Bobbleheads drive fans to stadiums

By Gina Peracchia
September 19, 2002

Beth Beswick

A few years ago not many people knew what a bobblehead doll was. Now, everyone seems to want to see at least one bobbing its little head back and forth on their desk. Many teams now advertise bobblehead giveaways at their games to get more people to attend the event. Is this really true? Do free giveaways, especially these bobblehead dolls, help ticket sales for sporting events? Why are they so popular?

These tiny collectibles were popular in the 1950s, but then slowly faded. In 1999, the San Francisco Giants triggered the resurgence of the craze by distributing 35,000 Willie Mays figurines at a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Giants may have reignited the fad, but the Minnesota Twins were the first team to make money off of it. During the 2000 season, their average attendance was 14,000 per home game. However, more than 20,000 fans rushed to the Metrodome for each of the club’s four bobblehead giveaway games (Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett).

Not many people understand what the big deal is with the dolls, but the fans of the Timberwolves seem to. At least 35 fans used counterfeit tickets to claim Wally Szczerbiak bobbleheads at a Minnesota Timberwolves game on Dec. 28, 2000. In Philadelphia, adults reportedly behaved like children during Allen Iverson Bobblehead Night on Feb. 16, 2001. Only kids 15 years old and under were supposed to receive the doll at the Clippers-Sixers game at the First Union Center, causing some devious adults to “rent” children for the night. They bought the children’s tickets, and demanded they hand over the Iverson figurines.

In Florida, fans of the Marlins decided they wanted to be bobblehead dolls themselves. On “Human Bobblehead Night” in July of 2001, fans 18-and-older shaved their heads outside Pro Player Stadium before the game against the Reds. The fans brave enough to do this received four tickets for the next night’s game where Cliff Floyd bobbleheads were given out. There are even some players who do notplay around when it comes to these popular figurines. Dave Winfield was to be honored with a special Hall of Fame bobblehead at the Twins-Mariners game on July 22, 2001. But the manufacturer was forced to create a new sample of the doll after the six foot, six inch Winfield pointed out a “shortcoming” — his figurine was the same size as the bobblehead made for fellow Twins inductee Kirby Puckett, who’s only five feet, eight inches. The new Winfield model had an extra inch added.

Some announcers even have their own bobbleheads now. The Brewers held Bob Uecker Bobblehead Day on July 29, 2001. The Tigers honored legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell with a doll during the 2001 season, and just recently, the Phillies broadcasters, Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas, had their very own bobbleheads on Aug. 18.

In September 2001, more than 40 universities released bobbleheads of their respective mascots. Cabrini’s athletic teams do not have their own collection of bobblehead dolls, but they do have free giveaways at special games throughout the year. If you are lucky enough to get to one of these special events, you may sometimes receive “#1” hand gloves, Cavalier megaphones, or mini basketballs. When it is announced that these items will be given away at games, the number of Cabrini’s fans is noticeably increased.

Many students on campus are big fans of bobbleheads. One in particular is junior Jay Rotella. Rotella, a political science major, is very passionate about bobblehead dolls, and not only does he want to keep collecting sports figures, but he’s also interested in increasing his collection by adding movie bobbleheads. One thing he doesn’t like about the popularity of bobblehead dolls is how people sometimes only go to the games just to pick up these figurines.

“I don’t like how people just go to the games, get the bobblehead and leave. I think it’s a bonus to go to a game and get a bobblehead as a giveaway. You get a cool piece of memorabilia and then watch a good game,” Rotella said. Some of Rotella’s favorite bobblehead dolls that he has are Larry Bowa, Harry Kalas and Whitey Ashburn.

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Gina Peracchia

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