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Volume 22 No. 7

Research and Ratings

As Major League Baseball clubs wrestled last season with the challenges of attracting fans to ballparks, their reliance on non-baseball brands to do the trick — and, of course, bobbleheads — continued to grow.

For the seventh year in a row, MLB teams were more likely to use a bobblehead to lure fans to the ballpark than any other promotional item. Nearly 7 percent of the games included such a giveaway, the highest ratio since at least 2006, according to Sports Business Journal’s 13th annual review of team promotional calendars. And because more than 100 games across the league included a tie-in with an entertainment brand like Marvel, “Star Wars” or “Game of Thrones,” chances are the bobblehead you see on your co-worker’s desk looks nothing like the one you got a decade ago. 

Across the league, attendance was down 4 percent compared to 2017, with 17 clubs seeing a year-over-year decline.

Here are highlights from the nearly 2,000 game-day giveaways and promotions offered last season by MLB clubs.

The league’s 30 clubs combined to offer a record 790 limited-seating, themed ticket packages in 2018, up 6 percent from 2017 and nearly four times as many over just three seasons ago. Partnering with local colleges was most common. Eighteen teams combined to host 125 special-ticket college-themed packages last season, up from 16 clubs hosting 75 such games in 2017. These deals typically cost $35-$45 a person and included a team-school co-branded cap, while a portion of the purchase was donated to the college. The Rangers were the most active in the space, hosting 17 schools. The club offered a total of 28,500 such tickets, or the equivalent of what the Rangers averaged for their 13 Friday night games last season.

Photo: marvel entertainment


Marvel teamed up with 10 clubs to stage 14 events last season, handing out 105,000 bobbles, 33,000 T-shirts and 10,000 posters. New York media showed fans lining up hours before a Mets game to be one of the lucky 25,000 to receive a “Noah Syndergaard as Thor” bobblehead. And the Houston Astros sold out their game in a week after announcing an “Orbit Thor” bobblehead. Mike Pasciullo, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Marvel Entertainment, said he expects the brand to have even more activation in 2019 because additional Marvel characters will be introduced.


Photo: bda

The Great Hambino

Twenty clubs celebrated the 25th anniversary of “The Sandlot” at MLB ballparks this summer through a league-level partnership with 20th Century Fox. Most of those clubs invited fans to watch the movie at the ballpark, and a dozen of them offered special ticket packages that included limited-edition bobbleheads. Overall, Seattle-based BDA, MLB’s exclusive provider of premium game-day giveaways, produced 18,200 “Sandlot” bobbleheads last summer.


Photo: margaritaville


Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville brand staged activations at half of MLB ballparks this summer, up from eight in 2017. Nine of those clubs offered a total of 12,500 Margaritaville-themed ticket packages, according to Courtney Griffith, Margaritaville’s marketing director of content and communications. The giveaways included hats, T-shirts and sunglasses, and the Cincinnati Reds even did a bobblehead shark.

■ The Philadelphia Phillies offered a “Peanuts” special ticket package on the same night they were promoting a separate ticket for people who had peanut allergies. Fans who bought the comic strip-themed package received a “Snoopy” bobblehead.

Photo: los angeles angels

■ The Colorado Rockies’ “Chewbacca beverage wrap” is the furriest koozie ever. 

 Mike Trout can crush a ball. Now, thanks to a Los Angeles Angels “Trout Nutcracker” giveaway, he can, well, you get it.

 The Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre was the subject of a pair of giveaways. In 2017 the Fort Worth Zoo named a newborn giraffe after the slugger, so last season it sponsored a “Beltre the Giraffe” bobblehead. The now-retired player also was the inspiration for the 2,000 Sandlot-themed Slimeballs handed out by the team.

Photo: kansas city royals

 As part of their seasonlong 50th anniversary celebration, the Kansas City Royals gave away 20,000 “George Brett pine tar” bobbleheads. Of course, the New York Yankees were the opponent.

 The Chicago White Sox gave away “adult onesie” pajamas. Appropriately, it was a night game, and the home team sleepwalked through a one-run performance.

■ The San Francisco Giants offered two of the coolest “Star Wars” items — on the same night. A limited number of fans could buy a package that included a Star Wars “Cantina Rubber Match Statuette.” For an additional charge, VIPs also received a “Millennium Falcon” bobble item.

■ The Los Angeles Dodgers gave away a co-branded Overwatch League T-shirt. The team’s former owner, Frank McCourt, who’s rocky tenure in baseball ended in 2012, has a stake in the esports league.

Photo: detroit tigers

■ The Detroit Tigers gave away more than 1,000 red-and-black flannel Tigers caps during two special-ticket “Yooper Nights,” in honor of fans from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

■ Two of the three clubs that hosted a WWE-themed night saw a boost in attendance: the Philadelphia Phillies (up 39 percent compared to the same night of the week) and the Boston Red Sox (up 6 percent). The Baltimore Orioles’ mid-September offering, one night after setting the franchise record for losses, was down 31 percent.

■ The Phillies’ 10th annual German Heritage Celebration included German food, entertainment and a lederhosen giveaway.

Photo: courtesy of the washington nationals baseball club

■ The Washington Nationals not only hosted the most Bark at the Park ticket packages (six), they were the only club to offer a “Cat-urday” special ticket. The 2,000-ticket, people-only event sold out.

■ 40,000 Dodger Stadium fans received the team’s first-ever “Star Wars” bobblehead, featuring All-Star closer Kenley Jansen as Lando Calrissian, which was followed by postgame Star Wars-themed fireworks.