They may be the ultimate in limited-edition sports collectibles. After all, there may be as few as 2,000 of them or as many as -- in the world. They're only available for one day (or night). And the price is always right -- free with your ticket.
Last year, the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Skipjacks and Baltimore Blast combined for 38 souvenir giveaways, but finding those items in the secondary market (card shows and flea markets) can be difficult because people hold onto them.
Local card and memorabilia dealers report seeing neon caps on young Orioles fans who have come in to complete the Donruss set that started as a Memorial Stadium giveaway. But they receive few requests for promotional items (Jim Palmer and World Series pins are mentioned by dealers), and rarely do fans attempt to sell their prizes. So they must be keeping -- and using -- the stuff.
That's apparent when it rains.
The men in charge of the giveaways for all three teams say umbrellas are always popular.
"When we were downtown, we'd see the umbrellas whenever it rained," says Mike Harmon, assistant director of corporate sales for the Blast, whose offices moved to Canton recently.
"Everybody in the city must have an [Skipjacks] umbrella and sports bag," says Al Raskin, director of marketing and sales for the hockey team, who also notices rain gear. The Jacks gave away umbrellas and sports bags for five years, but are substituting mugs and T-shirts this season -- just for a change.
Orioles umbrellas come out, too, much to the delight of David Cope, assistant director of marketing. Other perennially popular items are floppy haps, tankards, baseball caps, gloves and bats. Over the past couple of seasons, cards and "anything neon" have been hits.
"We keep hearing the demand for them, and the sponsors like them," he says.
For all three clubs, the promotions are designed to bring people to the games, keep the team's logo before the public and provide similar exposure for the sponsor. But the numbers and items differ.
The Orioles, with 53,371-seat Memorial Stadium to fill, will give away 40,000 to 50,000 smaller, less-expensive items such as calendars, lapel pins and seat cushions, said Cope. There will be 15,000 to 20,000 items budgeted for promotions geared to youngsters, on Sunday afternoons, and 35,000 to 40,000 for adult giveaways on Friday and Saturday nights.
Among the Orioles' 23 giveaways last season were two that were done by all 26 major-league teams: sun visors from Warner Bros. and a card book with eight Donruss baseball cards from Leaf Co. For 1991, Kellogg's will sponsor Tony the Tiger cereal bowls for all 26 teams.
The Skipjacks are conducting seven giveaways this season, with 5,000 the maximum number of items distributed at 11,025-seat Baltimore Arena. Besides two types of mugs and the T-shirts, Skipjacks fans can collect drawstring bags, socks, team photos, hats and sticker albums.
"I know our booster club loves to take the items . . . and trade [for other teams' paraphernalia] on their road trips and the AHL booster club convention," Raskin says.
The American Hockey League has no league-wide promotions, but Raskin indicated that might change.
The Blast's campaign is similar to the Jacks', but the numbers are larger, with 7,500 items the usual number and 12,000 for promotions like team photos. The Arena's soccer configuration supports 12,506 seats. The team's most popular promotions, Harmon says, have been squeeze bottles, umbrellas and sports bags, but only the bottles are in this season's lineup. This season, Blast fans also will be treated to posters by local artist Leo Kahl, T-shirts, baseball-style caps, stadium cups, photos and microwaveable cereal bowls with lids.
Harmon said swapping Blast items for those of other Major Soccer League teams is popular at the league booster-club convention and probably accounts for some of the Blast T-shirts he has seen in San Diego come playoff time.
Last season US Sprint gave away posters in every MSL arena with a world map showing the home countries of the league's players, but there is no league-wide promotion this season.
Collectors who enjoy receiving mail may wish to buy a copy oFreebies for Sports Fans" by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (Simon & Schuster, $4.95). It lists items you can obtain from sports organizations for as small an investment as 1(the price of a postcard). Nothing in the book runs more than $1 (plus postage and handling), many are available for a stamped, self-addressed envelope and all offers are guaranteed by the authors through this year. What's available? Stickers, pens, pins, team photos, .. posters, workout logs, rule books and much more.
AW Sports Inc. has issued a limited production 150-card set featuring top boxers, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Jake LaMotta, George Foreman and Evander Holyfield. The card front has a color action photo, and the back gives his record and a career recap.
Today, baseball card and memorabilia show, Loch Raven Optimist Bingo Hall, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 668-3344.
Feb. 23, Babe Ruth Museum 2nd Annual Baseball Card Show, Memorial Stadium, Hit and Run Club, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 727-1539.
Feb. 23, Catonsville/Baltimore Baseball/Sports Card Bash V, Patapsco K of C, 1010 Frederick Road, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 247-2589.
Feb. 23, sports card show, Security Holiday Inn, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 922-8366.
March 3, baseball card show, Towson Quality Inn, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
March 9, baseball card show, Holiday Inn Timonium, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 254-2729.
March 10, baseball card show, Comfort Inn Airport, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 254-2729.