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Sports

These ‘memorabilia godfathers’ made owning an authentic piece of sports history easier

Luisa Morales - Philstar.com
These âmemorabilia godfathersâ made owning an authentic piece of sports history easier
Hall of Fame Authentics (HOFA) Managing Partners Stephen Songco (L), Ron Uy (C), and Elvis Gutierrez
Courtesy of Stephen Songco

MANILA, Philippines — When we encounter significant events in our lives, we usually like to keep a memento to treasure the moment forever.

And it's the same for avid sports fans when it comes to their favorite teams and athletes — but not everyone gets the chance to attend a game and snap a picture with their favorite player, or get to receive their game-worn jerseys or sneakers.

Enter the hobby of collecting sports memorabilia — a unique way of getting one-of-a-kind sports goodies that are not only reminiscent of your favorite athlete but also carry a piece of their identity with their signature. 

But not everything is as it seems in memorabilia collecting with beginners often falling prey to scams and knock-off items.

This is what drove avid sports fans Mikhail “Ron” Uy, Stephen "Tep” Songco, and John Rex ”Elvis” Gutierrez to put up Hall of Fame Authentics (HOFA) — the sole authorized retailer of sports memorabilia in the country. 

The three partners recently spoke to Philstar.com to share their journey from modest collectors to pioneers of memorabilia collection in the country.

How a fake Kobe Bryant signature turned into a lifetime hobby 

The fake signed Kobe Bryant ball purchased by Uy on Ebay
Courtesy of Ron Uy

HOFA’s journey can be traced to as far back as 2007, when Uy was a 19-year-old, wide-eyed Kobe Bryant fan. 

Having followed Bryant's career all his life, Uy nabbed the chance of a lifetime to meet, interact and hopefully take home a piece of the Los Angeles Lakers legend when he visited the Philippines that year. 

"Living in the Philippines, I never even had the chance yet to go and watch Kobe play basketball, or even watch a Laker game... When news came out that Kobe was going to the Philippines under his Nike tour back in 2007, it was really my chance to see my hero up close," he said. 

Uy would do everything in his college student power to put him in the best position to interact with Bryant, waiting in Bonifacio Global City a day before the event — all in the hopes of getting to see him up close and personal. 

But like many hopes in our lives, his efforts didn't pay off.

"There was a bunch of us holding jerseys, posters, balls, hoping upon hope that Kobe would come over like he does in the States and casually sign it... But no such luck," he lamented. 

"[When he got to ULTRA for a clinic], He got eight or nine basketballs, signed it on the spot and started throwing it into the crowds. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of the lucky guys," he continued.

Not to be discouraged by not getting a piece of his idol, Uy started to wrack his brain for other ways to get something signed by Bryant — which didn't require a whole lot of luck. 

"I was so dejected by the whole experience that I decided to go online and I'm gonna pay for it," he said.

"I spent around Php 15,000 for a ball," he continued. 

Unfortunately for Uy, it turned out to be a fake — a signature that was not authentic, and a replica ball that has started to deteriorate over the years. 

That's when Uy decided he was going to change his tactics and finally go the route that ensured success with authentic, certified memorabilia — even if it did come at a higher price. 

Now, 14 years later, he now has an extensive collection of all things Lakers — and HOFA to make sure nobody makes the same mistake as him. 

Uy's Kobe Bryant Panini Authenticated Mamba Mentality Book.
Courtesy of Ron Uy
Uy's Kobe Bryant Panini Authenticated Last season jersey
Courtesy of Ron Uy
Uy's Wilt Chamberlain Upper Deck Authenticated Hall of Fame Ball
Courtesy of Ron Uy

"That's the ball that started my collection," he said. 

Uy's journey into collection would spill over to his friends Songco and Gutierrez and would inevitably lead to the conception of HOFA in 2018, a company that hopes to educate fans and help them nurture their own passion for memorabilia. 

"Sabi ko 'Uy, pwede pa lang ganun na magkaroon ka ng signed memorabilia' and from then on nag-grow na," said Songco. 

"Since I was a kid, talagang nangongolekta na akong memorabilia... Nung nilapitan ako nila Stephen (Songco) to be a part of HOFA, to me it was a no-brainer. This is what I love to do," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez' Kobe Bryant memorabilia
Courtesy of Elvis Gutierrez

A win-win situation

Being collectors of memorabilia themselves, the managers of HOFA know the worth of their products and what it can potentially earn those willing to invest in the hobby. 

While knowing that the usual steep prices of signed memorabilia may seem daunting to a casual fan interested in taking the leap and starting their own collection, Uy, Songco and Gutierrez can assure you one thing — there is no way you can lose with authentic memorabilia. 

"Aside from the nostalgia (you get from your memorabilia), people are catching up that it's an investment, may growth yung item mo, may value," said Gutierrez. 

"It’s a win-win situation eh, maganda na nga sala mo, or man cave mo (with the memorabilia), nagappreciate pa yung value," he added.

This was amended to by Songco, who had a pair of Jordan 11s signed by Michael Jordan himself. 

Songco's 1996 Air Jordan 11 Concords Player Exclusive Size 13.5 Game Used Dual-Signed Dual-Inscribed 'Best Wishes_ JSA & Mears Authenticated
Courtesy of Stephen Songco

He had paid around Php 60,000 to have the right shoe signed, and now his investment has grown more than tenfold with its value now at around Php 750,000. 

"There's really an appreciation of value of signed memorabilia," Songco said. 

‘Memorabilia Godfathers’

Knowing how difficult it can be to enter the world of memorabilia collection blindly as a fan hoping to get a piece of sports history, HOFA was conceived to help those just beginning their collections. 

Eager to save the newer memorabilia collectors from the mistakes that Uy and many others like him made, all three collectors have made it a point to not only act as a seller to their customers, but also as a helping hand that makes memorabilia collection easier. 

More than seeking to grow their company or make profit, HOFA puts its primary focus on educating and helping the hobby reach even more people in a sports-crazy country like the Philippines.

"A lot of people were asking us a lot of questions and we were helping them," Songco said. 

"Naisip ko, why not create a company that sells signed memorabilia sa Philippines kasi wala ngang nagbebenta. Underserved market siya," he added.

Once they got the license to sell, it became their full-time mission to be a mentor and friend to all their clients. 

"What really appealed to us was that we wanted to be a company that's not about the profit or the sale," said Uy. 

"HOFA is the collector's friend... Battle cry ng company namin is to educate and just growing the hobby here," he added. 

The Laker fan even said that their clients affectionately call them the "Ninongs" of memorabilia collection. 

Songco's Michael Jeffrey Jordan Full Name Signed Wilson Basketball LTD to 23 pcs Upperdeck Authenticated
Courtesy of Stephen Songco

"HOFA is here and it is here to help with your memorabilia needs," Gutierrez quipped. 

Localizing HOFA

Only having been in the industry for three years, there is more than enough room to grow for the Filipino business. 

Passionate not only about international sports but also for the local scene, the trio of sports fanatics foresee a future for memorabilia not only for the biggest names internationally — but also those of our own Filipino greats.

A long-term goal for HOFA is to become a local version of sports company Upper Deck, able to produce and increase in value memorabilia for some of the biggest names in Philippine sports. 

"We want to be the one authenticating the Philippine professional athletes [memorabilia]," said Songco.

Those interested in sports memorabilia collection can reach out to HOFA via their website and social media assets such as on Instagram @hofa.ph.

HOFA offers various memorabilia across different sports that can be easily accessible for fans with user-friendly payment methods and delivery options.

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