Talking bobbleheads, giveaways, and expectations

The A’s held a 1973 team reunion on April 27. A raft of greats from that repeat championship team were on hand, including Sal Bando, Blue Moon Odom, Bert Campaneris, and Reggie Jackson, who was honored with a commemorative bobblehead.

While the weekend-long reunion went well, the bobblehead giveaway didn’t. Only 10,000 bobbleheads were available for the 31,292 in attendance, which left many who had waited long hours sans souvenir. It’s becoming a common theme: schedule a bobblehead day, line up a bunch of fans, someone inevitably goes home unhappy. Subsequent bobblehead days for Coco Crisp (in June) and Yoenis Cespedes (yesterday) attracted sellout crowds, leaving even more fans without a souvenir. It’s gotten to the point where if a fan is not in line several hours before first pitch, chances are he’ll go home empty handed.

A’s marketing guys Troy Smith and Travis LaDolce invited into the business offices in Oracle Arena before today’s game. I spoke with them for 90 minutes about all manner of giveaways and marketing strategy. Smith admitted that Reggie Jackson day was a debacle and that there was major room for improvement. To that end they bumped up the orders for both the Crisp and Cespedes giveaways from 10,000 to 15,000, a move they had to make months ahead of time in order to ensure prompt delivery. It’s all part of the guessing game the A’s front office constantly has to play regarding demand.

Collectible pins, which get far less attention than bobbleheads

Collectible pins, which get far less attention than bobbleheads

For instance, take yesterday’s game. Now that we’ve come to expect sellouts on bobblehead day, it’s natural to want greater quantities of items. Because of the parking situation associated with the circus next door at the arena, it was decided that the gates should open at 2:30, 90 minutes before the normal time. Throughout the day A’s marketing staff including Smith and LaDolce were monitoring the situation. D Gate, which appeared to be most heavily impacted, ran out of bobbleheads at 3:27 PM. However, by that point lines had fully dissipated so if you had walked up prior to 3:30, chances were good you’d get one. Chances were even better at the season ticket entrance, which usually is stocked well enough to handle giveaways past the point when other gates run out.

What wasn’t known about the game was that the A’s had only sold 25,000 tickets to the game 24 hours prior to first pitch. An incredible 10,000 tickets were sold as either walkups or online during that period. That’s rather typical these days due to the rather predictable number of advance tickets sold. Some additional amount were sold after Cespy won the Home Run Derby. The problem is that the A’s have to plan everything for each game well ahead of time, including staffing and giveaways. Staffing can be handled with some flexibility. Because of the lead times associated with giveaways, bobbleheads have almost no flexibility (well, except for the actual bobblehead itself).

Two other examples of this phenomenon occurred in the last several weeks. The first was on Grant Balfour Gnome Day (June 16), which was a full standing room only sellout. Walkup sales were so high that in the week prior to the game, the front office worried if only 25,000 would show up. On the Fourth of July, less than 27,000 showed up for a picnic blanket giveaway, which left the marketing crew (and me) baffled because the annual fleece blanket giveaway day typically goes gangbusters.

Now think about the leadup to yesterday. All sorts of things could’ve dampened attendance. Cespedes could’ve been eliminated early in the HR Derby. He could’ve been injured early in the season. The team might not have been in postseason contention. All of this comes into play, and if you’re working off a steady base of about 10-15,000 attendees, it can be difficult to justify bumping it up more. The easy thing to say is to order 30-35,000 right off the bat. Because of the team’s limited marketing budget, 35,000 bobbleheads would’ve negatively impacted some other promotional day, potentially getting rid of a promotion altogether. I asked about other teams that sell 40,000 or full capacity quantities such as the Brewers or Dodgers. Those teams can afford to do it because marginal tickets they sell in the leadup to the game are usually very expensive ($100 or more), so they have headroom to make up for it. The A’s have dynamic pricing, but even then prices might go up only 20-30% in the process. Sponsors attached to each giveaway have little say over the quantity since the giveaways have to be planned as early as November prior to the following season, and they generally don’t directly fund giveaway purchases. I pressed on with 35,000 items. Smith countered that the last thing the team wants is to have 5,000 left over. When I said the items could just be sold in the team store, he said (I’m paraphrasing here) that if that’s the case, they’re not a good promotional tool. The whole point is of giveaways is to get people in the park and to give them a special memento. Sell overstock in team store would defeat the purpose (though I suppose it would give the naming rights sponsor an avenue, hint-hint). Judging from the response at the Coliseum, it’s working whether the quantity is 10,000 or 15,000. He admitted that there may be room for more in the future, but it would all be linked to ticket sales since everything flows from there.

jamesvenes-bobblehead_chart

James Venes’ June chart showing different teams’ bobblehead giveaway figures

The chart above, put together by the inimitable James Venes independently from this article two months ago, shows the wide spectrum of bobblehead quantities for the various teams. The Brewers and Phillies give to capacity, the Giants and Dodgers are pretty close. Then again, those four teams surpass 3 million in attendance annually. The A’s are in the middle of the pack as far as the bobblehead-to-capacity ratio goes. Last weekend I attended the Ken Griffey Jr. day at Safeco Field. Despite a sure sellout crowd (47,000), they had only 20,000 bobbleheads. Like it or not, giving items to around 40% of the house is standard practice.

Over the years the A’s have tweaked the types of giveaways they’ve done. Gone are the cheapo caps of yesteryear as few people care about those. Smith showed me a commemorative back-to-back World Series champs pennant from 1974, to which his mother added “1974″ in pen. I asked why there aren’t giveaway pennants anymore. Smith replied that people don’t seem to hold them in any value. I imagine the same thing could be said about the old end-of-season baseball card giveaways (remember how those were sponsored by Mother’s Cookies?). LaDolce had a similar pennant commemorating the A’s 1992 division crown, a moment that reflected the true end of the Haas era. Nowadays the stuff people want are collectibles, with bobbleheads at the forefront.

Troy Smith's assembled scorecards from The Streak. Note the attendance figures from each.

Troy Smith’s assembled scorecards from The Streak. Note the attendance figures from each. Game 20 isn’t there because Smith he was working the scoreboard that day.

When I was asked for future giveaway suggestions, I only had one: an A’s fan. Preferably an action figure or figurine with a gold jersey if that can be done. He/she might be donning a green cape or a Reddick luchador mask. I can’t speak to how racially non-specific it should be or to anatomical correctness. I’m sure it can be done. It would be a great acknowledgement of how faithful the hardcore A’s fan is, a kind of olive branch disguised as an in-joke. I’m no marketing genius, but I think it’d be cool. Accessories could be given away at future games. Besides, if the marketing folks have to order these before knowing what will happen with the notoriously volatile A’s roster, a good bet would be one thing Billy Beane can’t trade: a fan.

Yours truly posing with the three straight American League Championship trophies

Yours truly posing with the three straight American League Championship trophies

We talked about a great number of topics including the upper deck tarps, ballpark sites, the Josh Reddick effect, crossing over from being a lifelong fan to working for the team (as both Smith and LaDolce are), what it means to move from an old stadium to a new ballpark, and other matters. They showed me a prototype Green Day trucker hat to be given away at the end of the month, along with a hint about surprise guest they’re hoping to secure in time for the next Star Wars fireworks night. We didn’t talk about costs to produce items, though some of that information can be found elsewhere. I don’t know if our talk or the feedback from this article will effect change. The team has a fan committee that it listens to regularly. Smith and LaDolce were happy to talk to me at length. They read this blog, as do others around the league. Hopefully the kinks can be worked out to a happy medium. Maybe they can institute a ticket system like the kind employed for concert ticket sales or iPhone/iPad launches. There are ways to get these things in the hands of people that really want them. Until then, we’ll keep waiting in line. Thanks to Troy Smith and Travis LaDolce for inviting me into the inner sanctum for a little bit. I’m sure we’ll have more to chat about in due course. Maybe we’ll be talking action figures.

—-

P.S. – The team and bobblehead manufacturers can take months to work on items and still not get them exactly right. Case in point:

83 Responses to Talking bobbleheads, giveaways, and expectations

  1. Mike2 says:

    Have you guys thought for any second that the Oakland/SF areas area are over saturated with sports and recreational activities. No one has ever discussed this with great detail on this blog. How many college and professional games (mens and womens)are there are on any given night in the Bay Area. Just because there are x amount of ppl living in the area and its the x largest media market does not make an area capable of supporting two teams in the same professional league equally.

    What makes NYC, LA, and Chicago different from the Bay Area is size. LA county alone has over 10 million compared to 7 million for the entire Bay Area. Chicago has 5 million ppl living in Cook County, NYC has over 18 million ppl in the tri state area.

    We get caught up in the attendance figures, historical records, the other guys stadiums. Maybe it’s time to accept the fact that Bay Area is not a two team market as it currently stands. In football and baseball SF teams will always be the #1 teams in the Bay Area no matter what the teams records are.

  2. pjk says:

    And the Yankees and NY Giants will always be #1 in the NY area, the Cubs will always be #1 in Chicago, the Dodgers will always be #1 in LA. Should we get rid of the other teams in those markets?

  3. Marine Layer says:

    @Mike2 – We used to talk about it a lot, especially when BizJournals ran their franchise financial support index. While the Bay Area is smaller than the other two-team markets and barely larger the size of the largest one-team markets (Boston, Philadelphia), it’s not a question since there is more than enough disposable income to support the various pro franchises here. If anything it’s college sports that take the brunt because of the focus on pro sports. If there’s an issue of oversaturation, it’s within the East Bay itself.

  4. Tony D. says:

    @mike2,
    MLB “recently” made Baltimore/WashDC a two-team market, and their pop is roughly the same as the Bay Area (8 millionish). Heck, Camden Yards and Nationals Park are closer together then AT&T Park and a hypothetical Cisco Field at Diridon SJ. Bay Area population and corporate wealth not the problem here (never has been).

  5. Mike2 says:

    @Tony D

    I lived in the Baltimore area for several years. DC and Baltimore are two separate sports markets. There is enough ppl and corporate support from the surrounding cities to justify two teams playing that close to each other.

    The Bay Area has to include cities like SJ, Oakland, SF, SC and Monterey to be on even par with the population numbers that other metro areas have sorry but its true.

  6. Mike2 says:

    @ML

    Since we are talking disposable income are we including people who live in SJ and Monterey since both cities are included as being part of the Bay Area’s shared terriory? I am pretty sure you don’t have ppl from Monterey going to all 81 Giants/A’s home games each year.

    The point that I was trying to make with my population argument is the fact that the Bay Area is more spread out compared to other two team markets. The other locations have a higher population density per square mile. The Bay Area has over 7K square miles name two other MLB teams that play in area that size.

  7. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @ Mike2 You bring up some intresting thoughts, I have not looked this up, so I am not sure, perhaps ML, or someone else can help but, If you take the NY or LA metro, they really could support 3 MLB teams, but that wont happen, because those teams will scream like the Giants. Chicago metro has about 9.5 mill, the Bay Area has about 8.2mill (Bay County) but Sacramento area is just to the north 2.0 mill , and Fresno to the south at 1.8 mill, that would be a total of about 12 mill in a three hour radious, and I think Boston (braves), Phily (our A’s), were also 2 team markets at one time.

  8. Tony D. says:

    …And there’s enough ppl and corporate support from the surrounding cities HERE to justify two teams playing in the same market. Been that way since 1968, and the Bay Area has only gotten larger and richer, and its still growing. Heck, I’d bet that the corporate wealth of the Bay Area is greater than that of Baltimore/Wash, and whether one region has 7 or 8 million residents is negligible when it comes to supporting two MLB franchises. Again, the population and wealth of the Bay Area is NOT the issue here.

  9. Tony D. says:

    @Lakeshore,
    Yes! NYC and LA could easily support THREE MLB franchises. Won’t happen for the reason you stated AND because you would need to create entirely new fan bases where loyalties are already rooted.

  10. Tony D. says:

    So Mike2,
    What’s the magic number for a region to be able to support TWO MLB franchises. Is it 8 million? 7? Do I hear 6 million? Point is that the Bay Area just happens to be the “smallest” of the two-team markets, with Balt/Wash coming in at a close second. Not a big deal IMHO. Give it a few years and the Bay will be where Chicago is today. Again, a non-issue…

  11. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @ Mike2 I did not realize ML was basicaly making that point, the Bay Area, and outling areas have a large population, citys back east cant cover that type of space, because before you know it you are in someone else’s teritory.

  12. Tony D. says:

    @lakeshore,
    Disposable income is just as important as population density/number of folks living in a certain area when it comes to supporting franchises. This is where the Bay easily matches up with the Chicago’s and Balt/Wash’s of the world..

  13. Mike2 says:

    @Tony

    Market size, location, distance from entertainment venues, disposable incomes, other social activities: How does that not factor into Oakland’s attendance issues. When you look at the shared territory of the Bay Area from SF to Monterey where is most of the wealth vs population located at? That does play a small part in why one team does better than the other team in attendance. If the A’s move to SJ maybe things will change because they will be able to draw fans from a new fanbase.

  14. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @ Mike 2 your probably corret, about the San Jose thing. I am a big Oakland east bay person, but I think if the A’s get San Jose, I dought most people across the contry, will wonder if the San Francisco Bay Area can support two teams. I think both teams could get beteen 32-38,000 a game.

  15. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @Mike2 I think you could get between 32-38, for both teams at this moment, if things were done the right way in Oakland, but you would still miss the big money the south bay, could provide if the A’s where down there.

  16. duffer says:

    Mike2 – the bay area is a 7.2 mil. fanbase 7.2 mil./2 = 3.8 mil. per team (which is way larger than many MLB fanbases, and way bigger than Portland, Las Vegas, Sac, etc. The bay area can support 2 teams.

  17. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @Mike2 I found the information I was looking for, I looked up combined statistical area, as appose to metropolitan area, which does not always include all 9 Bay Area counties, and outlying areas, which includes nearly 8.4 million people, and growing faster than many metro areas back east. To your point, about population, wealth, and square miles, doesn’t explain, by itself why the A’s attendance suffers, there are a lot of reasons for that, but the Bay Area should be able to support both MLB teams.

  18. jeffrey says:

    I want a Port of Oakland crane bobblehead

  19. Mike2 says:

    @lakeshore

    Lets go one step further. A gallop poll a few years ago said 53% of fans in the US are baseball fans. So using your numbers and applying them to the Bay Area only 4.3 million ppl in the Bay Area like baseball. The Bay Area does support baseball with close to 5 million attending games last season, but the Giants last year was able to attract 68% of the available baseball fans to their games. Now even this year with a last place Giants team and a first/second place A’s team the Giants are still outdrawing the A’s by a 2-1 margin. Season ticket holders, stadium conditions, location, ownership groups, disposable income of fans, the willingness to fight traffic to attend games, etc all play a factor on why one team draws more than the other. How often we as A’s fans only see sellouts during promotions, fireworks, or when the Giants, Yankees, and Red Sox are in town? Is this more indicative of the fan base or are fans in the Bay Area really deep down SF fans?

    The point I was trying to get across is: where are the fans from each team coming from and what are their disposable incomes. I get the fact the Bay Area is the fastest growing metro area with the largest disposable income, but that does not mean that all 8 million plus ppl like baseball and are willing to spend money to support both teams.It’s easy to lump an entire area as one and say mine is bigger than yours (sorry), but we need to learn the economics of where most of the fan support comes from.

    Where do the 11K-22K die-hard A’s fans come from? Same with the Giants; do a small but significant part of their fans actually do come from SJ? If so you can see why the Giants will not give up SJ without a fight.

  20. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @Mike2 I totally agree with you, I have said before, I think the Giants deep down, real fear in the A’s moving to San Jose is that over time, the Giants could be boxed in. The South Bay has been waiting years to get behind something like this. I dont know the numbers, but say only 43% of the South Bay are baseball fans, and out of that number the Giants hold a 65%-35% edge, well when the A’s get to SJ, that 43% goes up to your 53% and with the A’s in the South Bay, they flip it to their advantage 65%-35% over the Giants. Then we look at the East Bay, the Giants will gain some new fans, but the A’s will keep 75%-85% of their fan base in the East Bay, then we look north, this has been a stronghold, for the Giants for years, but that has started to change, with the A’s triple A team in Sacto. If the A’s get the riches of the South Bay, they will hold most of the East Bay, and have a good chance of taking in time a larger part Norther California/Sac area. I said the Bay Area could support two MLB teams, but you are correct we cant simply split the 8.4 million down the middle, and call it good. If 85% of the baseball fans, in that area only support one of thoes teams, for whatever the reason’s, then it is indeed a one team market.

  21. duffer says:

    The Giants mgt. has a big time inferiority complex (likely because their chief rivals, the A’s and Dodgers – have been far more successful than the giants historically. The Giants also have a history of instability. They attempted a move to SJ (and were wisely rejected by SJ voters!)They later gave up on the bay area and attempted selling the team so that it would move to Tampa, FL.

    Their so-called 65%-35% edge in the south bay is bogus. When Lurie attempted selling the giants to the Tampa Group, there were likely more A’s fans in the south bay then gnats fans. The A’s were 3rd in MLB attendance at the time, and the giants were an average, obscure team. It was a minor news story in the south bay when the giants’ owners announced that they sold the team to the Tampa Bay group.

    The giants mgt should indeed be called out for their meddling with the A’s and attempting to block the A’s from moving to SJ. The giants mgt’s actions are unprecedented (no other pro sports teams have been such poor sports as the giants have demonstrated to be with the way they are attempting to hose the A’s) the giants’ activities would be illegal in the business world – The giants mgt. is bad news.

  22. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @duffer\Mike2 I said, I did not know what the numbers where. I think its safe to say, that at this moment in time, the Giants hold most of the South Bay baseball, market. If that is not correct, then there are a lot of South Bay A’s fans that are watching the A’s on TV, perhaps they will show up to the games, if/when we get a new park in SJ.

  23. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @duffer/Mike2
    It’s easy to look at one year of attendance, or a snap shot in time (the bash brothers teams), but I think what Mike is getting at, is no matter how large an area is (Bay Area statistical area 8.4 million), if one team the Giants are dominating the baseball market, they in effect have made it a one team market. The question is how do the A’s take back, or gain market share. Can they do this by moving to the South Bay, the answer to that question, is probably a resounding yes. I think under the right conditions, they can do it in Oakland/East Bay; there are some that don’t hold this view, and that’s ok. I guess the point is our baseball team is being squeezed out of the Bay Area, (what should be a two team market), the reasons are many, and so very complex, but what are they, (the A’s) going to do about it?, what is MLB going to do about it?, what are we (the fans), going to do about it?, I think we all know what the Giants organization is going to do about it.

  24. duffer says:

    @ Lakeshore/Neil – good observation, though Mike2′s argument appears to be that the bay area is a one MLB team market only ( even though demographic stats demonstrate that is wrong) Also, Mike2 appears to believe the giants’ owners attempts at squeezing the A’s out of the bay or marginalizing the A’s is ok. When in fact, how the giants are attempting to shaft the A’s is unprecedented in a two team fanbase situation. The NY Yankees/Mets, Angels/Dodgers, Cubs/Chisox aren’t attempting to sue their rival out of town, or stop the other team from building a new ballpark as the giants are attempting to accomplish with the A’s. Even the Raiders/Niners organizations appear to get along much better than the A’s and Giants do – justifying the giants owners’ bad business practices is b.s.

  25. pjk says:

    re:
    re: When in fact, how the giants are attempting to shaft the A’s is unprecedented in a two team fanbase situation. The NY Yankees/Mets, Angels/Dodgers, Cubs/Chisox aren’t attempting to sue their rival out of town, or stop the other team from building a new ballpark as the giants are attempting to accomplish with the A’s.

    …All this is correct. The Giants disingenuously want to keep the A’s in Oakland, where the Giants know full well the A’s won’t get the private or public funding needed for a new stadium. So what will happen? The A’s get contracted or moved, eventually. And the Giants win big time. All while East Bay and Frisco columnists continue to make heroes out out of the Giants owners and villains out of the A’s owners.

  26. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @duffer /Mike2/pjk
    Thanks, for the input (duffer,pjk). If Mike2 was suggesting that the San Francisco Bay Area, is or should only be a one team market, I don’t agree with him on that point, and I did not really get this from what he was saying, but if he also believes the attempts by the Giants organization, to sabotage the A’s at every turn, is somehow ok, then I don’t agree with him on that point either. I was trying to take what he was saying in the most positive light, and trying to be contusive with it. It’s not always the easiest thing to discern the inferences (a little Marsha Clark there), or meaning, when we are all writing our thoughts down. I will say this, I respect the Giants fan base, and I really appreciate people like xoot, that comet regularly , and constructively here, but the Giants Organization its self, I have nothing, but distant for the way they have set out, to systematically destroy (in my view) a charter member of their own sport.

  27. pjk says:

    re: I have nothing, but distant for the way they have set out, to systematically destroy (in my view) a charter member of their own sport.

    …All while Bud Selig sits back and does nothing to stop the Giants. He asks the two teams to sit down and work out their differences – like asking a runner and catcher to work out whether the runner was safe or not. There won’t be any middle ground between the A’s and Giants, and rather than make the tough decisions, Bud does what he does best – absolutely nothing.

  28. gojohn10 says:

    I found my Mother’s cookies cards in a box in the attic just a couple weeks ago

  29. llpec says:

    “I will say this, I respect the Giants fan base, and I really appreciate people like xoot, that comet regularly , and constructively here, but the Giants Organization its self, I have nothing, but distant for the way they have set out, to systematically destroy (in my view) a charter member of their own sport.”

    I put full blame on the entire Bay Area media for not really covering and exposing the selfish behavior of the Giants. The Giants’ attitude is severely trying to undermine and keep at a disadvantage the other Bay Area MLB team(the A’s), and thus could ultimately force the A’s to eventually have to move out of the Bay Area altogether.

    As for the ongoing inaction by Selig to a possible move of the A’s to San Jose, it is all about maintaining the status quo as being the best course of action on this issue. IMO, Selig very much wants for the Giants to maintain the entire San Francisco Peninsula and Santa Clara County as exclusively Giants territory. By not allowing for the A’s to possibly move to any of these more lucrative areas of their market, it serves only to maintain the competitive dominance of the Giants within the shared Bay Area market. Also, by not taking any action on this matter, the status quo will in effect continue to benefit the Giants at the expense of the A’s.

    Shame on the San Francisco media! The media is in effect undermining and hurting the A’s, and over the long haul detrimental to MLB within the entire Bay Area.

    As for Selig, he is obviously going counter to the best interests of both MLB in general, and Bay Area MLB in particular.

  30. duffer says:

    Agree, llpec, it is a crazy situation (along with Selig and the giants mgt) When a municipality – especially a large one such as San Jose – seeks a sports franchise – the municipality typically gets their wish. Judging the opinions of some legal experts and even a member of the SCOTUS – the MLB ATE (and its territorial rights privilege especially)is in trouble. The SJ vs MLB case may give the SCOTUS the opportunity to finally overturn the MLB ATE. The arrogance of Selig and the giants taking on the SCOTUS and the city of San Jose – unprecedented and likely to fail.

  31. Mike2 says:

    @lakeshore

    I don’t believe the Giant’s forcing the A’s out of the Bay area is ok. I think you took my comment of if x% of your fan base comes from SJ out of context. We all know the Giants have outdrawn and grown their fanbase since AT@T has opened #’s don’t lie and I don’t need to repeat them here.

    I for one am hoping SJ wins the lawsuit and MLB’s AT laws become obsolete. A move to SJ is the only way to keep the team in the Bay Area so they can grow a new fanbase while keeping a few of the diehards from the east bay. The Montréal Athlétisme just looks and sounds wrong if this team moves out of the Bay. (j/k)

  32. Lakeshore/Neil says:

    @Mike2 its cool, I did not think thats what you ment. as I said to duffer and pjk, its not always easy to understand the contect, of what someone is writeing. Thats why I said if “Mike2 fills this way”

  33. ely94702 says:

    this:

    “The easy thing to say is to order 30-35,000 right off the bat. Because of the team’s limited marketing budget, 35,000 bobbleheads would’ve negatively impacted some other promotional day, potentially getting rid of a promotion altogether.”

    what’s the cost to the A’s of getting “stuck” w/ 5,000-10,000 bobbleheads? How much does this really impact their “limited” marketing budget (you can bet the giant’s marketing budget could withstand that hit!). What’s the cost compared to 10,000 disgruntled, paying fans.

    it’s this type of poor marketing of a profitable enterprise that diminishes their fan support, which reinforces the “need” to move. spend money to make money, and not just on tarps!

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