HomeArticlesChristian Duque

Sam Sulek and $80 Photos?

by Christian Duque

Capitalism is all about supply and demand. It’s what a lot of things are about even more so than just business. Take celebrities and their pull with the audience. Celebrities are no different than the rest of us except for the fact that they may have a claim to fame. Something about them may stand out. Perhaps they’re good at making us laugh or they have the ability to pen a great song. Sometimes celebs might be butt-ugly but they still command legions of adoring fans who buy magazines, movie tickets, and any memorabilia they can get their hands on.

The same has been the case in the fitness industry. Who can forget when Rich Piana started selling plastic jugs of water with 5% across them. These were totally generic jugs. They didn’t have any bells and whistles. What they did have was Rich’s brand on them and Rich drank out of them on his wildly successful videos.

As a result, people were shelling out $10 or $20 without a second’s thought. He wasn’t autographing them or doing photo deals where if you bought one you got a signed 8×10. People just bought them because they loved everything he stood for. Other examples of this fan-loyalty can be seen in supplements themselves.

Some people may not even like a certain company. They might think their supps are trash. Maybe they don’t mix well, maybe they taste like ass, but because said company signed their favorite athlete, they’ll buy the pills and powders. Some fans won’t even crack the tubs open. They might just snap a selfie, tag the star, and then give the actual stuff away. It’s all about supporting the company that supports their favorite athlete. Nothing more, nothing less.

The idea that a super popular influencer like Sam Sulek is getting $80 per photo at the 2024 Arnold Classic Expo is infuriating to some, but makes perfect sense to me. And here’s why.

Back in the day when I ran IronMag TV one of our top guys, Gregg Valentino, used to love giving Lou Ferrigno shit for charging $25 for autographed 8×10’s at the Arnold. The way he saw it, The Incredible Hulk star had movie money, gym money, bodybuilding money, so why did he need to get a measly $25 from young fans who wanted to meet their favorite star?

Plus it’s not like he was even actively competing. He had a big tv show and was probably still making a killing from his show in the 70’s. There was also all that Pumping Iron money which he probably still made. Lou has never been hurting for money. In fact, Gregg hated the fact that Ferrigno apparently had so much money that it even led to internal family disputes. The way Gregg saw it from my vantage point was that Ferrigno was beyond greedy and that charging fans for autographs was a pretty grimy thing to do all things considered.

Guys like Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman don’t charge for autographs so then why you should Lou? Well we go back to initial premise of this article. It’s all about supply and demand. If you take a handful of dirt and try to sell it, chances are no one’s going to buy it. Dirt, like air, is everywhere. No one’s going to buy something they can get for free. However, if Tom Cruise or Mariah Carrey grab a handful of dirt and try to sell it, there’s going to be interested buyers. Not because it’s dirt but because it’s dirt a celebrity held.

It’s the King Midus approach all day. Whatever King Midus touched turned into gold. So are we comparing the fanfare of Lou Ferrigno to Tom Cruise? In most cases such a comparison would be laughable. In bodybuilding and fitness, a case can certainly be made. To people that saw Pumping Iron when it came out and have followed the sport 20, 30, or 40 years then standing in line for a $25 photo makes sense. For just a few minutes of waiting and the same amount of money as lunch for two at a high-end establishment like McDonald’s they can chitchat with a guy they’ve looked up to forever, maybe get a quick phone selfie, and have an autographed 8×10 they can put in the office. They could even make something up like, “yeah, my buddy Lou signed that for me after I saved his life.” It’s bullshit, but then you pull your phone out and say, “here’s a shot of us in Columbus, I got plenty more, but time is money and I got things to do.” You’d be surprised what you can do with a selfie and a signed 8×10. My point is, $25 was a drop in the bucket for hardcore fans back then.

Here’s a twist for ya, though. While Lou charged $25 for a photo back in the day, it was 100% his call. He set the price and he kept the Andrew Jackson and the Abraham Lincoln. In Sam Sulek’s case, I’m not so sure he’s setting the price or pocketing the 4 20’s.

Let me stress one key point before I go on. I’m speculating here; I don’t know if what I’m saying is on the money or in the wrong zip code. That’s very important to stress because I’m not familiar with Sam’s contract with Hosstile, though I have seen plenty contracts in the fitness industry in my day. I’ve seen some that are very vague and open-ended and I’ve seen others that are so restrictive they make me wonder if they’re even legally enforceable. I will also add in that HS’ contracts are known more for the latter than the former. Have I seen any? No comment.

Here’s what I do know.

I know that athletes that sign contracts in the fitness industry are largely at the mercy of supplement company owners. Once they sign on the dotted line, they no longer have the kind of freedom that they do as free agents. Once they cash their checks, they have to do pretty much whatever they’re told in order for their sponsors to recoup expenses. There are no free lunches in bodybuilding. And from a sponsors perspective, they are not looking to break even, rather, they want to make a hefty profit off of every dollar that goes out.

The reality of the matter is sponsorships are few and far between these days. In order to sign an athlete to a large contract, the return on investment has to be substantial. So while I don’t think that Sam is charging $80 a photo I would not be surprised if his sponsor is. In which case it is a completely different situation than the Lou Ferrigno one. Not only is Sam not setting the price, but he is also not pocketing the revenue. What he is getting is a sponsorship and everything that he must do to keep that sponsorship has more to do with his sponsor than with himself.

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