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Volume 22 No. 7
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Bobbleheads’ hold on the top spot isn’t shaky

MLB clubs in 2015 were once again more likely to use a bobblehead to entice fans to the ballpark than any other game-day giveaway, according to SportsBusiness Journal’s annual review of the teams’ promotional calendars.

It’s the fourth straight year that bobbles have sat atop our analysis of teams’ game-day promotional efforts. Prior to that, either caps or T-shirts had ranked first dating to 2005, the first year of our MLB promotional research.

Free to fans: Reds T-shirt, Rays lunchbox, Astros boot trophy, Cardinals stein, M’s beard hat
Twenty-nine clubs distributed a total of 3.17 million bobbleheads across 133 giveaway dates in 2015. That’s a 9 percent drop in the number distributed compared with 2014 (3.49 million) but still the second-most distributed in a year since 2005. This year’s date total also was second only to last year’s count, 146 dates.

More than one-quarter of the bobbles this year were passed out by two clubs that historically are big bobble distributors. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers gave away nearly 482,000 and 356,000 bobbles, respectively, each over 10 dates.

The Cincinnati Reds were the team most likely to be visiting a ballpark on a bobblehead promotion night. Home teams scheduled eight such giveaways when the Reds were in town. Sixteen clubs were the visiting team between five and seven times.

Grab bag

Even Mother Nature loves bobbleheads: Only once in the past four seasons has a bobble giveaway been postponed because of weather. Dustin Pedroia Bobblehead Night was rained out at Fenway Park in April 2014, and Red Sox fans had to wait a month for the makeup game before they got their nodder. It didn’t even rain in Cleveland on Aug. 13, 2011, when the Indians gave away a bobblehead of Mike Hargrove, who was known during his playing days as the Human Rain Delay.
The Milwaukee Brewers handed out a bobblehead on Memorial Day weekend to pay homage to the league’s recently retired commissioner (and the club’s former owner), Bud Selig.
Time Warner Cable was a sponsor that cut back its activation this year compared to 2014. The company had two giveaways in 2015, both with the Los Angeles Dodgers, (an Adrian Gonzalez bobblehead and a kids’ hamper) after partnering with the Dodgers and Brewers for six giveaways in 2014. Additionally, GovX teamed with seven clubs to sponsor a total of 41 games in 2014 and was ranked as the fourth-busiest brand in our analysis that year. This year, GovX did not sponsor any dates. The company operates the members-only GovX.com, a portal where active, reserve, veteran and retired military personnel and first responders can purchase, among other things, discounted sports tickets. The La Jolla, Calif.-based company is still an MLB.com partner and acts as an online vendor for more than half the league’s clubs.
Facial hair was part of five giveaways in 2015: the Giants’ Orange Friday Mustache Night (sponsored by Lyft); the Rays’ Rally ’Stache (The Dali Museum); the Reds’ “Get Your Stache On” T-shirt (Arm & Hammer); the A’s Mustache Socks (Chevrolet); and the Mariners’ Beard Hat Night (Jack Link’s).
Overall during the season, MLB clubs hosted 907 dates on which fans received a free gift, topping the total from the 2013 season (886) for highest number in a season since our study began. The two teams that had the most wins on the field during the 2015 regular season also had the most giveaway dates: the St. Louis Cardinals (51 dates) and Pittsburgh Pirates (49). In fact, the National League Central was well-represented in this category: Joining the Cardinals and Pirates in the top five were the Reds (42), at No. 5. The Minnesota Twins (46) and New York Yankees (43) ranked third and fourth, respectively.

The Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres had the fewest giveaways, with 12 each. For the second straight season, San Diego was the only club without at least one bobblehead giveaway.

Leaguewide, 77 percent of all game-day giveaways this year had at least one sponsor, a figure that’s down for a second consecutive year. Eighty percent of giveaways had a sponsor in 2013, the highest rate since we began tracking this activation. The figure was 78 percent last year.

It also was a strong year for a category best described as “miscellaneous.” Fifteen clubs combined to stage a total of 36 giveaways of one-time items, such as a Jayson Werth Chia Pet (Washington); a travel pillow sponsored by MyPillow (Minnesota); a “triplets” snow globe in San Francisco, celebrating the Giants’ three recent World Series championships; and a Rays Rally ’Stache (Tampa Bay).

Totaling all teams’ efforts leaguewide, there were 2,315 non-giveaway promotions this year, counting efforts such as fireworks, college nights, festivals and health awareness events. That total was almost identical to 2014 (2,316) and up 29 percent from 2013.

Among those promotions that did not include a souvenir, it was a record year for the number of dates for fireworks shows (26 teams, 211 dates) and charitable causes (19 teams, 159 dates).

TOP GIVEAWAYS

Rank (2014 rank) Category (No. of participating teams) No. of dates (2014 dates)
1 (1) Bobblehead (29) 133 (146)
2 (2) T-shirt (26) 112 (99)
3 (3) Headwear (27) 86 (86)
4 (8) Retail coupon (14) 71 (36)
5 (4) Wall hanging (19) 70 (56)
6 (5) Backpack/bag (29) 49 (53)
7 (6) Magnet schedule (25) 43 (45)
8 (9) Toy (16) 30 (34)
9 (11) Figurine (21) 34 (24)
10 (7) Jersey (15) 32 (42)

Note: Not included here is what could have been a category best described as “miscellaneous” — with 36 dates and 15 participating teams — which would have featured targeted, one-time items in individual markets, such as a Jayson Werth Chia Pet (Washington); a travel pillow sponsored by MyPillow (Minnesota); a “triplets” snow globe in San Francisco, celebrating the Giants’ three recent World Series championships; and a Rays Rally ’Stache (Tampa Bay).
Source: MLB clubs

TOP PROMOTIONS/EVENTS

Rank (2014 rank) Category (No. of participating teams) No. of dates (2014 dates)
1 (2) Concession discount (12) 218 (192)
2 (1) Fireworks (26) 211 (205)
3 (4) Charitable causes (19) 159 (147)
4 (5) Autographs (7) 141 (145)
5 (8) Run the bases (16) 133 (97)
6 (7) Festival (17) 119 (103)
7 (3) Ticket discount (11) 112 (180)
8 (6) Student day (11) 89 (129)
9 (10) Family day (13) 88 (79)
10 (15) Kids day (14) 80 (55)

Source: MLB clubs


Coca-Cola was the most active sponsor for the fifth straight year. Its 97 promotional dates was the highest single-season activation total for a brand since our survey began.

Several sponsors continued promotional traditions. The Cardinals’ Budweiser-sponsored 1985 National League Championship beer stein was the beer brand’s fourth such giveaway. The previous versions celebrated the team’s World Series championships in 1964 (2014 stein), 1926 (2013) and 2011 (2012). MetLife, a longtime New York Yankees partner, continued its Peanuts bobblehead series for the fourth consecutive year. Another Yankees partner, WB Mason, gave a team-themed die-cast truck for the 11th straight year. The office supply company’s stadium giveaway activation has expanded over the past six seasons. In 2009, it activated with the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. This year, it added to that list Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.

Methodology

For this annual research effort, SportsBusiness Journal downloads each MLB club’s promotional schedule once spring training begins and updates each squad’s list monthly. At the end of the season, each club’s final list is published on its website, and that document is used to check for, and adjust for, anything that might have changed from the promotional schedule put out at the start of the season.

In the case of games that are postponed during the season, teams are consulted for the status of the promotions, and counts are updated accordingly.

The information that’s presented here reflects giveaways that were available to a significant number of attendees as opposed to items that were made available only to select groups of fans on a given night. Many games had more than one incentive available for fans. In those cases, each one of the advertised promotions was counted as a unique data point.

There were 211 giveaways that were listed on team sites that did not include a sponsor name. For those items, teams were contacted and/or online searches were conducted to confirm the presence or lack of sponsor for each respective item.