Saturday night at the UML-Merrimack game, I really was 'that fan' with the magical ticket (Section 101, Row 14, Seat 10) that meant a sweet River Hawks jersey, a goaltenders' stick signed by the whole team, a game puck, some restaurant vouchers, a 30-person suite for a home game next year (date TBD), and two Lowell Bank Pavilion season tickets for all of next season.
Added up, all of that is 'worth' a pretty sum, though the cost to UML is only a tiny fraction of that number (unless all the games were always sold out, and unless all the VIP suites were always used, that is).
What they'll get in return is what will hopefully be two filled seats (I will do my best to give away whatever tickets I can't use, and I already know my schedule will be a little bit crazy), and a grateful fan even more willing to buy concessions inside Tsongas, having walked in already feeling like he has gotten a great deal. Whereas I might have been a 'dabbler' (i.e. a casual two-three home games per year type fan), this means a greater interest, which could mean future season ticket purchases..not to mention additional ticket purchases next year should more than one friend be available (whether it's me or someone else who buys it, that extra ticket that would otherwise leave an empty seat is money right back to UML).
Ditto for the restaurants that included the free meal vouchers. Unless they happened to be places that I'm already familiar with and would eat at anyway (and they're not), this means new, potential repeat customers walking through the door already feeling the goodwill of having received a good deal.
The only downside I can imagine to giveaways like this would be cases where the fan would've bought whatever was being given away anyway (but my earlier points about extra willingness to part with dollars for concessions, and the promotion of a general sense of goodwill mitigate that somewhat), or that someone would be ungrateful and either not use what was given, or use it in a tight-fisted way that tried to *squeeze* whatever could be gotten without giving back or consider coming back on his own afterwards. Still, my hunch is that those would not represent the majority of cases.
And while I'm lounging in the Pavilion at Tsongas next year, I will remember the lesson and its potential implications for start-ups and any other growing businesses -- a generous giveaway now could pay bigger dividends down the road.