Pin trading: more than just a hobby – it's a proper business too
Monday, 28 May 2012
I must admit I don't overly get the whole pin-badge collecting thing.
That said, I have a few that I know are particularly special – not least a small gold International Olympic Committee (IOC) pin kindly given to me by International Boxing Association (AIBA) President C K Wu. But pin collecting is still a subject I don't know all that much about.
From my relatively small time in the Olympic world, I have encountered frenzied pin trading on just three occasions. The first was at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 when I was genuinely bemused when I gave somebody the pin I had acquired in my free media bag (after they had politely asked for it) and was given three pins in exchange. It was later, when I dropped into the Athletes' Village and found a host of pin collectors frantically swapping, that I realised my earlier experience wasn't as strange as I had thought it was.
The second was at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, when I discovered that pins were a precious commodity as I could trade them for drinks at the Main Press Centre with a young Indian man who was clearly a hard-core pin collector, if a poor drinks vender.
Episode number three was at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck at the start of the year. By this point, I had a bit more of an understanding of the pin world and I actually managed to pick up a nice pin or two. I don't really know how you judge a good pin from a bad one, or a new one from an old one; I simply go for the ones that look quite 'cool'.
But I never put pin collecting down as a big business, or even a business of any kind that would create good commercial revenues.
It was therefore somewhat of a surprise when I sat down with Peter Zeytoonjian, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) managing director of consumer products, at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas to discuss the subject, where he explained just how big the whole thing is.
"Pins are one of our bigger categories in terms of consumer products and they will definitely be huge at the London 2012 Olympic Games for the British market," he told me at the impressive Hilton Anatole.
"We don't really market the pins in the way that you would traditionally market a product because it is just one of those special items that is very important to the Olympic Games, and there is no real way to market that.
"Pins are actually steeped in the history of the Olympics and people have collected them from Games to Games for a very long period now.
"I previously worked at the National Football League (NFL) where we did pins and they were relatively popular but nowhere near to the extent that the pins done for the Olympic Games are.
"I think that is just down to the tradition of the Olympic Games, and that is obviously something that cannot just be replicated in other places."
He added: "To be honest, I'm not a major pin collector but at the USOC we do understand that it's really important to the consumers, more important than probably any other Olympics-related product, so we obviously do it and make it a high priority.
"Why it is so important is difficult to understand and something that I was surprised by coming from the NFL.
"I mean, even though the NFL is sport and in theory pins should mean the same thing there, it really doesn't.
"It is really quite unique to the Olympics."
Zeytoonjian explained that he got a real opportunity to delve into the world of Olympic pins last year when he went to the Olympin Annual Meeting in Chicago. For those in any confusion, the Olympin Collectors Club is dedicated to promoting Olympic pin trading and the collecting of Olympic memorabilia.
It was formed in 1982, following the conclusion of the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, by Don Bigsby and a group of fellow pin collectors. After modest beginnings in the Albany area, Olympin slowly grew and began to attract Olympic hobbyists from all over North America. As the Olympic memorabilia circus ballooned after the Los Angeles Games in 1984, it continued to grow and has become known globally, now boasting over 600 members worldwide.
"I delivered a speech in Chicago at the Olympin Annual Meeting thanking all the delegates for their support for USOC pins," said Zeytoonjian.
"It was at that event that I really got a clear idea of what was going on with pin trading at every turn. I also saw that there was money involved. It wasn't as if there were huge sums of money but I saw that some of the older, rarer pins do not come that cheap. It is a real passion for people, and it was great to see how much excitement and enthusiasm that pin collectors have."
Next stop is London in 2012, and for the pin collectors out there you may want to keep your eye out for the latest USOC merchandise.
"We do Team USA pins and an assortment of different pins that are in the market place," said Zeytoonjian.
"We have the all-new brand marks we released after the Vancouver Games so we will have all-new pins for the Games in London in 2012 that have never been seen before.
"We started releasing London 2012 products about two weeks ago and we are really going to expand as we get closer to the Games, so that it is definitely something to look out for.
"London 2012 will be my second Games after Vancouver in 2010, and it was in Vancouver where I saw how big pin trading at the Olympics actually is.
"But London is shaping up to be a lot bigger than Vancouver in terms of pin trading from the feedback we are getting, and that is very exciting for us.
"But I know all about the marketing plan from the USOC for Beijing and I think pin trading at London will be even bigger for us than it was there in China.
"With our new brand identities, we think there will be real excitement and there will be a real desire to get hold of the USOC pins.
"It is obviously good for the USOC that we are going to an English speaking country [Britain] and that might help the popularity of the pins as well."
As I explained earlier, I'm not the world's biggest pinhead. But after my chat with Zeytoonjian, I decided to take a quick look at the online Team USA shop and see what all the fuss was about.
I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with the USOC London 2012 pin collection, particularly the 2012 Team USA Tower Bridge Basic London Pin which depicts the Team USA Olympic Shield sitting on a silver Tower Bridge. There was also a great one of the iconic red London phone booth with the Team USA Olympic Shield. I also quite liked track and field example with an athlete running next to the Team USA Olympic Shield.
Pretty quickly, I realised why the world of pin trading can become so additive.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames
Honav is the official manufacturer of pins for London 2012