We are lucky to be living in an era of jersey fanatics, when web sites like Uni Watch and Sportslogos.net have legions of fans clamoring for even the slightest updates to jersey designs. (Count me among them!)
That’s why no promotion is more alluring to fans now like a special one-off jersey night and auction. Special jerseys build excitement among your regular fans and draw jersey enthusiasts from outside your area.
How can you ensure a special jersey night will not just pay for itself, but will also earn a sizable sum for your favorite cause? I got some advice from two of the best in the business. Juliana Paoli is Senior Vice President of Communications & Chief Marketing Officer with the San Jose Giants, and Jen Brunson is Senior Director of Community Development for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Here's what they had to say.
Make It Matter
The San Jose Giants center their jersey auctions around cause-related nights and co-brand the jersey with whatever organization they’re raising money for. Linking a jersey to a cause lends more value to it. Sometimes, that value goes way beyond monetary.
For instance, Paoli recalled selling a cancer research jersey to a player whose mother was going through chemotherapy. She wanted to wear his jersey for each treatment as a way to feel closer to her son.
“I’ve always said we’ve never had to ask anyone to write us a check for the cost of the jerseys,” said Paoli. “We always end up making money for the organizations we partner with. We’re happy to take on the costs up front because we know they will sell.”
Include the Business Community
Brunson said military appreciation nights are big in Myrtle Beach, which is located within driving distance of several military bases. One local business sponsors everything for that night, from special card sets to T-shirts given away at the gate.
“That business asked its employees to make a donation to help cover the cost of the jerseys, because we wanted to give them to veterans and active military in attendance that night,” said Brunson. “We raffled off jerseys to 41 people, but we were still able to cover the cost with donations.”
When it comes to jersey events that build goodwill in the community, the more the merrier.
Tie It to the Experience
A Minor League ballgame is one giant carnival of fun, where a baseball game just happens to be going on. Fans enjoy the food, the mascots, the between-inning contests and the kiss cam. In San Jose, Paoli said fans enjoy the auctions, too.
That's because winning bidders don't just get the jersey. They also get the experience of retrieving it from the player on the field after the game.
“That moment they get with our players is what they’re really paying for," said Paoli. "Some teams don’t realize ability they have and leave money on the table.”
Wear Them More Than Once
Brunson said that last year the Pelicans wore a special cancer jersey for four games instead of one, and the added exposure made a difference in the auction.
“We auctioned them off online at the end of the year, and it was our most successful auction because people got to see them more often,” she said.
Let Fans Buy It Now
The Giants do in its live auctions what eBay does so well online -- play on people’s impatience. The latter does it by offering a “Buy It Now” option in many of its listings. At Municipal Stadium, fans get a "Buy It Off the Table" option. It’ll cost them, though.
“That number ranges, even fluctuating based on the player,” said Paoli. “An average price is $400, but for the San Jose Bees jerseys we did last year it was $1,000. It should’ve been more.”
You can hear the regret in Paoli’s voice when she mentions the Bees jersey Hall-of-Famer George Brett wore during his appearance at the game. The team set the Buy It Now price at $2,000. It sold in less than a minute.
“We haven’t perfected the pricing yet, but we have at least one jersey bought off the table at every auction,” she said. “That extra few hundred dollars helps offset the others that get the minimum bid of $85 to $100.”
And even the minimum bid price is $20 to $30 above cost.
Don’t Forget the Players
Guess who really gets psyched about special jerseys? The players. Paoli said one-off jerseys break the monotony of a long season and has them excited to bid.
“They will come running out of dugout as soon as they see the jerseys on the counter because they want to buy theirs before the auction,” said Paoli.
That can be a problem. A top prospect may want his jersey, but his is the one that is likeliest to get the highest bid. So, the team now takes orders from the players and includes them with the regular order.
“We go down to the clubhouse with the artwork and order form," said Paoli. "It’s been a really good addition for us.”
Definitely Log On
Even without great live auction results, teams can make a killing online. In fact, Paoli said the Giants are mulling a hybrid scenario in which fans at the game can bid online via their phones against people who aren’t at the game.
Brunson said whenever the Pelicans announce an online jersey auction via social media, she and her staff tag the aforementioned Uni Watch and Sportslogos social media accounts, which prompts those editors to retweet or repost the announcement. Bottom line? Suddenly, a lot more people on the Internet know about the auction.
“We post our coaching staff’s jerseys online about two weeks before the game date, just so people can see the jerseys,” said Brunson. “Then the rest of the team and even our blank jerseys go up for auction at the game. If no one bids on a jersey, then we throw it up online.”
The online auction bids, said Brunson, tend to be higher than those taken at the game, which has the Pelicans thinking about doing more online this year.
Get Everything Signed
When auction-winning Giants fans retrieve their jerseys from the players after the game, they always do the same thing. Take a selfie, then get it signed. That got Paoli thinking.
“We now auction off a team autographed jersey, which always goes for more money than a regular jersey” she said. “We’ve also auctioned some team autographed hats, and those always do well.”
Paoli has also learned that fans typically fixate on one player. Last year, first base prospect Chris Shaw was that guy. So in addition to his game-worn jerseys, Paoli had a few others made with his number, then had Shaw sign them. All of them went in the ensuing auction.