The Benefits of Bobbleheads

There’s no doubt about it, bobbleheads have a huge fan base. Indeed, one Cleveland sports fan was so enamored with the fun figurines that he accumulated over 1,500 of them. Sadly, Robert “Bobblehead Bob” Manak, passed away in March at age 57, but he generously donated his impressive collection to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee.

Hockey, basketball and baseball clubs, both major and minor leagues, are reaping the rewards of the growing bobblehead craze. An example of the powerful pull of bobbleheads was highlighted in a recent feature in Crain’s Cleveland Business which showed that bobblehead promos are “destination” events for Cleveland Indians fans; the giveaways are so compelling that fans will make a special trip to a game in order to obtain the popular item (and spend more time and money while they’re in town).

Jay Deutsch, CEO of Top 40 distributor BDA (asi/137616), the firm that supplies bobbleheads to most of the MLB teams, said in the piece that the items provide an attendance boost of 15% to 30%. According to the report, Deutsch’s stats match Crain’s study of gate numbers over the last decade of bobblehead giveaways. The publication found that the average 10-year attendance at Progressive Field (the Indians’ home stadium) is 21,071. Average attendance for bobblehead promos is 26,287 – a 24.8% increase. The total attendance so far for all 44 Cleveland Indians bobblehead promotions is more than 1.1 million.

In addition to attendance increases, there’s a bump in spending since fans often arrive early to the game to make sure they get the coveted giveaway, said Phil Sklar, the co-founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. So, while the fans are waiting for the game to begin, they’ll have more time to shell out money for purchases in gift shops and concession stands, as well as spending more time in the city itself.

There’s also a boost in spending by sponsors, according to Anne Madzelan, the Indians’ advertising and promotions manager, who said in the Crain’s piece that sponsors are aligned with promotional items and fireworks nights as part of a “bigger partnership asset mix.” Madzelan adds: “There is a lot of analysis that goes into trying to figure out when the best date is for every item. We really want to make summer weekends at the ballpark destination weekends for fans. That’s when we tend to schedule our high promotional items and really stack those promotions to make it a big event.”

Sports fans will love any bobblehead, but in recent years teams have become increasingly creative with their ideas. (Just look at the Game of Thrones bobbleheads that several Major League Baseball teams have given away this year.) Brian Sloan, the director of business development at Alexander Global Promotions (asi/116710), has seen that creative evolution in his three years with the distributor as well as nearly 25 years working in minor league baseball front offices. Sloan’s company works with over 100 sports franchises and first reintroduced the modern bobblehead in 1999. “Every bobblehead is telling a story,” Sloan told ASI. “When I worked [in minor league baseball], that’s what I tried to do. You don’t just do a bobblehead of a player. You try to integrate where the player is from or what the player has done to make it unique.”

That’s what the Indians did with their May 27 bobblehead giveaway of Jose Ramirez, one of four the team will do this year. The figurine features Ramirez’s helmet on the ground and his bright orange hair on full display, much the way he looked during the team’s impressive run up to the World Series last season. It’s an apt portrayal of Cleveland’s versatile third baseman, who lost his batting headgear 62 times running the bases, according to sportswriter Zack Meisel, who kept a running count on Twitter. And it was a success at the box office: a crowd of 31,000 was in attendance, above average for a May game.

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