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Giving Back To The Fans While Promoting Products
By Bob Perlstein, Sports & Entertainment Direct 
Issue: 2002FEB

     According to recent surveys, the average cost of a ticket to a professional football game is $50 (Team Marketing Reports, 2000). The average ticket price for a NASCAR event is $75 (NASCAR News, 2000). That means it will cost a family of four between $200 and $300 to attend one of these professional sporting events. And that's just for the tickets! When you consider the additional costs for parking, food and souvenirs, the average fan has to put some substantial money away to take the family to the stadium or the racetrack. 
     As a way to reward fans for their loyalty and thank them for supporting the team, many companies, interested in increasing their presence at sports industry venues, are now participating in or sponsoring Fan Appreciation Programs. These companies recognize the importance of connecting with sports fans, who are fiercely passionate consumers and want their products in the hands of this "attend-and-spend" demographic. Fan Appreciation Programs are not just marketing tools; they are tangible offers of goodwill from the sponsors as well as the team. During these somewhat difficult times, it's good to see "back-to-basic" promotions. 
     So what are some examples of Fan Appreciation Programs? Fan Appreciation Programs can range from a contest where fans can register to win a high-profile prize (cruise, season tickets, etc.) to holding a night where a team passes out prizes to fans after the last home game of the season. Any program that rewards fans and gives them a sense of being appreciated is an effective one. 
     Arguably, one of the most effective Fan Appreciation Programs is the "goodie bag," (also known as fan bags) where bags are typically filled with sample products and special offers and distributed to fans as they arrive at or leave an event. When goodie bags are distributed professionally and include useful products, they prove to be a wanted commodity by fans and the most effective way to thank and reward them for their loyalty and commitment. At sporting events, goodie bags are the most effective way to put products directly in the hands of targeted consumers, who are primed for immediate trial. 

Successful Fan Appreciation Programs
     So what makes for a successful goodie bag within a Fan Appreciation Program? The best goodie bags include those products that give fans something that has perceived value. Perceived value is achieved when consumers believe the product has enriched a game, scenario or life in general. Perceived value encourages consumers to continue using the product. Therefore, some of the best items to fill a bag include consumer product samples, such as trial-size products and magazines, coupons for full-size products and promotional products, such as key chains, pens or letter openers, preferably with a customized company logo. 
     A very good use of logoed promotional products involves selecting those that are visible, that are related to the elements, such as umbrellas and ponchos for rainy events, ear warmers and headbands for outdoor cold-weather events, and fans and water bottles for events in the summer heat. Because so many sports events are televised, these imprinted products can give advertisers a promotional "double whammy."
     The size of the products included adds to the perceived value, as does the number of premium samples that are included in the bag. Bags that include a variety of products from many different manufacturers are effective in both cost and scope. Fans love to receive good "stuff" and lots of it. 
     Products that can be used immediately are excellent items to place in a goodie bag. As an example, Banana Boat samples of sunscreen were included in bags distributed at NASCAR events. Fans were outside all day in the middle of summer and many had forgotten their sunscreen. The Banana Boat products were used immediately and saved many fans from getting burned as they watched the races. 
     Another example of putting immediate-use products into the hands of fans is when Heinz distributed its Heinz 57 Sauce at campgrounds and RV parks outside NASCAR events. Fans were barbequing before, during and after the race and were able to use the new sauce immediately.
     Matching the products included in the bags with the majority demographic of the fans is imperative. Consider the makeup of fans that typically attend the events and find companies who make the products that these fans will use or appreciate. This increases the win-win situation for both the fan and the product manufacturer. Examples of matching the product sample with the demographic audience and lifestyle include barbeque sauce, antacid and paper products samples at events where tailgating is a big part of the event, or giving away muffin mix, candy and snack samples at events that families attend. 
     Logoed promotional products distributed in the RV parks and campgrounds during NASCAR events have included refrigerator magnets from White Lily Muffin Mix and bright orange antenna balls from Union 76.

Events and venues play a major role in the success of a Fan Appreciation Program.
1.  Events that include very large groups of fans are the most favorable for a program. Events such as professional football games, college football games and NASCAR events are great examples. These events can attract more than 100,000 fans per event and bring the volume necessary for an effective program. 
2.  Outdoor events and venues are more effective as they can hold a greater number of people and have less restrictions regarding distribution. These large, outdoor venues also have multiple distribution points and additional opportunities for distribution such as offsite parking lots and campgrounds. The ability to hand out a great number of bags at many locations outside the venue is a key to success. 

Examples of promotional products for outdoor sporting events include: selected imprinted fans for the MLB All Star Game in Atlanta in July.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota gave away bumper and helmet stickers with humorous slogans.
ESPN Classic provided water bottles as a way to promote the ESPN Classic Sports Legend.

Unsuccessful Fan Appreciation Programs
Having answered the question of what makes a successful Fan Appreciation Program, it only makes sense to now ask the question of what contributes to an unsuccessful program? 

Always make sure you have more than enough products to distribute. Nothing ruins a Fan Appreciation Program like running out of bags or product samples to fill them-right in the middle of distribution. Suddenly, the "passionate consumers" mentioned earlier turn their passion on those who are distributing the bags and want what all the other fans got before them. Fans who feel they have been "duped" make for unhappy consumers and unhappy consumers are bad for any company. 

     Next, be sure that your products match your target demographic and lifestyle and are appropriate. When you put products in a goodie bag that fans do not want or do not perceive as valuable, you completely diminish the program and create something that fans throw away quickly. When you include products that might be inappropriate such as tobacco, alcohol or personal items, you can immediately alienate the majority of your target consumer, destroy the objective of the program and tarnish the reputation of the other products in the bag. You also destroy the credibility and reputation of your own company. 
     Regarding venues and events, always "do the right thing" by the owners of the event. That means abiding by the local rules of distribution, not obstructing or slowing down the flow of traffic after the event, making arrangements for any clean-up of bags, samples or papers that are discarded or left over, and utilizing credible and responsible local sources to assist with your distribution. Working with and being completely cooperative with local law enforcement is also a must. 
     Work with a company that has experience in Fan Appreciation Program development as well as the resources to implement all aspects of the program at many events. There are too many parts of a Fan Appreciation Program, including coordination, fulfillment, warehousing and distribution, which an inexperienced marketing firm will miss. 
     And finally, always remember that the goal of the Fan Appreciation Program is to add to the overall experience of the fans at the event, and to reward and thank them for their loyalty and patronage. The name says it all-so appreciate the fans.