rather than his decision to market his brand, and help diffuse the fraudulent merchandise in the market adorned with a fake signature.