Eighteen years after they became a Major League Baseball staple, the collectibles are still the top promotional item for the majority of teams.
Gallery of popular bobblehead giveaways by the Cleveland Indians. Photos by Crain's Cleveland Business and BDA.
The final product — a bobblehead of Jose Ramirez — was notable because the Cleveland Indians third baseman was running, with his batting helmet having fallen to the ground behind him.
But the helmet, which Ramirez lost 62 times on the basepaths in 2016, might have been the easy part for the Tribe's promotional department during the planning stages for the popular May 27 giveaway.
"I can't tell you how many revisions we went through to try and get his hair right," Anne Madzelan, the Indians' manager of advertising and promotions, said of the "crazy orange" locks Ramirez sported for much of the Tribe's World Series season.
For many big-league clubs, that's business as usual. Eighteen years after they became a Major League Baseball staple, bobbleheads are still the top promotional item for the majority of teams — and the complexity and quality of the giveaways has continued to soar, much like Ramirez's helmet on a mad dash around the diamond.
Tribe Bobbleheads: By the Numbers
A look at some notable numbers from the Indians' bobblehead promotions the last 10 years (2007-16): Bobblehead giveaways: *44 10-year attendance average at Progressive Field: 21,071 Attendance total for 44 bobblehead giveaways: 1,156,643 Attendance average for bobblehead promotions: 26,287 Attendance increase: 5,216 (24.8%) Source:Crain's research; *-Includes miniature bobbleheads of Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta in 2008
Days of the week, 2007-17: Saturday 29, Sunday 6, Tuesday 5, Monday 4, Wednesday 3, Thursday 1, Friday 0 Bobblehead breakdown, 2007-17: 30 players, 1 manager, 1 mascot, 1 movie character, 1 announcer, 48 total bobbleheads (including subjects who were featured more than once)
Bobblehead subjects, 2007-17
Manager Terry Francona (2): 2015, 2017 Michael Brantley (2): 2014, '15 Jason Kipnis (2): 2014, '17 Francisco Lindor: 2017 Jose Ramirez: 2017 Yan Gomes: 2016 Corey Kluber: 2015 Carlos Santana: 2015
Grady Sizemore (5): 2007, '08, '08, '09, '10 Travis Hafner (3): 2007, '08 mini, '09 Asdrubal Cabrera (2): 2008, '12 Fausto Carmona (2): 2008, '09 Shin-Soo Choo (2): 2009, '10 CC Sabathia (2): 2007, '08 Bob Feller: 2016 Jim Thome: 2016 Michael Bourn: 2014 Orel Hershiser: 2014 Nick Swisher: 2014 Albert Belle: 2013 Omar Vizquel: 2013 Sandy Alomar: 2012 Carlos Baerga: 2012 Joe Carter: 2012 Gaylord Perry: 2012 Mike Hargrove: 2011 Kenny Lofton: 2010 Cliff Lee: 2009 Victor Martinez: 2009 Jhonny Peralta: 2008 mini Kerry Wood: 2009 Announcer Tom Hamilton: 2007 Mascot Slider (2): 2007, '09 Movie character Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn: 2009
Jay Deutsch — the CEO and co-founder of BDA, a Seattle-based merchandising agency that supplies bobbleheads to the majority of MLB's 30 clubs — said the collectibles can produce an attendance jolt of 15% to 30%. Those numbers are in line with gate numbers Crain's studied for the previous 10 years of Indians bobblehead giveaways — a collection that has run the gamut from current stars such as Jason Kipnis, to a manager on a scooter (Terry Francona in 2015), a mascot as a lifeguard (Slider in 2009), past standouts such as Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, and even a movie character (Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in 2009).
Each bobblehead is handpainted, said Deutsch, whose company has been working with the Indians for more than two decades.
"The attention to detail, we are maniacal about it," the BDA CEO said.
You could say the same thing about the Indians, who have given away an average of 4.4 bobbleheads per season since 2007.
Madzelan and her team begin to plot out the next year's promotional items during the current season, and then solicit fan feedback via a survey in late July.
"We want this to resonate with the fans," Madzelan said. "We want to put out items that are appealing to them."
The majority of the promotional items are manufactured in China, which means the Tribe must finalize its list of giveaways in late November or early December, Madzelan said.
The bobblehead process is more complicated, because such factors as unique characteristics that would make for a good giveaway — Ramirez's helmet, Francona's scooter and Kipnis' batting stance, for example — and even the next year's trade deadline must be considered.
In that regard, the Indians are in a pretty good place, with a young core of players signed through 2018 and beyond who are coming off the franchise's first Fall Classic appearance in 19 years.
This year's bobblehead giveaways, for instance, include three standout players — Ramirez, shortstop Francisco Lindor (July 4) and Kipnis (July 22) — and an Aug. 23 collectible featuring Francona, the club's popular manager. That's a stark difference from 2011, '12 and '13, when all but one (Asdrubal Cabrera in 2012) of the Tribe bobbleheads was of a former player.
When the Indians were working with BDA on the Ramirez bobblehead, they sought the help of Anna Bolton, the club's translator and player engagement coordinator. Ramirez was involved early in the process, and the Tribe went so far as to include the tattoo on the 24-year-old's right forearm in the design.
"It's a very detailed process, but we want to make sure we get it right and it's true to the player," said Madzelan, who has been with the Indians since 2005 and was promoted to her current role in 2013.
Phil Sklar, the co-founder and CEO of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, has a database that has tracked giveaways for baseball, basketball and hockey teams since 1999, when the bobblehead became a fixture on the promotional schedules of pro sports organizations. (The hall's collection was boosted by a large donation from the late Bob Manak, a huge Cleveland sports fan, earlier this year.)
There have been more than 7,000 bobblehead designs handed out in that span, said Sklar, who added that teams love that the collectibles get fans in the gates early, since most bobbleheads are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. (Since 2012, the Indians have most often limited bobbleheads to the first 12,500 fans, though season-ticket holders can get special access via Tribe Rewards.)
In addition to the spending increase that results from fans arriving to the ballpark earlier than normal, the collectibles are a draw for sponsors.
Madzelan, the Indians' advertising and promotions manager, said sponsors are aligned with promotional items and fireworks nights as part of a "bigger partnership asset mix." Factors such as the level and tenure of the partnership, plus brand fit and business needs, are considered as the Indians fill out their promotional calendar.
Bobbleheads and jersey giveaways are the Indians' top two promotional items, though Dollar Dogs, a Tribe source said, are still the largest driver of attendance.
"There is a lot of analysis that goes into trying to figure out when the best date is for every item," Madzelan said. "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."
Because of that, the data for the popularity of the bobbleheads can be a little skewed, since the collectibles are most often given away on Saturday (which, along with Friday, produces the best gate numbers for the Indians) and sometimes coincide with such special occasions as the unveiling of a statue honoring Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
The latter was the case for the Ramirez bobblehead on May 27, a Saturday matchup against the Kansas City Royals that generated a crowd of 30,920 — the best non-opener gathering in April or May at Progressive Field since May 17, 2014.
Still, there's no doubt the bobbleheads have given the Indians' often-down attendance numbers a jolt.
From 2007-16, a 10-season span that included 44 bobblehead giveaways, the collectibles produced an attendance norm of 26,287 at Progressive Field. The average is 5,216, or 24.8%, above the Indians' attendance norm for the 10 seasons.
If you narrow the window to five years, from 2012-16, the attendance bump is almost identical — 24.5%, to 23,352 per contest. During that stretch, the Indians ranked 28th or 29th in MLB at the gate each year, which makes the average bobblehead bump of 4,600 per game seem even more considerable.
"Fans really love those collectibles and things they can wear," Madzelan said. "Those are consistently things that they ask for."
Deutsch — whose company also has merchandising deals with the NFL and NBA (BDA produces the T-shirts that are given to each fan at Cavs playoff games) — said some fans prefer that the bobbleheads be more traditional. Others would rather have Terry Francona on a scooter.
"There are teams that want to push the boundaries," Deutsch said. "The Indians are a team that says, 'I want to try something new.' "
That leads to an orange-haired third baseman running helmetless and, as will be the case with the Lindor bobblehead on July 4, an All-Star shortstop with a platinum glove commemorating a 2016 honor as the best defensive player in the American League.
"Immediately, these are collector's items, and fans know that," Deutsch said.