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Cycleback Interview with Doug Allen, President of MastroNet

Doug Allen is President of MastroNet (, Oak Brook Illinois, the country's largest auction house of sports memorabilia. Notable items they have auctioned include the famed 'Gretzky' T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card (sold for $1.3 million) and the Montgomery Alabama bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on in 1955 ($492.000).
The following is an interview I had with him him in April 2002.


QUESTION: Where are you from and how did you get to your current position?

ANSWER: I was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago. I have been collecting vintage material for approximately 12 years. Bill Mastro and I become friends through a high end client I brought him. Eventually I became more involved in the company when I worked with Mastro Fine Sports to acquire Ron Oser Enterprises and Robert Edwards Auctions to form MastroNet. After serving on the Board of Directors for a year I joined as a full time employee and recently was promoted to the position of President.

QUESTION: I know that MastroNet was considering going public. Will this happen in the near future?

ANSWER: In the past the public markets provided access to capital and other benefits. In the current economic climate those benefits have all but disappeared. Our medium term plan is to continue to grow the business profitably and then look at various liquidity opportunities in the future.

QUESTION: MastroNet is a consignment auction house. Does MastroNet buy material outright?

ANSWER: We prefer to take consignments; but will buy in certain circumstances. I would say as a rule of thumb we own less than 5% of the material we offer for sale. In the recent auction that did $6 million we may have owned $400k of material.

QUESTION: About what percentage of potential consignor material is rejected for auction due to not being of high enough quality?

ANSWER: We reject approximately 25% of the material we look at. The percentage was higher; but many of our constituents understand after working with us that we focus on high quality lots that exceed $1,000.

QUESTION: MastroNet publishes obviously expensive mail-out catalogs for their auctions. How many registered bidders do not participate online?

ANSWER: We remain committed to our catalogs. Although the number of individuals participating on-line continues to expand, we still believe many of our customers love the qualitative aspects of the four color catalog. Approximately 65% of our bids are taken on-line.

QUESTION: The auctions offer unequaled sports material, both in quality and volume. How does MastroNet get all the stuff? Is there someone in charge of shaking down the trees?

ANSWER: Believe it or not the reputation we have built has resulted in many people coming to us. It is a great position to be in. At the same time all of our employees take responsibility for generating consignments. Admittedly Bill (Mastro) and Rob (Lifson, President of Americana Division) are the biggest catalysts for doing this.

QUESTION: I saw the headlines concerning the Barry Bonds 70th Home Run Ball sold in most recent sports auction. The articles suggested that the $52,000 final price was low. My feeling is that the price was not unreasonable, considering he hit three more home runs that year. Obviously, the original seven figure predictions of the man who caught was a ridiculous barometer. What are your thoughts?

ANSWER: I was disappointed it didn't bring more, at the same time I don't believe it is appropriate to compare the situation with 1998. 37year old record, popular players, media frenzy, hugging the Maris family...all the stars were aligned for that one.

QUESTION: Do you try on any of the game used jerseys or caps?

ANSWER: No; but everyone in our office loves to grip the bats of Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, etc. when they come in the office.

QUESTION: Your sports auctions basically means 80% baseball material, and 20% other sports (football, hockey, boxing, golf, etc). Can you briefly explain why baseball is so dominant, especially considering that, with today's sports viewers, football is probably more popular?

ANSWER: Although modern football is gaining popularity, 40 years ago nothing completed with baseball when it came to professional sporting events. I think it is harder for fans to relate to players who play a 16 game season.

QUESTION: Has there been increased interest in vintage golf memorabilia due to the popularity of Tiger Woods?

ANSWER: Vintage golf, all golf collectibles for that matter are on the rise. I am sure Tiger has a lot to do with that.

QUESTION: Similarly, does boxing's current disgraceful state affect the values of vintage boxing material?

ANSWER: Not by evidence of the recent Ali material we sold. I would say the problem comes that there are no respectable modern day stars other than Holyfield for youngsters to look up to.

QUESTION: Starting a year or so ago MastroNet started having non-sports (Americana) memorabilia actions, covering popular culture like movies, popular music, politics, toys, etc. How have these auctions worked out? Was there any fear before starting the first one?

ANSWER: The Americana division has surpassed our expectations. The first sale was a success and the second sale which will be held next month will surpass that in depth as well as breadth of material. This year Americana will contribute one third of our revenue. There was fear before the first one; but we did cover all of our bases spending a lot on promoting and sending out literally twice the number of catalogs which was expensive.

QUESTION: Considering you have started having the non-sport American auctions, will MastroNet ever go into other areas, like fine art?

ANSWER: The idea is that our business model could be used to sell any high value collectibles. Although fine art is not out of the question it would be more likely that we will take the broad based Americana auciton and break out a few of the more material verticals (e.g. Political, Comic, Illustration art etc.)

QUESTION: Are there moments, after a long day at work, that you are completely sick of sports memorabilia?

ANSWER: Never. I have the dream job. You do get ruined sometimes realizing you can't afford a lot of the stuff; but never get sick of the material.

QUESTION: Is it common for game-used jerseys to be washed? I understand the virtue of having a Yankee Stadium home-plate dirt stain across the numbers, but assume there is point where washing is a prudent act.

ANSWER: It is not a problem having them washed. The key to ascertaining game use is wear not dirt.

QUESTION: What do you personally collect, and what are some of your favorite items?

ANSWER: I have re-focused my collection away from cards to memorabilia. I collect vintage Cubs memorabilia (circa 1908). My favorite collectibles from this part of my collection are a Frank Chance letter, a Johnny Evers passport and some game shirts and pants from Steinfeldt and Pfeister. I also collect whom I refer to as the big 6 Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, Mathewson, Young and Johnson. For these guys I am focusing and afordable display items and one really nice Autograph. My favorite here is my Signed T206 of Ty Cobb.

QUESTION: For your personal collection, do you buy professionally graded cards?

ANSWER: I have always collected mid grade cards so I do not buy them for my personal collection.

QUESTION: In your opinion, what is/are some of the most unusual things MastroNet has auctioned? What were some of your personal favorites?

ANSWER: Most unusual would have to be Marilyn Monroe's stocking, Bill Veck's wooden leg, Micheal Jordan's Drivers license and cast. My personal favorites center primarily on the items I collect. Admittedly I would proud to be part of selling the PSA8 Wagner. To me that will always be the holy grail of collecting.

QUESTION: Has the Septemeber 11th attacks affected auction sales? If so, how?

ANSWER: It has had little to no effect on the 4 auctions we have held since his event. December may have been a bit week; but other than that the results have been strong.

QUESTION: What do you think of eBay?

ANSWER: I think it is a good place if you are a knowledgable buyer. For those who aren't I think it is risky. I am an active eBayer and have built some great items for my collection.

QUESTION: I know that you are a Chicago Cubs fan. How do you think they are going to do this year?

ANSWER: I am guardedly optimistic. It would be nice not to have to go back to 1908 in order to collect a world series winning team!

QUESTION: What is your all-time favorite movie and television show?

ANSWER: I have many favorite movies. I will stick to the theme and say my favorite baseball movie is Field of Dreams. My favorite tv show is "The Practice"



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