Sports a great venue for promotional items, but sports can be easily abused. Just like any particular sport out there, the promotional industry sees a lot of eye roll worthy cliches on a regular basis. The problem with these "tried and true" uses of custom products is that everyone else starts to use them too, and then they immediately become near worthless and a huge waste of money. Let's take a look specifically at football and baseball. Football is the reigning king of broadcast American sports and baseball is a traditional "American pastime" sport. The other sports are important, too, and we can take a look at those later.
Let's take a look at America's pastime, baseball, and what kind of overused promotions are out there. Perhaps because the sport has been around for so long and is one of the iconic American sports, there are tons and tons of baseball related items to choose from. Unfortunately, so many of them don't really have a lot of value as a promotional product and will just end up taking up space in a landfill and wasting money. Consider those little wooden promotional bats you can't miss at the baseball game, as common to every game as the foam bats or foam fingers. They're cute, but is anyone really going to hold on to them? If it was a special occasion, they might be stored in a keepsake box, and then you're advertising to absolutely no one anyway. Despite these drawbacks, little wooden bats are everywhere at the ballgame.
These problems exist with a significant chunk of what you've got to pick from if you're looking for a baseball theme but there is some potential in a few items. There are promotional items that you know have a good chance of staying in front of your customers or clients (or even employees, for internal branding) and those products are what you'd need for a marketing grand slam. Clothing items like promotional baseball caps or baseball shirts are good "walking billboard" opportunities. A potential pitfall with shirts is not having enough shirts of a certain size, and too many of another, so make sure you purchase appropriately. There are also a lot of baseball shaped crystal awards out there, which would be a nice tie in for treating some star salespeople to a trip to a game!
Football is the big televised sport which has been able to market itself so well that you'll find the Thanksgiving games on TV sets at family gatherings all over the country and a very expensive and successful advertising business during the Super Bowl. The promotional products industry has totally noticed all this money flowing around out there and almost all the suppliers I'm aware of have at least a few items with baseball themes.
Just as baseball has the little baby-sized baseball bats and foam fingers, the foam promotional items at the football stadium are even more superabundant. Compared to baseball items, some of the football related promotional items can be really out there! Mouse pads that are baseball shaped are a creative combination of two creative ideas, for example, but might be pretty useless because of the shape unless you increase the size of the pad to the point that it uses an inconvenient amount of desk space. Footballs have the same problem as baseballs, there are very limited circumstances that you'd find a promotional football remaining out in the open and exposing your brand to customers or clients.
So, other than clothing like I'd recommend in baseball, what does football have that counts as good? Consider the tailgating culture that thrives around football, and tap into that! A lot of the products you'd use for camping will apply nicely to tailgaters. A koozie for beer, a cooler for soda and meat, some nice imprinted seating to drink your beer on … you get the idea. Don't forget the grills and any accessories you can think up, as long as you're certain they'll be used. Those items will have a lot more utility than a foam finger and you'll be targeting a fiercely loyal portion of the football audience. If you could successfully make your brand a part of the tailgating experience, you'll also be tapping into that loyalty.
The fans of every sport can be a very loyal bunch that is worth considering in your overall marketing strategy. Tapping into that loyalty can be tricky, since fans can be picky, but if you can pull it off smoothly it'll be like winning the World Series in extra innings! Don't forget the other big sports in America, NASCAR and hockey. They've got their own niches and their own premier promotional products!