Promotional Products For Sports

By Charlotte Thomas

Counselor Mark Beaulieu sells sports balls and shoulder pads to schools and Little League teams. It irks him when people say, "Hey, I love sports. I could do your job." He makes it clear that his expertise is in creativity, not knowing sports stats.

Before you start discussing who's getting traded to who this spring, get it out of your head that sports products are just about sports. This area of promotional products is about ideas, not innings.

For instance, several well-known sporting goods manufacturers report that they're seeing the demand for hunting/fishing clothing and gear skyrocket. What's more, they're being bought by elevator companies and food wholesalers, among others.

Sports promotional products aren't always what you think, and often show up in places you'd never expect. Meg Downey, who works for a manufacturer of skin-care products, says she gets quizzical looks all the time at trade shows. "Where's the promotional fit?" people ask about the sun block and lip balm she offers. When she replies that the items are often used by golf and other resorts, the light bulb goes on. "Of course," people say. "Why didn't I think of that?"

Power Plays
Good ideas tend to work that way; obviously once someone else thinks of them. What's interesting about sports specialties is that they cover the whole gamut of price and products.

For example, Corporate America uses binoculars, notes promotional consultant Michael Levy, who says compact roof-prism binoculars were huge sellers last year. If you're not looking through a sports product, perhaps you're sitting on one. One counselor has seen a rising demand for inflatable stadium cushions. With attendance figures in the thousands at most sporting events, advertisers can get a lot of exposure.

Or, you can look a little lower. Some firms have chosen flip flops with a cut-out imprint on the sole and heel that leaves a continuous logo on any malleable surface one walks on ... sand, for instance. Promotional consultant John Amsterdam has sold them to a number of sports teams.

Reflective products are always in demand for sports-related promotions, says promotional consultant Lex Sloot. Wristbands, armbands, zipper tags, sneaker stickers and even bicycle tags are all popular. "Almost every walk-a-thon and bike-a-thon includes an imprinted remembrance from the sponsor of the event, he says. Nortel Networks recently ordered a large number of reflective zipper pulls and gave them out at the Boston Marathon.

Eyeing The Target
More along the lines of traditional sports products are hunting and fishing bags. Counselor Greg Bell notes that there are likely more hunters and fishermen in your target audience than you'd think. Some shopping areas have used the products as well, giving them to patrons with a "I'm going hunting at the mall" theme.

Still more traditional? Just about any kind of genuine sports ball is available imprinted, as well as other equipment such as hockey sticks or bats. There are even limited-edition collectible bats with the signatures and logos of major league stars and teams.

More playful promotions can use foam balls. They're able to be customized, are inexpensive and can be had in a whole range of colors and combinations as in team, school or corporate colors.

Off-The-Charts Demos
While sports products might not be at the very top of the promotional scoreboard, they've become a winner in corporate America, which saw the appeal of sports, and has run with it. "You can't go into any sports arena without seeing corporate names plastered everywhere," says promotional consultant Mark Cohen.

Corporations spend millions during sporting events trying to get the attention of fans through billboards and TV. Now, some are thinking, what better place to spend ad dollars than on items fans will take home with them or buy via corporate catalogs?

Scott Nash, marketing consultant, says the fit is a good one; corporations like to align themselves with sports events. Consider that just about every stadium has a corporate sponsor. Counselor Bert Woodall has done a lot of gym bags and backpacks for corporations, particularly those in the high-tech arena, which tend to be populated with 20- and 30-somethings who forego more traditional corporate outings like golf for activities like mountain biking.

Leading The Charge
Counselor Russ Burger notes that sports appeal to young and old, athletes or armchair quarterbacks. And in any given corporation, 50% to 60% of the employees are probably involved in some kind of sport.

Women can be counted too. Look at the newfound popularity of women's basketball and soccer. Harris has filled several orders for his backpacks from girls' teams. Cohen sees a natural association with foam balls and the themes of teamwork, winning attitudes, youthfulness and health. "Millions are spent on being younger and healthier, and sports products play right into it," he notes.

Bell notes that peoples' desire to look athletic even if they've never set foot in the great outdoors has boosted the use of sports products. Same with Levy, who's been asked for pedometers a lot, as they can be used for walking and running. Health clubs are big users. Sloot adds that with everyone in America looking for more leisure time and being encouraged to participate in fitness activities, the opportunities for sports promotional products will surely grow.

Perennial Performers
Even though sports are woven into American culture, it's still creativity that makes them effective in promotions. Beaulieu, for instance, has not only sold logoed baseballs to Little League teams, but to florists as flower-arrangement inclusions, and hospitals as an alternative to the traditional cigar birth announcement. In another vein, he's handled programs that involved selling soccer and playground balls on the back of soup cans and cereals.

Sports stuff lends itself to a slew of taglines. Bats of any size, could note, "Thanks for being on our winning team." Levy has used compasses with imprints like "Find your way to our booth" and "Everything points to ... ."

If holding a sales meeting or introducing a new product, the "kick off" theme can often work well. Nash recalls a promotion he handled which sent the winner to the Super Bowl. "Throughout the program, participants got quarterly scorecards. At the end everyone who achieved a certain level of points got a football totebag and stadium cushion he says.

Play To Win
As with most logoed merchandise, sports products should be good quality. This is key when giving incentive gifts. "If you've been doing business with a vendor doing $3 million a year for the last five years, are you going to give him a key chain?" asks one counselor. It's not hard to make an educated guess about what sport an intended recipient might like and select an appropriate item. Packaging can also add to perceived value. Decorated bats, for example, are available in a wood case. Lip balm can have more impact in packaging.

New imprinting techniques can also add to the equation. Cohen mentions a process to make a decal an integral part of a foam ball. You can do all-around printing on many balls. There are new ways to instantly decorate and reflectorize wearables and other cloth/plastic accessories. Embroidering can incorporate actual elements from baseballs or footballs. Presentation and desk folders can use materials that feel/look like football leather.

Getting into using sports-themed promotional products might be easy, but in order to win, you've got to have a catch of some sort. And that's where your counselor can really help you score big.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Charlotte Thomas is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, CO.

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