A group of us happened to be in the midst of organizing a recent racquetball tournament when the chairman looked at me and said, “Can you think of anything other than a T-shirt to give out here?”

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how right she was to ask. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have way more than enough T-shirts? Specifically, is there anyone out there reading this who doesn’t have an entire boatload of T-shirts gained from participating in an athletic event?

Like anyone else who is looking at this, I’ve played in tournaments, run in 5Ks and gone swimming for charity. I’ve ridden bicycles, given blood and probably a bajillion other things I don’t remember, all in the name of health and benefitting a non-profit. And I have a drawer full of T-shirts to prove it. Most of them I haven’t even worn yet. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the shirt; it’s just that honestly, there are only so many you can wear. Ever.

Need proof? Every year, my church flea market receives donations of hundreds of T-shirts emblazoned with the logos of frat parties, scout camps, mud runs, sports teams, community fairs, you name it. Even neatly folded, they fill multiple cardboard boxes. We have to give them away to people who collect them for shelters and other groups. Why? Because after more than a decade of doing this, we know: nobody will buy them. Nobody. Ever.

A few months ago, I spoke with someone who happened to be in the business of providing logo merchandise and other souvenirs for various events. He told me there has been a definite shift in the choice of souvenirs people are offering.

“In fact,” he noted, “I can’t even remember how long it has been since someone ordered a box of ceramic coffee mugs for souvenirs.”

These days, he said, souvenirs are small, light and easily packed (thanks in part to weight restrictions on airline baggage, for those who travel to participate in events) and there is a distinct preference for two types of souvenirs: tech items (thumb drives, smart phone holders, mouse pads, iWallets – those are cases that stick on smartphones and provide a place for credit cards and whatnot), and what he termed eco-friendly souvenirs (in this case, meaning items that could be used long after the event is over, like pens, reusable grocery bags, etc.)

T-shirts, he noted, were the ‘evergreen’ of souvenirs since there was always someone who wanted them – but, he cautioned, “most people already have too many plain cotton ones.” Shirts in wicking fabrics, shirts cut for women and in fashion knits, shirts in a color other than white, and so forth were apt to be more desirable than the traditional 100% cotton T-shirts.
Of course, he added, all those do cost more.

So as we sat around, trying to decide what to give away as souvenirs for the tournament, we ran through the various other possibilities: hats, towels, socks, magnets, lanyards, sweatbands, water bottles, travel mugs, you name it.

In the end, we went back to T-shirts because we’d put on the registration form that everyone got one. But we resolved to think more creatively next time (I refuse to say ‘think outside the shirt’) and come up with some ideas for better souvenirs for future tournaments.

So what about you? Are you stuck in the same ‘T-shirt rut’ we are? If not, what are you offering as a souvenir for your 5Ks, tournaments and so forth? Less creative minds want to know.


Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with the American Sports Builders Association and the editor of Sports Destination Management.