The Gift of Sports

By Chris Milios

The dos and don’ts of corporate gifts.

As an advisor, you like to thank your client with a gift.  A very popular corporate gift is to take a client (or customer) to a sporting event, or simply send them a pair of tickets.  If you are unsure how to do this or the etiquette involved,  here are some of the dos and don’ts.

Sports are universal and enjoyed by many different people from the highest-ranking corporate executives right down to the staff in the warehouse.   I have yet to meet someone who was not very grateful to receive tickets to a sporting event for free.  If they are not into sports, they will generally thank you for the offer and decline to accept the tickets.  However, they will still be appreciative that you made the offer.

Know your client
Understand what your client likes.   In order to maximize the effect of the tickets you are providing, you don’t want to be giving hockey tickets to a basketball fan.  You have likely already been speaking with your client for some time on professional matters and during breaks in these discussions, it is a good time to start asking some more personal questions, like what sports they are into or what teams they follow.   This is much better than talking about the weather.  If they are a sports fan they will generally go right into talking about the local (or their favourite) team, whereas if they are not sports fans you will know very quickly and will have to determine some other way to entertain them.  Perhaps tickets to a play.

Timing is everything
Consider the timing of giving tickets.  People are busy and they may not always have time to go to these events.  You want to give people time to be able to put these into their calendars and look forward to the game.  You also don’t want the game to be so far ahead in the future that something else can come up and ruin the person’s availability.  I find that the best time to give someone tickets is between 2 and 4 weeks before the event.  Most people have solidified their calendars about that far out and know if they are available.  It also gives them the time to look forward to the event without it being so far away that they forget about it or who sent them the tickets.  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.  One exception would be that you have a big and important client that is a huge fan of a particular athlete or team.   No reason to wait to give them these tickets.  Go ahead and send them as soon as they are available to you and let the client look forward to that event.   Also, don’t wait until the last minute to send tickets (i.e. the day before) as this will suggest that either this particular client was not the first choice or you were absent-minded and forgot.  Neither of these outcomes is desirable.

The personal touch
Do hand deliver gifts when you can.  This creates another touchpoint with your client.  It’s also really nice to give the client the physical tickets.  It is something your client would enjoy and have others see it and comment on it.  Having said that, e-tickets are fairly prevalent now, and due to our and the clients’ busy schedules, it may be a logical option.   Don’t assume one way or the other and don’t press them one way or the other; let them decide and go with their preference.  As many sporting events are now going exclusively to e-tickets, with no tangible item to deliver to the client, consider going out to lunch with your client and telling them you will be sending the tickets electronically.

Always remember that every organization has limits on gift-giving; any offers should be appropriate and seen as a gift and not a bribe. However, within the context of the right relationship, a well thought out gift can help develop and strengthen a client relationship. With a little bit of planning, you can give a gift that creates a lasting impression.