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How Pro Sports Teams Are Handling Promotional Giveaways for Canceled or Delayed Games

Brendan Menapace

Usually around this time we’re reporting on which teams in Major League Baseball have the best or most creative promotional giveaways scheduled for the rest of the year. The NHL and NBA seasons would also be winding down, so we’d probably have a few stories about big-time playoff giveaways or standout promotional items.

But, owing to the current circumstances, we’re left to talk about what could have been. It seems like lately we’ve been allocating a lot of digital space toward figuring out where promotional products used for political campaigns or the 2020 Olympics will go. Now we’re wondering where the promotional products planned for the beginning of the MLB season will go.

The short answer is that a lot of them will end up in storage for when the fans are allowed back into the ballpark. Other orders weren’t fulfilled yet, so that’s not an issue for the franchises.

The St. Louis Business Journal looked into what the St. Louis Cardinals were planning to do with their planned giveaways for the beginning of the season. After refunding ticket holders for the games scheduled for April 13 through May 16, a lot of those promos are either sitting in storage or temporarily on hold through their distributor(s).

"For those dates we knew it was best to place those orders on hold, we have done so, with the intention of being able to hit 'go' on the order as soon as the timing is right,” Dan Farrell, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Cardinals, told the St. Louis Business Journal. “In the meantime, for those orders of promotional items that are in production or have already arrived, we are working through the logistical plans for storage of those items for future use.”

A lot of items can be used later (just like political merchandise without a year or office specified). As long as a player doesn’t get traded, items like bobbleheads and T-shirts will still be in demand. And unless the team changes the logo any time soon, the items should be pretty evergreen.

Let’s take a quick peek at the Cardinals' promotional schedule during that time period of refunded games:

  • Throwback jersey? Definitely safe.
  • Lucy from “Peanuts” bobblehead? Safe. She never played for the Cardinals in the first place, so it’s not like she’ll be in a Twins uniform by the time the season starts.
  • Cardinals fleece vest? Safe. Torsos will always be cold, and vests will always remain the ultimate layering piece.

There’s plenty more, but the point is that while it’s a pain for the team and its distributor partners to put things on hold, it’s not a total wash.

The city’s NHL franchise, the Blues, won’t even wait until fans can get into the Enterprise Center. The team is giving away its planned promotional items regardless. It has them ready and everything.

“If the remaining home games are not rescheduled, we will offer our fans a chance to purchase these items from our STL Authentics team store,” Mike Caruso, vice president of media and brand communications for the Blues, told the St. Louis Business Journal.

Those items include a Blues sweatshirt and Vladimir Tarasenko bobblehead (in a Cardinals uniform, actually).

If the NHL does resume play, it’s possible that it holds games in front of empty arenas, which would necessitate these team stores for the planned promotional items. This means that e-commerce capabilities are even more important than ever for sports franchises and their commercial partners. There’s also always the possibility of drop-shipping items to season ticket holders, sort of like how attendees for planned business events and trade shows that became virtual-only still got the promotional products they would have received on the show floor.

We hope at least the Tampa Bay Rays figure something out for these bobbleheads they have scheduled for the season. We've never seen anything quite like them. They look like normal bobbleheads, but play TV broadcast calls, and fit together if you collect them all.

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