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Volume 20 No. 42
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Nod on: Bobbleheads top MLB promos again

The Dodgers distributed 454,000 bobbleheads this season.
If you want to know what freebie MLB fans were most likely to receive when they showed up to the ballpark in 2016, just nod. And there it is: the bobblehead.

MLB clubs collectively gave bobbleheads to fans during a record 148 general admission dates last season, according to SportsBusiness Journal’s 11th annual review of the teams’ promotional calendars. It was the fifth straight year that bobbles were the bait used most often by MLB clubs to get fans in the door.

The Miami Marlins gave away a bobblehead at all 14 of their Saturday home games, the most dates in the league, and the Los Angeles Dodgers led the way in total bobbles distributed, with more than 454,000. For the third straight season, the San Diego Padres were the only club without at least one bobblehead giveaway.

Overall, clubs hosted 920 dates in which fans received a free gift, topping the total from 2015 (907) for the highest number in a season since the study began.

The Pittsburgh Pirates gave away more than a million items across a league-high 47 dates. Remarkably, every one of those items had a corporate logo on it, as a survey-high 27 sponsors combined to help underwrite at least one giveaway. At the other end of the spectrum, the Atlanta Braves were the stingiest club, hosting only 13 giveaway dates.

The Reds gave away 25,000 “Star Wars” X-Wing Fighter Mr. Redlegs bobbleheads.
The Cincinnati Reds were the team most likely to be visiting a ballpark on a giveaway night. Home teams scheduled 43 such giveaways when the Reds were in town. In 2015, the Cleveland Indians held that dubious honor, also with 43. On the other hand, the New York Yankees were the club least likely to require a giveaway when in town, spurring just 20 such promotions.

Although the Pirates were the only club in 2016 that could boast that 100 percent of their giveaways had a corporate partner, 83 percent of all game-day giveaways leaguewide did have at least one sponsor, the highest rate ever in the study. Other than 2013, when 80 percent of the gifts had a sponsor, the rate has consistently hovered around 75 percent throughout the past decade.

Budweiser, the league’s official beer since 1980, was the busiest brand, activating at 68 games. Overall, more than 156,000 Bud-branded items were handed out at 15 ballparks.

Clubs and their sponsors continue to seek unique items to give to fans. As a result, the number of items that fit into the “miscellaneous” category has doubled since 2014. Eighteen clubs combined to stage a total of 39 giveaways of those one-time items. Where else would one categorize items such as an LED bulb (Xcel Energy sponsored such a gift in Minnesota and Colorado); organic potting soil (Cedar Grove sponsored two such nights in Seattle); and a Toyota-sponsored Bob Uecker talking alarm clock in Milwaukee?

Not all promotions included a giveaway.

There were 2,294 games this year that included lures such as fireworks, college alumni nights, mascot birthday parties and health awareness events. That total was almost identical to the two previous seasons (2,315 in 2015 and 2,316 in 2014).

Among those dates that did not include a souvenir, it was a record year for the number of games that featured pregame player autograph sessions (seven teams, 152 dates) and letting fans run the bases (19 teams, 147 dates).

Grab bag

2016 was likely the end of at least one era: MetLife announced last month that its 30-plus-year relationship with the “Peanuts” gang will formally end in 2019. The New York Yankees have handed out a Peanuts-branded item (a Yankee-uniform clad Charlie Brown bobblehead this year) each of the past five Septembers.

AT&T partnered with six clubs and sponsored 14 giveaways and two promotions this year. The brand’s 16 activation dates were its lowest total in the study’s history. The company’s busiest year came in 2009, when it activated with eight clubs during a total of 31 dates.

Movie tie-ins were popular: Teams hosted 35 “Star Wars” and four “Ghostbusters” themed giveaways or events. “Ghostbusters” bobbleheads were handed out in Milwaukee and Colorado, and the Reds gave away 25,000 “Star Wars” X-Wing Fighter Mr. Redlegs bobbleheads.

The morning of Aug. 9, the Red Sox canceled that night’s David Ortiz bobblehead giveaway because the 15,000 figurines were deemed “unacceptable” and “inappropriate” by team President Sam Kennedy. The club handed out cards to all 38,089 fans at the game and asked them to go to and enter their address, as well as the barcode number on their ticket. Those fans will be receiving the new Big Papi bobblehead in a couple of weeks.

2016 MLB Game-Day Promotional Wrap-Up

Top Giveaways

Rank (2015 rank) Category (No. of participating teams) No. of dates (2015 dates)
1 (1) Bobblehead (29) 148 (133)
2 (2) T-shirt (27) 106 (112)
3 (3) Headwear (28) 96 (86)
4 (5) Wall hanging (27) 66 (19)
5 (6) Backpack/bag (30) 58 (49)
6 (4) Retail coupon (12) 39 (71)
7 (7) Magnet schedule (25) 37 (25)
8t (15) Baseball gear (10) 35 (14)
8t (10) Jersey (18) 35 (32)
10 (9) Figurine (19) 31 (36)

Notes: Not included is a “miscellaneous” category — with 39 dates and 18 participating teams — which would have featured such items as a Justin Turner Chia Pet (Dodgers), Bob Uecker talking alarm clock (Brewers) and Buster Posey kids hamper (Giants).

Top Promotions/Events

Rank (2015 rank) Category (No. of participating teams) No. of dates (2015 dates)
1 (1) Concession discount (18) 229 (218)
2 (2) Fireworks (24) 209 (211)
3 (7) Ticket discount (13) 174 (112)
4 (4) Autographs (7) 152 (141)
5 (5) Run the bases (19) 147 (133)
6 (6) Festival (18) 121 (119)
7 (14) Theme night (26) 117 (64)
8 (9) Family day (15) 97 (88)
9 (13) Cultural celebration (19) 96 (76)
10 (12) Team history tribute (26) 88 (76)

Notes: Not included is a “miscellaneous” category — with 102 dates and 17 participating teams — which would have featured such items as an April 18-19 Brewers-Twins series sponsored by Budweiser.

Most Active Sponsors

Rank (2015 rank) Brand (No. of participating teams) No. of giveaways No. of promotions/events No. of dates
1 (3) Budweiser^ (15) 16 52 68
2 (1) Coca-Cola (13) 21 30 51
3 (2) Pepsi^ (10) 16 32 48
4t (4) MillerCoors (6) 9 27 36
4t (6) Chevrolet^ (8) 8 28 36
6 (NR) Prairie Farms (3) 1 32 33
7 (7) MLB Network (30) 31 0 31
8 (NR) Geico (4) 3 24 27
9 (NR) Papa John’s^ (4) 9 15 24
10 (10) KeyBank (2) 3 19 22

^ Official MLB sponsor
NR: Not ranked. In 2015, Geico activated at two games. Papa John’s and Prairie Farms activated with just one club.
Note: Among sponsors that activated with two or more clubs.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of MLB club-provided data