By Marc Bona, [email protected]
Published at cleveland.com, Entertainment
CLEVELAND, Ohio - In the heat of summer, as fans head to Progressive Field to take in a ballgame, watch Corey Kluber pitch, or perch in the Corner bar to relax, Anne Madzelan daydreams about the following season.
This year, the Cleveland Indians offered some sort of promotion, giveaway or experience on 37 dates, with the majority being giveaways like jerseys and bobbleheads. But it takes many months of planning and communication to get to the point where the giveaways will be handed to fans, and that's where Madzelan comes in.
Madzelan, manager of advertising and promotions, oversees it all, from inception to delivery.
And while she loves all the items the team works with, "the bobbles are kind of its own little thing. It's a different type of collectible. ... Bobbleheads are the most in-depth."
So if you thought the Tito Francona bobblehead that fans received before Wednesday's game simply materialized at the stadium, well, there's a lot more that goes into it.
"I'm always keeping a list of ideas," Madzelan said. "What I'm seeing other teams do - major and minor leagues, other teams, other trends that are popular. By the beginning of July we narrow it down - what do we want to get fan feedback on?"
That's where fan-research surveys come in, she said. "Would you like to see this kind of bobblehead, this kind of jersey? What do you think of getting a blanket instead of a beach towel? ... It's trying to give fans what they want but also trying to reach to what's going on on the field."
Survey results come back in August, and Madzelan and others narrow their focus by Labor Day, she said. But they have to remain flexible.
"After the World Series we looked at making a lot of changes. We added the American League Championship (replica trophy giveaway), Tito Francona being named manager of the year. We wanted to celebrate that. Even the pose on the (Jason) Kipnis bobblehead, to recreate the Kipnis slide home (from 2016 World Series Game 7).
"We have an idea of what we want to do, but it's not set in stone."
The team then works with a few vendors "to nail down details and the pricing," locking down most items by November, and that's when design and production start.
By the beginning of December, a month after the World Series had ended and fans' thoughts are a bit removed from baseball, Madzelan was looking at the image of the "sculpts" for a Jose Ramirez bobblehead, which would land on the schedule for May 27.
Team officials choose the pose and used a variety of photos that are converted to 3D sculpture.
"We work through the edits," she said. "It might be something as simple as moving a finger, or the batting stance is completely wrong. We work through all of that before they start painting. We go through a lot of rounds."
The Indians work closely with BDA in Woodinville, Washington.
"They understand we really want to make these as true to our players as possible," she said. "For Jose, we have to get the hair right. If we don't get anything else right we have to get the hair right."
Revisions lead to a seven-inch clay model being constructed, and a communicative back-and-forth goes on with BDA. The Washington company relays revisions to its productions folks in China, where the bobbleheads are produced.
"It's how so many things can be envisioned in a different way," she said.
Before it's authorized for mass production, a painted, pre-production sample is reviewed. Are the colors right? Is the sponsor's logo correct? When it looks ready, it's shown to the Indians' public-relations crew. A partnership team also is at work procuring sponsors.
"Jose was really excited about getting one; he wanted to be engaged," she said, saying the helmet-less depiction "captured his personality, what he puts out on the field."
Like any collectible commodity, bobbleheads take on a persona of their own. Their popularity varies by subject and demand. Long lines of Lake County Captains fans have formed way in advance at Classic Park in Eastlake for the likeness of Jobu, for instance.
Occasionally, unavoidable logistical problems crop up when calendars are set months in advance. In 2000, the Milwaukee Brewers had a Bob Wickman All Star Poster Night. A day before the giveaway, the closer was traded to the Indians. Madzelan remembers Victor Martinez being traded to Boston the day before his bobblehead giveaway in Cleveland in 2009.
Jerseys and bobbleheads are "consistently the most popular," said Madzelan, who came to the Indians as an intern for the 2005 season and has worked her way up the ranks. She counts the first bobblehead she worked on, Orel Hershiser in 2014, as her favorite. ("That's one I'll hang on to forever. It's like my baby.") Lindor was a fan favorite, she said, while on the jersey side Andrew Miller was hugely popular.
Madzelan appreciates the details that go into them. In 2015, a bobblehead of Francona on a scooter included a license plate that said 'TITO'.
Joel Hammond, the team's assistant director of communications, said giveaways do translate into a drawing card.
"I think it definitely plays a role in the decision to attend," he said. "We definitely see our promotional items help drive our attendance."
The team issues 10,000 to 15,000 depending on the item, Madzelan said. On July 4, 15,000 Lindor bobbleheads were given away.
"Our approach in recent years has been focusing on on-field teams and great moments in Indians history," she said.
Most players are amenable about their bobble likeness. Some have asked to make changes, but she declined naming them. Some have requested creative, personalized nuances. Ramirez asked for his tattoo to be included, and Jason Kipnis wanted to make sure he had his shin guard on.
The team has never missed a giveaway, Madzelan said, and bobbleheads arrive seven to 10 days in advance.
That's when Madzelan hands the job to the ballpark support staff.
Guys like Jon Collins and Blake Hochadel, Cleveland State students, shepherd the giveaway items from dock to warehouse to gates. They can have as many as four giveaway items stockpiled for several games. A key task: Assure the right giveaways are going out on the right dates.
The model, so to speak, gets the first one, then a few are distributed to front-office staff, then media for promotions, they said.
That's one of the hardest parts - getting 'em off the dock," said Hochadel, who with Collins had to deal with more than 20 pallets of bobbleheads this week. Each pallet has 27 boxes with 24 items, a total of 648 bobbing Franconas ready to be checked and distributed.
Rarely do they encounter problems, Collins said. "Maybe one box with water damage," he said. "They (producers) do as good a job as possible getting them here OK."
(Interestingly, the storage room in the depths of the stadium has scores of dusty boxes lining shelves - former giveaways, creating a promotional island of misfit toys. Because sponsors change, the old items can't be donated, yet items like rally towels are in good shape and can't be thrown away. So the stockpile sits.)
More than five hours before first pitch, Collins - certified as a forklift driver - scoops, drives and unloads by the gates. For Francona's giveaway, centerfield gates were allotted about 7,000, left field received 4,000 and the infield gates took 1,000. Security cameras keep an eye on them until the gates open.
"From here," Collins said, "it's out of our hands."
That's when the ushers step in and give the bobbleheads to fans coming through the gates.
"It's really exciting to hand a bobblehead to a little kid and see their face light up," Madzelan said.
Original published at cleveland.com