Mario Alioto has a special connection to bobbleheads.
Alioto, the Giants’ senior vice president of business operations, says San Francisco was the first major league team to give away a head-bobbing doll when he oversaw the promotions department in 1999. Fans at Candlestick Park that season received a Willie Mays replica—one that the Hall of Famer still claims doesn’t look like him.
Still, even Alioto is taken aback that such promotions have not only endured, but they have grown. Fans still line up outside AT&T Park four hours before the gates open on days when a bobblehead is on the promotional calendar, leading the team to increase the number of dolls this season to 40,000 for each of its giveaways.
“When I look back on all these years, I can’t believe they are popular like they are now,” Alioto said.
It’s a craze that has grown so much in the past 13 years that more than 80 bobblehead giveaways are scheduled at the 30 major league ballparks this season (see sidebar).
The Giants have a lot more to sell to fans than bobbleheads, of course. Coming off their second World Series title in three years, they return the bulk of last season’s roster, including National League MVP Buster Posey. They play in arguably the most picturesque ballpark in baseball, and they’re on a streak of 167 consecutive sellouts.
Bobbleheads Still Lead Promotion Calendars
And if simply collecting the best is your fancy, a veritable all-star team of bobbleheads could be formed from giveaways at ballparks around the majors. The roster could include an outfield of Mike Trout (April 13), Ryan Braun (May 26) and Matt Kemp (May 14); an infield featuring Adrian Gonzalez (July 11) or Joey Votto (Aug. 6) at first base, Aaron Hill (June 8) at second, Hanley Ramirez (April 30) at shortstop, Miguel Cabrera (Sept. 17) at third and Buster Posey (April 6) behind the plate.
And, if bobbleheads are not your thing, there are plenty of creative alternatives being passed out at the gate this season. Gnomes dot several promo calendars, like the Grant Balfour Ragin’ Gnome (A’s, June 16). Other giveaways include: Cubs
With that in mind, designing new ways to promote the team can’t be a priority, right?
“We’re not just sitting back assuming fans will come through the ballpark. That’s suicide,” said Alioto, who has been a member of the front office since 1983 and remembers the leaner days at Candlestick Park.
Alioto says the Giants strive to keep the AT&T Park experience as fresh as when the stadium opened in 2000, and use promotions to entertain, and not necessarily attract fans to the ballpark.
“When things are not going so well, you have to be more strategic with the way you use promotions. But right now, we’re just trying to have fun,” he said. “We’re still trying to make this ballpark feel like the restaurant that everyone wants to be at it, make sure it’s still the place to be.”
More than 40,000 fans turned out for San Francisco’s fanfest in January, ticket sales have been robust and the season-ticket base has grown to 29,000. The Giants will reward their fans with a packed early schedule of promotions celebrating their World Series title.
It starts on April 6 against the Cardinals, with a Buster Posey MVP bobblehead, with World Series replica rings the next day. Giving away such prime items on weekend dates is part of their philosophy of enhancing the game experience.
“We probably could have moved (Buster Posey) to a Tuesday night in May, but then the message is that we are using that promotion to drive you to a game,” Alioto said. “It becomes only about the promotion. We would rather take a good game and make it extraordinary.”