Why Aaron Hernandez memorabilia is once again in high demand

Jeff Eisenberg

When the owner of one of Massachusetts’ leading sports memorabilia suppliers awoke on Wednesday morning, he checked to see if he’d received any online orders overnight.

That was how Mike Josselyn learned something had happened to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

“I saw a few orders had already come through for autographed Aaron Hernandez photos, and I thought, ‘That’s weird,'” said Josselyn, founder of Sure Shot Promotions. “I went into my news, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s why.'”

Hernandez’s apparent suicide inside his own prison cell on Wednesday morning did more than just end his tortured life. It also unexpectedly reignited the market for items worn or autographed by the former NFL star who was two years into a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

Aaron Hernandez jerseys were selling for as much as $355 apiece on eBay. (AP)
Aaron Hernandez jerseys were selling for as much as $355 apiece on eBay. (AP)

A replica Patriots jersey bearing Hernandez’s name and number typically sold in retail stores for about $75-$100 at the height of his playing career. They went for as much as $355 on eBay on Wednesday afternoon.

A signed Hernandez jersey sold Wednesday on eBay for $575. Autographed towels, footballs, trading cards and end zone pylons were also available for hundreds of dollars. By comparison, someone snagged a relative bargain forking over $64.99 for a well-worn T-shirt featuring images of Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski and the slogan “Quake and Shake.”

During Hernandez’s second season in the NFL, Florida-based memorabilia chain Palm Beach Autographs had an exclusive memorabilia agreement with Hernandez for all his autograph signings and appearances. By closing time on Wednesday, owner Jim Dodson expected to sell the remaining 100 autographed 8×10 photos they had in stock at $30 apiece.

“Pretty much everything is already gone,” Dodson said. “We previously decreased the prices just to move through them, to not have them in inventory anymore and to kind of part ways. Today they’re selling left and right. We’re just filling the orders in the order they came in.”

Why would memorabilia celebrating a convicted murderer still be a hot commodity? Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, says there are two reasons collectors might be interested.

One is for the novelty factor. Hernandez wasn’t as well-known a figure as O.J. Simpson, Al Capone or Charles Manson for example, but there’s still a limited market for his memorabilia even after his conviction and his death.

The fact that Hernandez memorabilia is somewhat scarce is also a draw for serious collectors. They’re willing to pay a little extra today to ensure they can complete a set of signed footballs, jerseys or trading cards.

“Let’s say someone is trying to put together a set of 2013 signed football cards or they’re trying to complete a set of everyone who was on the Patriots’ team when they won the Super Bowl,” Goldin said. “For those people, it doesn’t really matter what he did or that he’s dead. It matters to them that they need to own it.

Aaron Hernandez jerseys (AP)
After his arrest, the Patriots and the NFL quickly distanced themselves in regards to Aaron Hernandez jerseys. (AP)

“You’ll probably see a spike right now because the people that absolutely need it to complete their collections will pay an escalated price. Once those people have their items, you’ll see a sharp decline. Memorabilia is pride. Most people buy it to show it off. They frame it. They have it in their office or on their walls. Who in their right mind wants to be displaying a signed Aaron Hernandez item in their office or at their home?”

That was surely the Patriots’ mindset when they stopped selling Hernandez’s No. 81 jersey soon after his 2013 arrest and even offered fans the chance to exchange their Hernandez jerseys for any other players on the team. The NFL followed suit by prohibiting anyone from trying to order a customized No. 81 Patriots jersey with the last name of Hernandez.

For Josselyn, Hernandez’s 2013 arrest created a tougher dilemma. He didn’t want to alienate customers by trying to profit off Hernandez’s murder charges, yet he also didn’t want to throw away the boxes of signed footballs, helmets, jerseys and photos he had acquired via an ill-fated, one-year exclusivity deal with Hernandez that expired earlier that year.

Josselyn’s solution was selling Hernandez merchandise at either its typical price or a bargain rate in hopes of recouping as much of his losses as he could. To his surprise, there was initially more of a market than he expected even with Hernandez awaiting trial on murder charges.

“It was really bizarre,” Josselyn said. “The jerseys sold in a matter of days. Right after that, the footballs sold too.”

What was left over were a few hundred autographed photos. For the past few years, Josselyn would sell one every week or two until Wednesday’s unexpected spike.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Josselyn said. “Why someone would want to be an Aaron Hernandez supporter, I don’t know.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!