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Volume 22 No. 12
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Everybody loves bobbleheads

Popular giveaway climbs past T-shirts, headwear to top spot on promotions list

Bobbleheads have bounced back.

A bobble bounce, of course, is never that dramatic, but 2012 is the first time since at least 2005 that MLB clubs used bobblehead giveaways more than any other promotional handout. That top spot, according to SportsBusiness Journal’s seventh annual review of team promotional calendars, normally goes to T-shirts or headwear. Bobbleheads have ranked from second to fifth in recent years.

Faces in the crowd: Pablo Sandoval and Felix Hernandez.
But in 2012, 26 clubs distributed a total of 2.27 million bobbleheads across 94 giveaway dates. That’s the most bobblehead dates since 2008 and a 25 percent increase in the number of bobbles distributed in 2011. Even the New York Yankees jumped on the bobble bandwagon for the first time in at least seven seasons, handing out 18,000 MetLife-sponsored Snoopy bobbleheads for a Wednesday night game against Toronto in mid-September.

The Los Angeles Dodgers led the way among clubs with 11 nodders, culminating with a Farmer John-sponsored Vin Scully figure on Thursday, Aug. 30, when Arizona visited Chavez Ravine.

For 2013, the Dodgers already plan to bring back a 10-game ticket plan introduced this year that included a bobble for each of those 10 games. “The bobblehead mini-plan was hands down the most successful plan we offered in 2012,” said Dave Siegel, the club’s senior director of ticket sales. “That plan sold more than all our other mini-plans combined.”

Grab bag

Most giveaway dates: Yankees (44)

Fewest giveaway dates: Braves (8)

The Yankees, with sponsor W.B. Mason, distributed a branded collectible die-cast truck for the eighth consecutive year.

The Diamondbacks on Saturday, May 12, handed out 20,000 Ryan Roberts tattoo sleeves, sponsored by local car dealer Sanderson Ford.

The Rays on Sunday, May 6, gave away 10,000 Joe Madden sunglasses, sponsored by Fort Myers, Fla.-based Match-Up Promotions.

In Milwaukee, Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger said that in the eyes of fans, bobbleheads have become a permanent part of his team’s culture. The six bobblehead nights on this year’s Milwaukee schedule gave the Brewers a total of 58 such dates since 2006, more than any other club.

“Bobbleheads are an attendance driver and a key brand identifier,” Schlesinger said. “They have a high perceived value, high collectibility, and they appeal to every demographic. And sponsors know that people keep these things on their desks at work and next to their beds for years — so that their logo might be the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night.”

In addition to bobbleheads, nostalgia played a big part in MLB clubs’ promotional efforts in 2012. The St. Louis Cardinals held 13 promotions honoring their past world championship clubs. The Houston Astros marked their 50th anniversary as a franchise with 25 related promotions, while the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox hosted events to mark the 50th and 100th anniversaries of Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park, respectively.

2012 MLB Game-day Promotional Wrap-up

Top giveaways

Rank Category (# of teams) # of dates
1 Bobbleheads (26) 94
2 T-shirt (24) 79
3 Headwear (28) 69
4 Backpack/bag (26) 50
5 Magnet schedule (29) 46
6 Photo (12) 43
7 Toy (22) 37
8 Poster (15) 33
9 (tie) Jersey (17) 31
9 (tie) Retail coupon (7) 31

Top promotions/events

Rank Category (# of teams) # of dates
1 Fireworks (22) 186
2 Festival (16) 166
3 Ticket discount (9) 164
4 Concessions discount (13) 127
5 Autographs (6) 125
6 Family day (10) 103
7 Run the bases (16) 100
8 College night (10) 76
9 Team history tribute (21) 73
10 Kids day (16) 67

Source: MLB clubs
Compiled by David Broughton and Brandon McClung

“Throwback-themed premiums are popular because the element of nostalgia transcends a winning record,” said Jay Deutsch, CEO of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates, MLB’s preferred premium merchandise provider. “Whether a team is a playoff contender or in the bottom of the standings, an anniversary or turn-back-the-clock collectible is still going to have fan appeal because it conjures fond memories of years past.”

Overall in 2012, MLB clubs hosted 767 giveaways, a 4 percent drop from 2011 but up 2 percent over 2010. Much of the decline owes to coupon giveaways falling from the No. 4 slot for frequency in 2011 to No. 9 in 2012. These efforts call for team employees to hand out discount coupons to fans that they can redeem with an off-site sponsor. In addition, advertised concessions-discount promotions were down 25 percent.

Fireworks were the most common non-giveaway promotion, as has been the case every year since at least 2005, with 22 clubs hosting a total of 186 shows. In all, there were 1,505 non-giveaway promotions, such as fireworks, college nights and family days, down 20 percent from 2011 but up 5 percent over 2010.

Most active sponsors

Four of the busiest game-day sponsors were also league-level corporate partners in 2012. Among others, top-ranked Coca-Cola and No. 4 MillerCoors both have seven team-level deals. Following are sponsors involved in giveaway/promotional efforts, ranked by total number of 2012 activation dates.

Rank Brand No. of dates, 2012 (2011) No. of teams, 2012 (2011)
1 Coca-Cola 69 (78) 7 (10)
2 Chevrolet* 47 (46) 11 (11)
3 Pepsi* 44 (72) 9 (10)
4 MillerCoors 38 (33) 7 (7)
5 Anheuser Busch* 28 (30) 8 (9)
6 (tie) AT&T 23 (30) 5 (7)
6 (tie) MLB Network 23 (0) 23 (0)
8 (tie) KeyBank 19 (18) 2 (2)
8 (tie) State Farm* 19 (16) 2 (1)
10 (tie) Xfinity by Comcast 18 (17) 4 (3)
10 (tie) Meijer 18 (16) 2 (2)

Note: Among sponsors that activated with two or more clubs.
* Official MLB sponsor
Source: MLB clubs
Compiled by David Broughton and Brandon McClung

Changing tastes: What’s hot, what’s not

  2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Backpacks/tote bags 17 32 29 48 34 45 50
Military appreciation 6 6 22 28 18 30 46
Baseball card(s) 52 40 36 11 8 9 6

Source: MLB clubs
Compiled by David Broughton and Brandon McClung

Seventy-eight percent of giveaways had a sponsor, consistent with the past five seasons. However, many of the nationally recognized names that have historically been big game-day sponsors saw a drop in activation this year, while local and regional sponsors increasingly picked up deals. The Tampa Bay Times, for example, sponsored a different collectible Rays T-shirt for each of eight Friday night home games, while the Methodist Hospital System in Houston sponsored 17 Astros promotions.

SportsBusiness Journal, for this annual research effort, downloads each team’s promotional schedule once spring training begins and updates each squad’s list monthly. In the case of games that are postponed, teams are then consulted for the status of the promotions, and counts are updated accordingly.