Stadium Giveaways: Tchotchke or Collectible?

The ubiquitous “bobblehead doll” has been a part of sports for years. This 1960s-era Roberto Clemente bobblehead fetches $1,000 to $3,000 on the secondary market.

Rings, bobbleheads, statues, seat cushions, trading cards, window decals and even giant foam Band-Aids; when it comes to sports stadium giveaways, if you look hard enough, some team, somewhere, has given away a kitchen sink.

Well, maybe not but you get the idea. Stadium giveaway marketing has been around nearly as long as the sports themselves and has led to some unique collectibles over time.

By far, the most common stadium giveaway is the beloved bubblehead doll. Across the country, baseball parks alone are scheduled to giveaway almost 100 of these miniature novelty figures this season. Through the years and across all sports, bobbleheads have become a part of the sports lexicon and America itself. Produced in far smaller quantities than those for retail distribution, the resulting scarcity has made some of these bobbles quite collectible.

As with many other collectibles, when it comes to value, rarity, age and condition are the three vital characteristics. Original packaging is another component used in valuing bobbleheads; the absence of which can significantly decrease the figure’s value. It is often difficult to determine the origin of a bobblehead as being produced for retail or as part of a stadium giveaway, or SGA, however, it may be noted on the packaging. In most cases, bobble heads distributed as part of a stadium promotion, are a sponsored piece and may display some sort of corporate branding, logo or advertisement.

The Luc Robitaille bobblehead went to Ontario Reign fans in 2011. On eBay it can be had for $50.

Bobblehead SGAs are certainly not limited exclusively to baseball. In reality, all four major sports have used them for promotional purposes. Some of the more limited pieces are those that are produced in conjunction with a major-league player being sent to a minor-league affiliate for an injury rehabilitation assignment. The minor-league club will use the presence of a major star to promote those games and often include a SGA as part of the experience.

Minor-league teams and affiliates will also use alumni players in their stadium promotional schedule, like this bobblehead of former Los Angeles Kings and Ontario Reign player Luc Robitaille.

Even big league clubs will pay tribute to retired greats and fan favorites for inclusion in the bobblehead giveaways. With only 16 games in the regular season, eight being home games, NFL teams typically don’t need to resort to stadium giveaways to help sell tickets. As a result NFL SGA bobbleheads are few and far between.

The St. Louis Cardinals gave out 25,000 of these replica World Chamionship rings in 2012. It was such a hit, they gave out another 25,000 a few months later.

When a team wins its league’s championship or one of its players earns an award, it is not uncommon to incorporate some sort of SGA reflecting and commemorating the achievement. Some of these items include replica rings and miniature trophies. While these pieces may never generate any significant collectible value, for a team fan they do capture a moment in time and display very well, making them extremely popular with fans and collectors alike. The supply-and-demand factor for such items is what generates and maintains their value.

In addition to the popular bobbleheads, more traditional figures have also had their run at the stadium turnstiles. More like miniature statues, some of these giveaways have proven to be very popular, with most selling in the $40 to $60 range on the secondary market. Made from a variety of materials including plastic, resin, stone and metal, the higher quality figures of popular players are obviously the ones that command top dollar.

Souvenir apparel has always been a fan favorite as far as stadium giveaways go. Everything from hats, t-shirts and ponchos has been given to appreciative fans through the years. While some of the more vintage pieces, particularly hats and visors, may look cool, possessing that retro appeal, they unfortunately carry little collectible value.

Not all SGAs are even worth keeping; magnet schedules, calendars, creepy dolls, teddy bears and thunder sticks are just a handful of some of the more worthless giveaways that teams employed through the years. For the advertiser, even the best creative ideas can turn out to be a huge waste of money if the fans don’t appreciate them.

This 2012 “Zim Bear”—a freakish hybrid of a teddy bear and Tampa Bay Rays coach Don Zimmer—is possibly the most terrifyingly awful SGA ever produced.

As an example, in hockey, when a player scores three goals in a game, that achievement is called a “hat trick.” It is customary for fans to throw hats on the ice in acknowledgement of this relatively rare accomplishment. A couple of years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks had a stadium giveaway that consisted of a yellow construction hard hat sponsored by Kenny Construction. Wouldn’t you know it, that night, a Hawks player scored a hat trick and sure enough, thousands of yellow hard hats made their way to the ice surface.

Stadium giveaways have become part of the experience of attending live sporting events. While they may serve as a branded advertisement for the sponsor, their value-added benefit to the game attendee can often times provide the fan with a way of recouping a portion of the admission price. With ticket prices for live sporting events as high as they are today, that is certainly a helpful added bonus. You certainly won’t grow rich collecting SGAs, but these relatively limited items can make a nice chase for team and player collectors, regardless of value.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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