Sunday, August 7, 2011

Understanding Swag

For those of you not familiar with amateur, athletic events, allow me to enlighten you on a few of the details you can expect should you decide to register and participate in these events...

First, even though you could do the exact same activity in the same place on any other day for free, these events cost money. Each event has a fee associated with running the event. There are a bunch of little things that add up. Towns force the organizers to have permits. The race organizers have to reserve a pavilion, pay police officers and EMS. They need awards and T-shirts. Typically, the longer the event, the higher the fee. Also, in a weird divergence from the laws of supply and demand, the more people expected at an event, the higher the fee. If you wait until closer to the race date, the fee increases. If you call the event 'triathlon', the event fee tends to triple. (There's more to that story which I may give you at a later date.) The take home message here: bring cash.

Second, you must sign a waiver giving up your, and your family's, right to sue should any harm come to you during the event. Triathletes, in the early days, had experienced numerous muggings, flailings, attacks by rabid animals, and, on certain occasions, been accosted by Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Athletes were unhappy as none of these experiences produced a faster race time (except if they were being chased by the rabid animal, but that increase in speed was temporary and endured only up to the point where the animal caught you). The USAT, in an effort to quell their unhappiness, decided to tell athletes "Too bad. Suck it up and deal with it." Then, they had their lawyers 'legalize' the language into a one page, 3-point font, single spaced document that not a single athlete has bothered to read. The take home message here: can't sue.

And to the First Place finisher...
Third, sponsors of the events donate items to aid in the event's operation. In theory, the donations are to help reduce the cost of the event. Such items include: food, water, energy gels, tables, tents, and paying Morganna for her services. In return, the race organizers will print the sponsors name on the back of a T-shirt (in font sizes proportional to the amount of support given), print the sponsors on a flyer handed out to each of the participants, and publish the sponsors on the race website. If you donate enough, your organization will also be included in the name of the event, such as the Ford Ironman Lake Placid, or the Subaru Ironman Canada, or Morganna's Sprint Triathlon (that was a fun race).

One of the rights of sponsoring the event is the free advertising associated with sponsorship. Not only does the sponsor get the perks allotted above, but they also get to hand out SWAG. In a nutshell, swag is unexpected free stuff handed out to athletes. If you know you are getting the stuff, this is NOT swag. An example of not-swag is the 'free' race T-shirt with the name of the event on the front and all the sponsors plastered on the back. When you register for an event, right there on the description of the race, it says "All participants get a free T-shirt." Automatically negates the right to be called swag.

Sometimes, instead of shirts, they advertise other stuff, such as hats. Here's a screen shot of the fees associated with one of the races I am considering. Notice how the race fees almost double simply by waiting for your personal schedule to become more clear.
Automatically you can pick out the non-swag items. AMB chip timing... not swag. Plenty of good post-race food... not swag. Headsweat custom hat... not swag. This illustration demonstrates a gray area in the realm of swag. If you are the 201st registered participant and you get a hat, is this still called swag? I'm not sure. It's unexpected. It's free. But, it's advertised. I'm checking the rule book and I cannot find mention of this. I have a call out to the COSA (Committee on Swag Allocations), but since they did not answer, I left a message and am awaiting a return call.

So, what does swag include? At one race, I got a free race belt. I had no idea they were handing this out. Swag. At another race, I got a free mini-box of cereal. Swag. (I still have this box, unopened, should anyone want it). At another race, I got free swim goggles. Swag (which I promptly gave to the Wife. She is very happy with them, thank you Tyr.) At another race, I got free smart wool socks. These are my favorite (thus far) swag. I use these socks in the winter often and may (at some point in the future) consider actually purchasing a second pair.

Swag normally shows up when you least expect it. Most of the time, upon registering for a race, you have to pick up a packet of materials. Inside this packet, you get a printed copy of the race rules. Also included are maps so you know the course. You get the flyer that has the name of the sponsors. They also toss in advertisements for said sponsors and maybe a flyer or two for other races.

Almost all of this information is completely ignored by most racers. We dump out the packet looking for the important items, unexpected free stuff called swag. It's sort of like kids arriving home after trick-or-treating. You get home, dump out your bag, and immediately start sorting. In this pile goes the official crap (and by 'pile' I mean the recycle bin). In this pile goes the 'need for race day' crap (cap, race number, timing chip, coupon for Morganna). In this pile goes the swag. This is where we spend the bulk of our post-packet-pickup time.

Research has shown that the amount of swag is directly proportional to racer satisfaction. It seems that people are willing to pay copious amounts to get free stuff. The more swag you get, the happier you are (even if it's crappy swag). Good swag is the real reason most people sign up for races anyway. Some people will tell you that they race for pleasure. They race for competition. They race for camaraderie. They race for their health. Most of them are lying to you. Deep down, they race for swag. Unexpected free stuff. So there you have it.

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