|Tuesday, August 14
Ichiro agrees to exclusive Upper Deck deal
By Darren Rovell
Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has been offered $10 million in endorsement deals -- including $5.5 million from one fast-food company -- since April, according to Suzuki's agent Tony Attanasio.
But Suzuki did not say "hai" -- that's "yes" in Japanese -- to his first comprehensive American endorsement deal until earlier this week.
That's when Suzuki agreed in principle to a one-year deal with Upper Deck, both Attanasio and Upper Deck CEO Richard McWilliam confirmed Tuesday.
The California-based trading card and sports collectible company, which has exclusive memorabilia deals with Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Ken Griffey Jr. and Wayne Gretzky, beat out Topps, Donruss and Fleer -- all of which were believed to be interested in signing Suzuki to an exclusive contract.
The deal calls for Suzuki to sign cards and other Upper Deck Authenticated memorabilia. A source close to the agreement said it was worth "well into the seven figures."
Suzuki's autograph is one of the most coveted among sports collectors, but his remains perhaps the hardest to find because he rarely signs items.
According to Attanasio, Suzuki has signed only a limited number of balls and photos for the Mariners team store, as well as balls for Major League Baseball officials and charity organizations. Suzuki also has a deal with All-American Collectibles, a sports memorabilia art company, and signed 1,000 Upper Deck cards prior to this season.
"All the rest of the memorabilia on the market, in my opinion, is either fraudulent or stolen," Attanasio said. While several collectors who have sold Suzuki-autographed items on eBay claim the All-Star right fielder signed items in a limited capacity during spring training, Attanasio said he believes that any collector with Suzuki autographs in volume is selling counterfeits. That's one of the reasons why an Suzuki hologram will appear on the Upper Deck Authenticated items, Attanasio said.
In the past, Upper Deck has had television commercials starring Jordan, Gretzky, Eric Dickerson and Reggie Jackson. But Suzuki speaks very little English, which may limit a full television endorsement for the company, Attanasio said.
"He's not prepared, at this point, to do lengthy commercials in English," Attanasio said. "But the TV market (endorsements) will come at the appropriate time."
McWilliam said Suzuki might appear in print ads. "We're obviously looking to do an advertising and marketing campaign with him," McWilliam said.
Attanasio also is in the process of negotiating a sunglasses deal for Suzuki. A source said the two companies vying for the deal are thought to be Oakley, the brand that Suzuki currently wears during games, and Nike.
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.