Mark Fine has seen the power of bobbleheads in professional sports first hand.
In July 2017, as executive director of marketing for the New York Mets, the team worked with Marvel Entertainment to design a Thor bobblehead based around pitcher Noah Syndergaard. It was the first time that Marvel worked with a professional athlete to customize him as one of the characters in the Marvel Universe.
The unprecedented nature of the Syndergaard-Thor collaboration brought fans to Citi Field in record numbers.
The game on July 22, 2017, when the promotional bobblehead was released, was scheduled for 7:10 p.m.
By 5:40, all 15,000 Thor bobbleheads were handed out. With an hour before first pitch, the Marvel-Mets night brought more than 25,000 people into Citi Field – and was named the No. 1 promotion in MLB in 2017 per MLB.com.
“What you see now is that teams have to go deeper than just a random player bobblehead,” Fine said. “There has to be some theme to it. What we’ve seen work is that having a pop culture tie-in and taking a strong brand like Marvel and the brands within Marvel Entertainment, that’s very attractive to the consumer.”
Joining the Brooklyn Nets as vice president of team marketing in February 2019, Fine has quickly set out to bring Marvel to the Barclays Center.
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The Nets pegged Spencer Dinwiddie to appear as Marvel’s Iron Man bobblehead on January 18 versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
“He kind of goes through this road of self-discovery that leads to him being a more benevolent figure,” Dinwiddie said to BrooklynNets.com. “I think in a lot of ways, obviously my journey hasn’t been smooth, and I’ve had to rely on my mind a lot to get to where I’m at. I am Iron Man.”
Much like previous Marvel-Nets nights, the Iron Man-inspired Dinwiddie bobblehead drove significant attention to Barclays Center. Although the Nets lost 117-97 to the Bucks, they finished with a sell-out crowd of 17,732 – a 7% rise from their average home attendance of 16,571.
Other Marvel-themed giveaway nights have been big drivers of attendance whenever featured by a team across sports.
During the 2018 and 2019 MLB seasons, Marvel-themed gate giveaways saw an average increase in attendance of 30.4% and 26%, respectively. When, the New York Yankees hosted Marvel Superhero Night on Friday, July 12, 2019, it was their highest-reported attendance of the season to that point.
It was not only a sell-out occasion, but more than 20,000 fans were at Yankee Stadium one hour before first pitch when there is typically between 10,000 and 20,000 in the stadium when the first pitch is thrown, according to Marvel.
The New York Islanders held their second Marvel Super Hero Day on Saturday, February 9, 2019, when they took on the Colorado Avalanche at Barclays Center.
The first 5,000 fans in attendance received not only a Captain America bobblehead, but commemorative Islanders-themed Captain America bobbleheads were available exclusively with the purchase of a special ticket package. Other Marvel characters, including Iron Man, Black Panther, and Spider-Man, were also on the arena concourse to take photos with fans.
Attendance for that game was 14,216 – a 30% bump from the team’s 10,927 average attendance at the time in 2018.
Last February, the Nets partnered with Marvel to launch a Black Panther bobblehead. The Nets were the only team in the NBA last season to give away a Black Panther bobblehead, and that rarity helped bring fans to the arena.
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At the time of the game on February 21, the Nets had the lowest average attendance in the NBA. By tipoff, Brooklyn pulled in a sell-out crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center, a 22.4% increase over its average home attendance average of 14,941 in the 2018-2019 season.
It was such a success that the Nets renewed their deal with Marvel to bring three bobblehead nights in the 2019-2020 campaign.
“Marvel Super Hero games provide a way for fans to interact with Marvel in a unique way at sports venues nationwide,” said Michael Pasciullo, head of marketing and communications for Marvel Entertainment. “There’s no better example of our brand’s bonafide power in this space than this extensive collaboration with the Nets, a team in the nation’s biggest market and home to some of the greatest names in NBA history, past and present.”
After the Nets’ Black Panther night last season, they followed that with a Spider-Man bobblehead game on November 22, 2019. Compared to their previous bobblehead giveaway, the Nets saw 15,619 in attendance for that game – a 5.4% drop from their average home attendance of 16,513.
Following the Dinwiddie-Iron Man giveaway, Brooklyn will host one more Marvel bobblehead night on March 6 when NBA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving appears as Black Panther. Along with the bobblehead, the Nets will also be giving away meet-and-greet opportunities with Erving as well as a food and beverage package, said Fine.
For Fine, creating a bobblehead featuring a well-known brand like Marvel and a legend like Erving is a winning recipe for driving ticket sales.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest basketball players of all time – who was a Net – along with Black Panther, which is one of the most popular Marvel superheroes that exist,” Fine said. “It’s combining those two to form one identity, and we like where we are with that.”