*This piece is part of John Collins’ ongoing article series called, “It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)” where he focuses on the lighter sides of sports business while tying it back into the topics driving the conversation in the industry.
Ah, March…the gateway to Spring, St. Patrick’s Day, and Selection Sunday! It’s that time of year when we all go crazy over NCAA basketball and bracketology.
With the Major League Baseball season right around the corner and teams releasing their promotional schedules, it’s only fitting to take a look at some of the teams’ offerings. So here we go with the obligatory March-Madness themed bracket breakdown of MLB Promos & Giveaways coming up in 2018.
The Rules: To build our bracket of 64, we’ve selected two of the “best” or more unique promotions being given away by each team in the league-one targeting the younger crowd (sometimes limited to fans age 14 and under); the other directed at the broader fanbase. Filling out the field, each team that made it to the Championship Series last year has been given one extra entry (Houston Astros, New York Yankees in the American League; Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers from the National League side).
This was certainly no easy task, and required a process about as logical and straightforward as that used by the Selection Committee seeding the NCAA Tourney (which is to say equal parts complex and arbitrary, with disagreement sure to follow). The promos that made it onto the bracket are not your routine calendar giveaways or annual bank/insurance-sponsored stale cap days; our entries are the bobbleheads, gnomes, and other creative, team-themed novelties.
*First, a few quick things we noticed going through all the offerings:
- Teams give away a lot of stuff!
- A few of the franchises have some pretty clever “theme days” (Mullets, Elvis, ‘70s, Christmas in July…)
- It’s good to be a dog if you’re looking for some love from MLB. Almost every team has multiple “Bark at the Park” days inviting dogs to the field.
- What’s with all the Star Wars synergies?
On to the entries!
Baltimore Orioles: (4/1) Retro Bird Bank; (6/25) Buck “Snow”alter Snow Globe
-The O’s have some pretty strong offerings with player bobbleheads and team clothing, but the two that make it really hit on nostalgia and highlight the team’s creativity with the Showalter pun.
Boston Red Sox: (4/8) Youth Batting Gloves; (7/10) Red Sox Socks
-The Craig Kimbrel “Growing Beard” plant and Pedro Martinez bobblehead were close, but gotta go with batting gloves letting kids emulate “No-mah’s” batting routine and the excellent wordplay.
New York Yankees: (8/19) 1998 World Series Championship Replica Fan Ring; (5/4) Aaron Judge Jedi Bobblehead; (8/31) Brett Gardner Bobblehead
-As one of the teams in last year’s ALCS, the Yankees have 3. Why the cool replica ring is limited to 14 and under is beyond me; Aaron Judge gets our first Star Wars entry; and the Brett Gardner bobble makes it ‘cause he’s the longest lifetime Yankee still with the team.
Tampa Bay Rays: (6/10) Boogie Board; (5/29) 20th Anniversary Cowbell
-Wow, the Rays have some pretty great promos for their younger fans (a baseball toss game; “Popsockets” whatever those are, but they sure sound fun; etc.) but have to go with the uniquely functional boogie board that’ll be great for the beaches down in Tampa; and gotta love the Will Ferrell-endorsed cowbell frequently heard at all their home games.
Toronto Blue Jays: (5/13) Kevin Pillar Caped Replica Jersey; (8/25) Blue Jays Replica Batting Helmet
-Toronto definitely gets points for bobblehead creativity with fun player poses, but every kid loves a cape, and adults get to play dress-up if they want too! “Now batting, in Section 102….”
Chicago White Sox: (5/5) Los White Sox Soccer Jersey; (6/2) 1983 Road Replica Jersey
-Not a lot to choose from here on the promo front, so the Cinco de Mayo-themed soccer jersey and old-school throwback are the entries- almost by default. On the plus side, for what the White Sox lack in promos and giveaways they do make up for it with some pretty great themed game-days. “Mullet and Fireworks Night; Elvis Day; Christmas in July; Grateful Dead Night…”
Cleveland Indians: (8/19) Jim Thome Hall of Fame Bobblehead Special, including Toy Truck; (5/26) Terry Francona 1988 Jersey
-The Indians are doing a great job leveraging Jim Thome’s Hall of Fame entry this year, and are being rather generous with their celebration. As for the adults, it’s pretty cool that fans can get a throwback jersey of the team’s current manager from when he was actually a player on the team. Great bridge between the past and present!
Detroit Tigers: (9/23) Kids Compression Sleeve; (9/8) 1968 Replica Road Jersey
-Still not entirely sure what a compression sleeve even does, but kids seem to love ‘em; and Detroit has some great offerings throughout the year based on their 50th Anniversary Celebration for the 1968 World Series Championship team. The jersey is the most universal-bobbleheads can be limiting to fans that didn’t know or like that particular player…
Kansas City Royals: (5/5) Sluggerrr Bobblehead; (5/19) George Brett Pine Tar Bobblehead
-Who wouldn’t want a bobblehead of one of the cooler mascots in the game? And apparently kids get a few extra “g’s” and “r’s” too…; terrific tongue-in-cheek homage to a unique moment in franchise history with the Brett bobblehead.
Minnesota Twins: (9/30) T.C. Trapper Cap; (4/14) Twins Plaid Flap Cap
-These are not just your typical hat days! Kids get a comfy looking trapper cap designed like the mascot, and adults get some matching cold-weather headgear. Very “Minnesotan.”
Houston Astros: (4/28) Jose Altuve AL MVP Bobblehead; (4/6) Replica World Series Trophy; (4/7) Replica World Series Champions Ring
-The World Series Champions from the previous year typically have great offerings the following season, and the Astros are no exception. Kids get the face-of-the-franchise Altuve MVP bobblehead that may or may not be almost as tall as he really is; older fans get to soak in the success and celebrate the franchise’s first World Series.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: (6/3 and recurring) Youth Trout Jersey; (8/24) 80s Replica Jersey
-Yet another example of a team wisely marketing the face of their franchise- this time Mike Trout- with a jersey for young fans offered every Sunday homestand; the old 80s jersey features one of the cooler logos in the game.
Oakland Athletics: (5/5) Black Panther Bobblehead; (8/18) 2002 Streak Team T-Shirt
-Anything even tangentially related to the Black Panther blockbuster is going to be a hit this year; while it’s “only a t-shirt” the 2002 team was immortalized by Brad Pitt and Chris Pratt in the movie “Moneyball.” The other option was the Coliseum Stadium Snowglobe…but given the A’s situation at the stadium, it’ll be interesting to see how fans react to that. It’s no secret that neither they nor the organization love the facility, let alone a snowy version!
Seattle Mariners: (5/18) Mariners Blanket Hoodie Night; (5/25) Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz Wine Stopper Set Night
-Have to hand it to the Mariners for coming up with some pretty unique giveaways, offering a team snuggie and wine stoppers for the older crowd.
Texas Rangers: (6/16) Adrian Beltre Best Friends Bobblehead; (7/21) Elvis Andrus Best Friends Bobblehead
-Texas is doing an excellent job showcasing some of the team’s personality, and fans can go after both to complete a pretty cool father/son set!
Atlanta Braves: (8/18) Chipper Jones “Crazy Train” Bobblehead; (8/10) Chipper Jones Hall of Fame Replica Plaque
-Since when do the Braves have this strange “Blooper” creature as their mascot? That was certainly a surprise; although all the new mascot swag has to take a backseat to the franchise’s notable celebration of recent Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Bobblehead with sound effects for the kids; cool piece of history for the adults.
Miami Marlins: (6/30) Billy the Marlin Pool Float; (6/1) Superhero Bobblehead
-They already gave half their team away…all that’s left is the mascot and home run statue. At least there’s a fun, team-themed toy for the younger crowd, but it is kinda sad that the team’s only bobblehead is a generic “superhero.” By trading most of the star players away, Miami left their marketing team in a bit of a bind.
New York Mets: (8/4) Noah Syndergaard as Thor Bobblehead; (5/5) Yoenis Cespedes Garden Gnome
-While the franchise gets its fair share of criticism, they actually have some of the better promos and giveaways. Their “Free Shirt Fridays,” are great examples of highlighting the team’s personality, yet even those aren’t their strongest offerings. The Mets just better hope Syndergaard and Cespedes are still on the field during the giveaways…last year both suffered injuries.
Philadelphia Phillies: (5/12) Phanatic Children’s Book; (4/27) Phillies Headphones
-Philly gets bonus points for encouraging literacy, and everybody can use a good pair of headphones…but where’s the brotherly love for the Super Bowl Champion Eagles?
Washington Nationals: (4/22) Kids Batting Helmet; (5/4) Max Scherzer Cy Young Bobblehead
-Youngsters get to dress up like the pros; and the Max Scherzer bobblehead is pretty clever- he’s holding both Cy Young Awards that he’s won with the team. Washington also offers a fidget spinner, but that’s probably more useful to those following the political scene…
Chicago Cubs: (7/8) Plush Clark; (8/3) Cubs Umbrella Hat; (5/22) Cubs Cap-shaped Umbrella
-No longer the lovable losers, the Cubs have some pretty fun giveaways…although their seems to be this odd fixation with umbrellas… The team’s promos include both a hat shaped like an umbrella and an umbrella shaped like a hat. Sounds almost like a riddle to me.
Cincinnati Reds: (7/28) Joey Votto Funko Pop! Collectible; (6/9) Scooter Gennett Bobblehead
-These are not just your typical figurines- the Votto collectible looks like something kids would actually buy, and bobblehead Gennett is riding an actual scooter! Well played, Cincinnati, well played.
Milwaukee Brewers: (6/17) Mini Replica Bullpen Cart; (8/5) Bob Uecker Bottle Opener
-Finally! A team working the bullpen cart into their promotions (see last week’s column; the Uecker bottle opener is not only practical, but also thematic. They are the Brewers, after all…
Pittsburgh Pirates: (7/8) Kids Baseball Dart Board Game; (5/12) Bleacher Cooler Bag
-Great way to engage young fans with a dart game; the cooler bag even has cup-holders! Great for bleachers and picnics.
St. Louis Cardinals: (5/20) Rawlings Kids Baseball Glove; (4/7) Mystery Hall of Fame Opening Day Cart Parade Bobblehead
-St. Louis kids’ giveaway doubles as an effective way to promote the game; Hall of Fame bobblehead with an element of surprise is a pretty unique take on a typical team giveaway. Good job keeping things fresh.
Arizona Diamondbacks: (4/22) Kids Bat & Ball Set; (6/30) Team Duffel Bag
-Yet another great example of teams using their marketing strategy to grow the game; while bags may seem boring that looks like one quality duffel.
Colorado Rockies: (6/10) Junior Fire Marshal Helmet; (5/13) Mother’s Day Bracelet
-That’s certainly an odd take on offering a team helmet…make sure fans know not to go to bat with that! Rockies give you a great excuse to take Mom to a ballgame on Mother’s Day.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (4/22) Jr. Dodgers Bat Bag; (4/15) Jackie Robinson Jersey; (3/30) Kirk Gibson Special Edition Bobblehead
-Last year’s Championship teams sure have some good giveaways. Youngsters get to feel like big-shots on their way to Little League; the Dodgers are wisely celebrating their connection to one of the biggest heroes in the game; and the Gibson bobble even has his hand raised. Excellent showcase of a key moment in team history.
San Diego Padres: (7/28) Trevor Hoffman Retirement Commemorative Bobblehead; (8/18) Trevor Hoffman Cooperstown Replica Plaque
-I’m sure kids will like that Hoffman’s bobblehead comes with a car; older fans get to celebrate the face of their franchise on his way to Cooperstown as well. If only San Diego could give away some of its weather…
San Francisco Giants: (4/7) 60th Anniversary Willie Mays Bobblehead; (6/24) 60th Anniversary Mt. Crushmore Commemorative Statue
-The Giants promotions go heavy on celebrating the team’s history. The Mays bobblehead looks pretty kid-friendly; and I wonder who made it onto the statue…
Those are the entires- it’s up to you to decide the seeding…and try not to play favorites with your “home team.” Oh, and don’t forget- get your tickets early! The better promos tend to go quickly…