Sports fans have shelled out a lot of money for Joe DiMaggio's autograph over the years, but no one has ever paid as much as Paul Goldin. In 1991 Goldin, a New Jersey businessman, offered the Yankee Clipper $6 million for his John Hancock. The signature didn't go on a bat or ball but, rather, at the bottom of a two-year contract giving Goldin's company, The Score Board Inc., exclusive rights to market baseball memorabilia products bearing DiMaggio's autograph. "It was the thrill of a lifetime," says the 60-year-old Goldin. "I had watched Joe play at Yankee Stadium, and now here we were, agreeing to work together."
In recent years Goldin has signed dozens of baseball greats to similar deals. He has also enlisted basketball, hockey and football players as well as crew members of the starship Enterprise to sell his wares. In the process he has built one of the hottest small companies in the country, a business that in 1992 recorded net sales of $75.4 million and net earnings of $8.1 million.
In 1987 Goldin and his son, Ken, began buying trading cards in bulk from major distributors such as Topps, sorting out the popular cards, which had cost them two or three cents apiece, and selling them at premium prices (25¬¨¬®¬¨¢ to $5 each) in packets of 50 to 100. The big companies sold 900-card sets, but collectors wanted only the hot cards that Score Board gave them.
When the market for repackaged cards dried up last year, the Goldins were ready with other products, including draft-pick card sets, which were introduced two years ago. The sets include first-round picks in baseball, basketball, football and hockey, and in most cases they give collectors their first chance to buy cards of such future stars as Chris Webber and Drew Bledsoe. This year the draft-pick sets will ring up some $35 million in sales. Score Board was also the first in the industry to peddle its wares on the home shopping networks, signing Pete Rose and Ted Williams, among others, to personal-service contracts and using them as pitchmen for its autographed shirts, bats and balls.
Doing well in collectibles is the last thing Paul Goldin had in mind when he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954 with a degree in engineering. A native of New York City who grew up rooting for the Giants and the Yankees—"I hated the Dodgers," he says—Goldin moved to New Jersey to work for RCA's aerospace subsidiary in Camden. He set out on his own in 1972 to raise money for start-up medical-equipment companies.
It was shortly after leaving RCA that Goldin began collecting and trading baseball cards. "I got into it because Ken became interested in the hobby," Paul says. "We started going to shows and trading out of our home." The idea for turning the hobby into a full-time job came in 1985, when Ken, now 28, was majoring in marketing and finance at Drexel University and Paul was majority owner in a company that made heart monitors. The first step was raising money for Score Board; Paul persuaded a brokerage firm to underwrite a public offering in 1987.
The Goldins had a product by the beginning of 1988—the repackaged baseball cards—and their first full year of business brought in revenues of $6.4 million. The following year Score Board began expanding into baseball trivia games, draft-card sets and autographed memorabilia. It also started marketing such items as replicas of John Lennon gold records and Star Trek plaques featuring photographs of the Enterprise crew.
Some of Score Board's sales and earnings growth can be attributed to its expansion into other areas of entertainment. But much of its success derives from sports and its ability to maintain a strong stable of stars to autograph memorabilia. Developing such a stable takes vast sums of money, but Goldin believes Score Board's contract with DiMaggio has been worth every penny. "After all," he says, "it's a small price to pay for the greatest living player of all time."
Paul (left) and Ken show off some items bearing DiMaggio's name.