Merchandising for sports events is not new; in fact, it is always a favorite tactic in marketing and fund raising. People can’t resist a souvenir – whether it comes free or at a cost – of the game or tournament they’re attending.
Sports at the pro and college levels are great sellers of merchandise, but they’re not the only ones. Mass participation sports events like marathons or 5K races, tennis tournaments, even motor sports events like a Grand Prix, use logo merchandise to raise their profile and boost their revenue stream.
And now it’s your turn. If you’re just starting to investigate the possibilities of merchandising an event, here are a few tips from someone who has been in the business for a long time.
What Kind of Merchandise?
What would you like to offer and why? Do you want to give out a T-shirt to everyone who registers for a race so that the cost is included in the registration fee? Do you want to sell hats to make money? Are you appearing at a community fair and doing advance promotion for your event using inexpensive give-aways bearing the date and website of the event? What you choose to purchase and distribute will depend to a large extent on how and when you intend to use it
Trends in Merchandising
Fashions change, and merchandising is no different. Today, there is a demand for functional items. Consumers want something they can use once the event is over. They also want something they can bring home easily. (If athletes are flying in to be part of a sports event, for example, ceramic coffee mugs aren’t the best souvenir because they’re prone to breaking and heavier to pack – a problem when luggage weights are being watched more closely).
People are more eco-conscious now and that carries over into merchandising. If an item isn’t useful, it’s probably not going to move. Children might like slap bracelets or key chains or refrigerator magnets but adults generally won’t pick them up. Pens, on the other hand, are more popular.
What we are seeing a rise in is technology-related merchandise. Thumb drives, for example, are hugely popular right now. They’re small, easy to hand out, light to pack and everyone loves getting them. They come in a variety of memory sizes, and they keep coming down in price. They are almost unlimited in design as well, meaning they can be personalized for almost any organization or event. Another technology item on the low end of the price scale we’re seeing a spike in is a silicone envelope called an iWallet – it sticks to a smartphone case and gives people a place to put their driver’s license and credit cards.
There is a lot of merchandise out there, and of course, you want to make good choices. Sometimes, it helps to ask yourself: ‘What do I have too much of?’ If you think you have too many souvenir plastic water bottles, koozies, etc., then other people may have too many of those as well.
Your choice of item will also depend on the demographic of your intended recipient. For example, we have noticed that at college recruiting events, students like anything that is free. An event with an older crowd will be a little more selective. Ultimately, the choice of item to buy is driven by your knowledge of the consumer. Who is going to be standing at the counter, deciding what to buy? Is this an outdoor event where a hat would come in handy? How about a lanyard with the name of the event that someone would want to use as a personal souvenir? Knowing your market is essential.
We’ve discussed items that can be used again after an event, and there’s no better example of this than apparel. A T-shirt from an event, for example, is something people are proud to wear at the time and later on. It’s also a great marketing tool. It continues to promote the event and the sport every time the person puts it on.
If you’re planning to sell shirts, remember that most purchases of apparel are graphics-driven; in other words, people will buy it if they like the way it looks. Spend the extra money and make sure you’re working with a good graphics person who can provide an interesting design.
Shirt color is always a challenge. We sometimes hear people say they don’t want another white T-shirt, but white shirts cost less. Because of the dye process, colored shirts cost more to buy, and printing on them is more expensive. A vendor can help you weigh your options and discuss various prices. (Something we’ve learned? In retail, black is a very popular color. It outsells white shirts two to one).
Shirt fabric has become an interesting dynamic in recent years. At one time, all T-shirts were heavy cotton. Those shirts are still around, but these days, more varieties are available. A shirt in a slub fabric, for example, is lighter weight and feels softer. Then there are performance shirts that people can wear to the gym or for other athletic uses. These will cost more. (Hint: make sure any performance shirt has antimicrobial and sweat-wicking properties before you commit to buying it if it’s intended for use in athletic endeavors).
Some things can boost the sale of apparel. For a grade school or high school-age team, try a shirt that lists all the players’ names on the back. Kids will definitely want it and so will their parents. If it’s a regional tournament, list just the participating schools. (Obviously, this tactic won’t work for very large events but in smaller settings, it can really enhance sales).
A more sophisticated tactic is co-branding. That means not only are you using your event’s logo, but you’re putting it on higher-end merchandise, such as a Nike T-shirt. This is probably the biggest trend these days. Co-branding has the most cache and it obviously makes your T-shirt (hat, jacket, etc.) a lot more desirable. It does drive up the cost, though, so make sure you talk with your vendor.
Finally, Your Vendor
Throughout this discussion, there have been periodic references to using a vendor. While it’s easy to find online merchants to provide personalized apparel and merchandise, it’s essential to find someone who is dependable and honest. The good deal you find online isn’t going to be very good if the shirts or souvenirs aren’t the quality you expected, or if they aren’t ready by the date of the event.
A good ninety percent of our business is done by referral from existing clients, and that’s good advice you can use when you go in search of a vendor. Ask your colleagues who they’ve worked with and what they thought of that company. Ultimately, most buyers like to work with someone on a consistent basis.
When working with your vendor, be sure to allow adequate time when ordering anything. Even if you’re unsure of your registration numbers, don’t wait until the last minute to place an order. Have your logo ready, your colors and quantities picked out and your vendor ready to move forward.
All companies have a turnaround time; that means from the date they get the order to the date it is fabricated and shipped, a specific time window will come into play. For example, some (not all) types of apparel will have a minimum 10-day turnaround. Water bottles might have a similar production cycle. As always, though, it depends on whether the company has what you want in stock at the time. If you change your quantity at the last minute or wait too long, you will incur extra charges. Always build in as much extra time as possible.
Vendors can provide you with samples of items, and can explain the price breaks when it comes to ordering in specific quantities. They can also educate you about what’s on the market and what’s in demand. Ultimately, your vendor should be someone you can form a relationship with. This really is a trust business, a friendship business. That’s what it’s all about.