Whenever Lauren Schweitzer flies, she reaches into the seat-back pocket and hunts through the “SkyMall” catalog for gift ideas. She flips past the superfluous items – doggy staircases and bear buddies statues – because while other college football players at other college football bowl games receive watches and sunglasses and shopping sprees, Schweitzer wants to find something good.
“Each year gets harder and harder,” she said. “It used to be navigation systems and cameras. Now everyone has an iPhone or a smartphone that does everything. It’s harder to find stuff to give.”
Therein lies the challenge for Schweitzer, the director of operations and finance for the Military Bowl: Finding something suitable – and most importantly relevant — for more than 200 college athletes. Every week at every meeting the staff tossed around ideas, and they have an inside man for help. The game’s ticket manager, Ryan Bartholomew, played center for Syracuse from 2006 to 2011, so all ideas get vetted through him. This year, he suggested an xBox or a PlayStation.
And so it became that the Military Bowl made headlines Monday for offering one of the season’s hottest items — the PlayStation 4 — in its gift package for Maryland and Marshall. Another staff member had a connection at PlayStation, so she helped get the order for 250 game systems approved. The bowl game doesn’t get discounts, because around this time of year Sony can hardly keep up with demand. This happened last year, too, when Bowling Green and San Jose State received iPad Minis and took them on tours of Washington.
Schweitzer started working for the Military Bowl in October 2008, and scoring those iPad Minis was a big win. The Military Bowl prefers tangible items rather than the ubiquitous “gift suites,” which are basically fixed-amount shopping sprees from a pre-determined catalog of items. But with technology these days, bowl games always run the risk of picking something outdated. Take, for instance, the Kindle Fire given to Air Force and Toledo in 2011.
“Everyone was really excited about them then,” Schweitzer said. “I don’t know if anyone still thinks that’s relevant.”
All gifts must cost under the NCAA-imposed limit of $550, so the Military Bowl finagled a PlayStation package for $450, which includes the game system, a game – one available was called “Killzone,” but they decided against its inclusion – and a gift card for use in the PlayStation store.
Once the 1,100-pound pallet of PlayStations arrives, Schweitzer will lock them up until the teams check into their hotels. At that point, she’ll release them to team officials, along with the winter hats and Ogio backpacks, free to do whatever they please. Some coaches like handing out one gift each night, like Hanukkah. Others prefer one big morning of presents, like Christmas. And then Schweitzer will start hunting for more ideas.
“I really wanted the Happy Feet, big, fluffy, sneaker-looking shoes,” she said. “I thought it’d be cool to have all the players wearing them around the hotel.”