At one time, they were simply hand-me-downs. After using them for a year, professional sports franchises would send their game used equipment and game worn jerseys to their minor league clubs. Some made them available for sale to recreational leagues.
In the last ten years or so, however, collecting game worn gear from pro sports teams has become an extremely popular exercise. The teams are now trying to cash in on the craze – or at least earn money for charity. Sports collectors love the authenticity, even if the days of getting something free may have passed.
Major League Baseball now employs an official authenticator at most games, tagging game used items removed from play with a special hologram and documenting each. The items are sometimes sold at auction through the league's website, while the teams retain control of some of the uniforms, cracked bats and other items that would at one time have been considered junk or items to simply give away to fans who asked. Some teams, like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Red Sox have entered into agreements with memorabilia companies who retain the exclusive rights to acquire and sell those sports collectibles. It's a lucrative arrangement for both, with superstar game bats and jerseys selling for hundreds of dollars, even if they've only been used once or twice.
Some NBA teams have done the same, agreeing to assist a company in cataloging their game used items for resale or auction. The league has a contract to sell All Star game memorabilia or items from other special events to one company, Meigray. It's a far cry from the days when players gave away their uniforms, such as was the case in 1976 when Julius Erving, the biggest star in the American Basketball Association made good on a promise to give his All Star uniform to a ball boy. The boy kept the uniform for 32 years before consigning it to an auction house where it sold for over $ 180,000.
The NHL and even some minor league hockey teams have contracts with Meigray for the sale of game worn and game used collectibles. The contracts have allowed teams to reap benefits from an area that was once simply an expense.
Even minor league baseball teams hold 'garage sales' after each season to sell off used and unused team equipment and souvenirs.
Many items are also obtained by trading card companies, where the jerseys, bats and even helmets and caps are sometimes cut up into tiny pieces where they are used to create special one-of-a-kind memorabilia cards inserted into packs.