• Extra Points
  • Posts
  • Guest Post: What happens to Giveaway Merch that doesn't get given away?

Guest Post: What happens to Giveaway Merch that doesn't get given away?

It doesn't get thrown away, for one thing.

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

This edition of Extra Points is brought to you by AMPLOS:

Awareness; Action; Accountability – The team at AMPLOS relies on this process to help individuals, teams, and organizations optimize their potential. They work with some of the most recognizable sports organizations and successful college athletic programs in the country, empowering them to be better and pursue better through leadership coaching, culture building, and learning opportunities. Want to learn more? Reach out to their team today.

I’m happy to turn today’s newsletter over to a guest writer, Joe Healy, who currently writes for D1.baseball. Joe hit me up and asked a question I had never considered…which I feel like makes for a perfect Extra Points topic.

You know those giveaways that athletic departments sometimes do to help encourage people to come to games? You know, the first 500 people get a hat or a t-shirt or a bobblehead? What happens to any of the extras? Are there just garages somewhere full of bobbleheads and XXL shirts and hats?

He asked around and found out:

What happens when promotional giveaway items aren’t given away?

Athletic department marketing and fan experience employees are a resourceful bunch. Their jobs simply demand it.

How else would they be able to take what starts as a blank slate of hundreds of home athletic event dates and turn it into a year-long carnival? In addition to finding new ways to put butts in seats, they have to delicately balance avoiding repeating too much of what they’ve done in the past with experimenting with new giveaways and promotions.

“Certainly we look at what’s been successful in the past, and then we’re always looking for something new that might be effective,” says Tom Weber, Southern Illinois University’s Senior Associate AD for Communications, a role that encompasses marketing as well as media services. “I’ll be honest, I travel a fair amount on the road and I’ll see something that a school has done and say ‘we might be able to apply that at SIU.’ There’s always an ongoing idea gathering process.”

You can also see that resourcefulness in action when it comes to finding second (or third) lives for those giveaway items that aren’t, you know, given away.

The goal, of course, is to not have much of anything left over after a giveaway day. It’s promotional giveaway nirvana to have such excitement about a particular item that you have fans lined up at the gates before they open, just to make sure they get some free merch.

Katy Johnson, an Assistant Director of Marketing who handles promotions at the University of Florida for its volleyball and baseball programs, had one such giveaway on her hands last spring, when they gave away crewneck sweatshirts with the popular script Florida across the front, matching the font used on a popular jersey set for the baseball team itself.

Via the University of Florida

“The sweatshirts I definitely saw coming (as a big hit),” Johnson said. “From the design standpoint, we hadn’t used the Florida script a ton on our giveaways and also it’s a very unique item from a giveaway standpoint. We do so many t-shirts and so many t-shirts that you can only have so many, right? This is a different version of something you can wear. So I think it was a combination of the Florida script, I think the color of the sweatshirt worked out really well, it was this heather blue with the white Florida script on it, and I think it was just really clean. It was something (where) people were like ‘I would buy that if it was in a store.’”

For items like that, ones that marketing folks know will go quickly, scarcity is built into the giveaway. You want to have enough so that everyone who puts in the effort to line up extra early gets something for their trouble, but not so many that your average fan who didn’t necessarily plan on receiving the giveaway item can roll in five minutes before the event starts and get their hands on it.

“Not everybody is going to want a bobblehead, but I think (some) people see it as a great added value and they’ll want to arrive early and it helps create an atmosphere,” Weber said. “You don’t want to have so few that people are disappointed if they don’t get there early and show up, and the person that shows up right before tipoff probably knows they’re not going to get one.”

Finding that balance is something of an inexact science, and while the precise formula for arriving at how many of an item to give away undoubtedly varies from campus to campus, there’s no teacher quite like experience. Getting the right balance, like everything else, takes reps.

“For rally towels (at baseball), I just really wanted something for every fan to get on opening day,” Johnson said. “So we had to have (towels for) however many actual seats we have, plus additional for the people on our berms. And then for student giveaways, I typically stay in the 500 to 750 range. I try to take a percentage of the amount of fans that we get and go from there. So with (giveaways for) 500 students, we typically average 1,000 students, so 50% of students are going to get something, which is pretty good. Whereas if it’s a general fan giveaway, if we have like 8,000 people there, I think 1,000 is a good amount of giveaways for that amount of people, especially if we’re trying to draw extra people in. I kind of just look at our average attendance and then go from there.”

But what if you miss? Or what if bad weather means you end up with fewer fans in the stadium than giveaway items at the gates?

Not every giveaway can be received with the fervor of the script Florida sweatshirts, and when you have something left over, it has to go somewhere.

The first stop for those items not given away, a fate more likely to meet smaller, less novel giveaways like rally towels, schedule posters and the like, might simply be a different giveaway opportunity.

Late in the baseball season, Katy Johnson and her team at Florida put on what amounts to a garage sale of UF promotional giveaways.

“At the last (baseball) game, we did a Gator baseball closet clean out,” Johnson said. “Obviously we had leftover stuff, but I intentionally held back one or two boxes of everything we did this season, just so those fans that maybe didn’t get an opportunity or some of our student giveaways that the general public can’t get access to, they could have the possibility of getting that at the closet clean out. We use the closet clean out to basically be like ‘here, take whatever you want.’ Normally, it’s like one item per person, but if we have (a lot) of things left, I don’t care if they take more than one.”

SIU takes a similar approach and some giveaways from last year will come in handy at an upcoming event that kicks off the sports calendar in Carbondale.

“I’ve got boxes full of kids' sunglasses, for example,” Weber said. “That was a giveaway, and we have an event called Fan Fest coming up on August 24th, and we’ll bring out a box of those kids’ sunglasses and when you sign up for kids club, you get a free kids club t-shirt and this year, we’re going to surprise them and we’ll have a supply of those kids’ sunglasses to give.”

In Florida’s case, if items make it past the cleanout phase at the end of the sports year, those things can once again be repurposed, perhaps this time at an event off-campus, where a smaller percentage of the fans in attendance have had access to this same merchandise.

“I use it throughout the year,” Johnson said. “I kind of joke that marketing and fan experience people are hoarders, because we go through our stuff and we’re like ‘oh, we could definitely use this.’ For a baseball example, I’ll use them at different fall ball events. So we’ll go play Georgia up in Jacksonville before the Florida-Georgia football game and I’ll bring some stuff up there and just let the fans have it.

“We just have various touch point events throughout the year. We just went to (Tampa Bay) Rays Chomp at the Trop and we brought some of our leftover promotions to that, and the fans loved it.”

Once things have filtered down to this point and the giveaway items have made multiple stops on the reuse and recycle tour, an item being evergreen can really pay off. An item from the previous year isn’t necessarily an item from the previous year if there’s no visible evidence of that being the case.

“We’ve also become wiser throughout the years,” Johnson said. “I try my hardest not to put dates on anything. I try not to be like ‘oh, it’s the 2023 season,’ and so then I can use it next year for random things.”

While the vintage sports memorabilia collector might wince at finding out that there’s not necessarily a closet full of SIU giveaways from the days when Bart Scott was playing linebacker for the Salukis or Florida giveaways from the Joakim Noah days just sitting in mothballs waiting to be uncovered, the reality is that it never comes to that.

“If they don’t get used on game day or if we have extras, we’ll definitely find a way to use them,” Weber said.

For marketing and fan experience professionals, those are words to live by.

This edition of Extra Points is also brought to you by the Faith and Sports Institute at Baylor University

If you’d like to buy ads on Extra Points OR in ADS3000, good news! They’re affordable, and we still have openings for this year. Drop me a line at [email protected]. If you have news tips or FOIAs you want to share, I’m at [email protected]. Otherwise, I’m at [email protected], @MattBrownEP on Twitter, @ExtraPointsMB on Instagram, and @MattBrown on Bluesky

Join the conversation

or to participate.