• United States



by CSO Contributor

Baseball’s Reality Check

Mar 01, 20054 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

When it comes to brand security, Major League Baseball leads the way in the sports industry with its comprehensive memorabilia authentication program. All keepsakes, from autographs to team-branded bases and dugout lineup cards

are affixed with a hologram sticker by an authenticator from Deloitte & Touche. About five authenticators work in each city where Major League Baseball is played. One of the five watches all autograph signings and attends all MLB games. Each hologram produced for MLB by OpSec U.S., a provider of security and authentication technologies, has a unique ID number, which is logged into an database, along with information pertinent to the object, such as who signed it and when. All of that information is then posted on, for consumers to verify information. CSO: How did the authentication program start?Colin Hagen: In the mid ’90s the FBI launched Operation Bullpen [an FBI investigation prompted by autograph forgery] and found that approximately 75 percent of all autographs are fake. That was a hurdle baseball had to overcome. Authenticated items usually go for about twice as much as unauthenticated items. People will pay a little bit more to know they are real. Now, when they see [the hologram with] the silhouetted batter logo on it, they see a good housekeeping seal of approval.

If you try to take the hologram off, it is destroyed; you can’t reapply it on anything else. I can’t take it off my Pokey Reese ball and put it on my Pedro Martinez ball. How do you authenticate memorabilia?About five Deloitte & Touche authenticators are in every city where Major League Baseball is played. One of the authenticators goes to every game. The teams on a day-to-day basis decide what they want to authenticateitems like the dugout lineup card, broken bats or a set of bases.

And say Manny Ramirez is going to be having an autograph signing with one of our licensees. They’ll plug in when he’ll come, how many items they have and what the breakdown is of the items he’s going to sign, and the local Deloitte & Touche rep will bring the holograms. The local reps are in charge of their own holograms. The authenticator will apply holograms to autographed items at the signing itself and then will destroy leftover holograms on the spot. How can fans find out if their memorabilia is authentic?Each hologram is uniquely numbered. After authenticating, the rep will log information into the database so that you, the consumer, can type in that hologram number and confirm all the information about that item. So if you’ve got a game-used base from the World Series, you can go to, punch in the number, and it will tell you this is a base from Game 2 of the 2004 World Series, Boston Red Sox versus the Cardinals, or this ball was signed by Manny Ramirez on such and such day, and may even give the licensing information, so it will serve as your backup and your database. And the beauty of it is: Instead of a certificate of authenticity, which can be easily faked or lost three months down the road, you can go right to the Internet to retrieve the information. Are there any revisions planned to the authentication technology?The hologram is overt. The consumer sees that silver hologram, it’s a distinguishing feature between an item that has been authenticated and one that has not. But covert mechanisms, things not apparent to consumers, within the authentication process will continue to grow. We’d be naive to think that in 15 years the hologram is all we’ll need.What are your thoughts on other professional sporting agencies using such a comprehensive authentication process?We’d love to see the other leagues do this. We’ve certainly championed it. I believe they are all looking at their own processes. There really does need to be a standard in this industry. We at Major League Baseball felt it was important to take the leadership role because we have the lion’s share of the collectibles marketplace. The responsibility comes with that to step up and put something in place to maintain the trust between our fans and baseball.