Welcome to "Generation Greed", where everything is for sale

Bryson De Chambeau Signing Autograph

I vividly remember the very first autographs I got.

I was ten-years-old and they came from former Rangers footballers Andy Goram and Scott Nisbet. Our neighbours in Orkney, where I grew up, owned a hotel on the islands and the pair were visiting the islands having accepted an invite from the local Rangers Supporters’ Club.

Word spread quickly that they were in town – in Orkney, word always spreads quickly – and, with me being ‘fitbaw daft’ and friends with the neighbours’ son, I was allowed to go along to the otherwise closed-doors ‘meet and greet’.

I brought along a Rangers replica shirt for them to sign and, even now, some 30 years later, I can still recall the flutter of butterflies I felt as I waited in line for them.

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These were the first famous people I had met. It was thrilling and intimidating in equal measure. Both were absolute gentlemen (despite Nisbet nursing what I later learned to be something called a ‘hangover’) and blethered away as they daubed their signatures onto my top. I still have the shirt. The ink has faded but the memories haven’t.

Autographs are funny things. Deliberately indecipherable but unique scrawls that say: ‘I was here’. I know people who have collected hundreds of them, filling book upon book in the process. I’ve never been so inclined. When I was in my early teens, and by then living in Glasgow, Ally McCoist knocked me back for one when he was filming a movie next to my family home. Perhaps that put me off.

Either way, autograph hunting has been subject to a digital revolution in the past 20 years. Most things have. The advent of camera-phone technology has made selfies the new signatures.

Online auction platforms, meanwhile, have created a sub-species of professional autograph hunters, a rabid mob of photo-wielding ruffians who peddle famous folk’s scribbles for exorbitant sums. If you’ve ever been to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, you will have probably seen them. They’re a rotten bunch.

Now, though, the scribblers are turning the tables. They’ve decided they want a bit of that action. To hell with other people profiting from their fame. If there’s money to be made, they want to keep it for themselves.

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In recent years, a video messaging platform called Cameo has become hugely popular. It facilitates personalised video messages from celebs to ‘ordinary people’. You want a shout-out for a birthday, anniversary, new job, or maybe even just a pep talk, you can pay for it. Golf fans can take their pick from the likes of Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, David Duval and a slew of Z-list Instagram models. Stump up the cash and Cameo will make it happen.

Bryson DeChambeau, meanwhile, recently became the first golfer to release his own set of limited edition digital trading cards, or NFTs.

Shorthand for ‘non-fungible tokens’, NFTs are a kind of ‘crypto-currency’ whereby fans can bid for the right to own a unique digital highlight. They have already taken the NBA by storm, grossing more than $400 million in sales in the process. NFL superstar Rob Gronkowski has blazed the trail that Bryson is following. His ‘Championship Series NFTs’ sell for up to $50,000 per card. No wonder DeChambeau wants a bit of that action. Who wouldn’t?

Still, it’s rather sad, isn’t it? I mean, where does it stop? Will players, in time, stop signing kids’ hats and flags at tournaments and, instead, dish out business cards with links to buy signed merch from bespoke online shops?

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It speaks to the growing disconnect between the famous and the, well, not famous. Star power has never been as quantifiable as it is now. Jump onto social media and you can see how many followers ‘Mr or Mrs Generic Reality TV Personality’ has. It’s there in front of you. Popularity is no longer measured by a ‘finger in the air’ or gut instinct. It’s measured by cold, hard data. And data, if you haven’t already realised, is the new oil.

Even so, there’s something unpleasant and unsettling about multi-millionaires bleeding their fans dry and syringing every last vein of their fame for their own profit. Whatever happened to altruism? Whatever happened to making a kid’s day/week/month/year by taking five seconds to scribble your name on their football shirt or on a scrap of paper?

‘Generation Greed’ is upon us. If you haven’t already, you’d better start saving.

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This article first appeared in issue 184 of bunkered (March 2021). To subscribe, click here.

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