Charity Makes Online ‘Experience Auctions’ Viable

If you are interested in playing 18 holes with Tiger Woods or taking batting practice with New York Yankee Derek Jeter, a new company called Ultimatebid.com has made a deal to auction off such “experiences” to the highest bidder via the Internet.

Not a sports fan? Not to worry. You can also bid to go backstage with supermodel Heidi Klum at a fashion show or meet pop diva Gloria Estefan at the Grammy Awards.

Fantasy Bids

Ultimatebid.com is the latest e-commerce company to enter the race to generate revenue for celebrities and jocks online — and, in many cases, for their favorite charities as well.

A unit of Broadband Sports, Inc., Athlete Direct, has already auctioned “experiences” with athletes through a deal with major league online auctioneer eBay. Also, next month, SFX Entertainment’s Esuperstars.com is scheduled to launch a site that sells outings with famous athletes.

High-End Investors

Betting that fans will be willing to bid thousands of dollars (US$) to spend some time with their favorite jock or celebrity has spurred sports and entertainment agency International Management Group to invest in Ultimatebid.com. Other financial backers include Rosewood Venture Group.

So far, the startup says its investors have committed $15 million, but the company expects to complete another $20 million round of funding soon.

Will Fans Really Pay Top Dollar?

While the idea behind such startups is definitely unique, some industry analysts wonder whether fans will really pay top dollar for outings with their favorite superstars, especially if there is no charity being supported.

When Athlete Direct recently auctioned a chance to meet home run king Mark McGwire, for example, the event drew a disappointing bid of $7,350. Since the multi-millionaire McGwire and other celebrities likely do not care about making an extra $7,000, celebrity experience auctions may not turn into the panacea that its investors have imagined.

Charity Auctions May Make Sense

Basically, the income disparity between the superstars and their fans could well doom the idea of experience auctions, particularly to meet stars who are in demand. While the average fan might be able to pony up a few hundred — or even a few thousand — dollars for an event, the superstars often make that much in several minutes.

I just cannot imagine Tiger Woods getting excited about making $5,000, or even $25,000, for playing a quick 18 holes with me. His time is probably more valuable to him than the chump change he would earn.

I can, however, see him playing and enjoying it if the money were going to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which supports promoting golf to underprivileged kids. There are numerous superstars who take charitable activities very seriously. By auctioning off their time, they can raise money for charities that really need the help.

Unfortunately for the companies that are investing in this new area of e-commerce, there may not be much of a market for the narcissistic pleasure of spending time with your favorite superstar as part of a profit-making enterprise.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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