Other Voices: Marketing metrics meets its match

Today’s sports world has fallen head over heels for advanced metrics and analytics as the go-to measuring mode of everything from advertising campaigns to zone defense efficiency. The advent of virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive reality, artificial intelligence and other technological wonders is forcing sports marketers to re-evaluate their sales strategies to maximize revenue.

The conundrum that continues to defy the pivot table, algorithm, code line and headset-wearing, ear-budded brainiacs is the bobblehead. How do you measure the emotional attachment to an 8-inch tall piece of polyresin?

Bobbleologists have traced the first nodding heads back to ancient Japan and China. Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat” made reference to nodding and bobbing heads in 1842. In 1920, the New York Knickerbockers produced the first generic player bobblehead. In the 1960s, Major League Baseball rolled out bobbles made of papier-mâché.

Pedestrian promotions and in-game entertainment have their places in hyping fans’ interest in buying tickets. Common offerings include merchandise giveaways with every manner of logoed wardrobe additions, Mighty Mites (playing during halftime – the tinier, the better) and video boards, where fans share their 15 seconds of enlarged fame: smooch cam, dance cam, sleep cam, scream cam, baby cam, cam cam. Add to the list kids’ play areas, mascots, dance teams, circus acts, free food, player autographs, fan appreciation days, halftime contests, ethnic/national pride days, fireworks and postgame concerts. Scroll through a few Minor League Baseball teams’ 2018 promo schedules for what might have been omitted.

The number of bobble promotions proves that the little man is a giant in driving increased attendance. Similar to Legos, it seems that they propagate when your back is turned.

Like millions of baby boomers, I was transfixed by the various animals that bobbed their heads in the backs of many cars of our childhood. When I was lucky enough to become vice president of business operations for the Oakland A’s in 1981, we were looking for a creative way to sell tickets for our upcoming homestands.

We created different video board destruction dramas for each opponent. Our peaceful looking A’s bobble was filmed watching the Detroit Tigers’ bobble falling off the Coliseum scoreboard and smashing to smithereens, the Yankees’ bobble blown up by firecrackers, the Angels’ bobble stepped on by a loaned Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant (remember them?) and the Red Sox bobble obliterated by a Louisville Slugger. Our A’s bobble would just be smiling, bobbing and nodding in his role as an innocent bystander. Our fans loved it.

Bobbleheads are the Switzerland of sports promotions. Teams hand out more than 3 million little head-shakers every year, and the magic doesn’t seem to be coming to an end. They are ageless, diverse, collectible, monetizable, smiling, easy to display hot-ticket sellers. The quant posses that teams have working overtime to discover an analytic marketing breakthrough are coming up empty.

It is really a very simple equation: BHG = IA x $ (Bobblehead Giveaways equal Increased Attendance times Revenue).


Andy Dolich operates Dolich & Associates, a sports consultancy in Los Altos.

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