Sunday, August 12, 2001

Dolls bobbing back up

'70s bobbleheads a hit with sports fans, collectors

By Eric J.S. Townsend
Gannett News Service

        They're cute, they're quiet, they'll never tell you “no” — and after a 30-year hiatus, they're back in ballparks nationwide — including Cincinnati.

        Bobblehead dolls are making a return as professional baseball teams capitalize on renewed interest in the sport and the latest collectors' craze.

        The figurines stand about 7 inches tall with oversized heads attached by springs to cartoonish bodies. They represent an array of sports, from baseball and basketball to football and ice hockey.

        The dolls — also called bobbing heads, bobbling heads, nodding heads and nodders — reached their heyday in the early 1970s before fading from pop culture. Today, a new generation of Americans is enjoying them.

        More than two-thirds of Major League Baseball teams will give away bobblehead dolls this season. Already, the Reds have given away Barry Larkin and Pete Harnisch bobbers. On deck: Danny Graves to the first 10,000 fans Friday.

        “It's kind of a nostalgic item, and I think a lot of parents remember when they had bobbleheads,” said Baltimore Orioles spokeswoman Monica Pence, whose team recently had a promotion for outfielder Brady Anderson. “Now they want to get their kids into it.”

        About 15,000 Anderson dolls were handed out. The Orioles decided to do a bobblehead promotion this year after a Cal Ripken giveaway last year drew raves from fans.

        “They were given just to kids,” Ms. Pence said, “but I know we had a lot of adults try to beg for one.”

        According to Philadelphia Phillies officials, it was the same scene at the team's May 20 event to promote outfielder Pat Burrell. Gate workers reported that some adults sent their children in more than once to get a doll each time. Only fans 14 and under were eligible for the giveaway.

[photo] Malcolm Alexander, founder of bobblehead manufacturer Alexander Global Promotions, counts up profits with the dolls, including these of Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.
(Seattle Times photo)
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        “I personally think it's sad when an adult uses a kid, especially if he's getting the item to resell it,” said Phillies spokesman John Brazer. “Then kids see it as a dollar sign instead of a souvenir.”

        Ike Tacconelli, who attended that game, sent his 12-year-old son Patrick in six times for dolls. General admission tickets are $8 a child when purchased before games.

        “I spent $48 to get six dolls,” Mr. Tacconelli said. “Patrick wants one, I'm giving two to my brother-in-law and three are for me.”

        Bensussen Deutsch & Associates created the Anderson dolls. The business specializes in promotional events for sports teams, and is one of two companies based in Washington state that make bobblehead dolls. The other is Alexander Global Promotions.

        Bensussen Deutsch spokesman Steve Avanessian said a renewed interest in baseball is part of what drives the bobbleheads' appeal. Sixteen professional baseball teams have doll contracts with the company, and orders range from 10,000 to 55,000 figurines an event.

        Since Bensussen Deutsch began production last year, about 1 million bobbleheads have been made, he said.

        “When someone sees a bobblehead, it drums up tons of different types of emotions and great thoughts,” Mr. Avanessian said. “People want to hold onto things when they have long-term value as a collectible.”

        Bobbleheads from the '70s can be found on Internet auction sites with triple-digit bids. Newer dolls also are up for grabs, with some bringing in as much as $75.

        Alexander Global started making bobbleheads in 1999 and currently produces an average of 600,000 dolls each month, company founder Malcolm Alexander said.

        “They're able to micro-market the team or the individual in a way a T-shirt and a hat doesn't,” he said, predicting that the popularity of bobbleheads will last another three to four years.

        Collector shops also are seeing good business from bobblehead sales.

        Chicky Warrington, owner of Xtra Inning in the New Castle, Del., Farmer's Market, began stocking his shelves with bobblehead dolls three years ago. Although baseball figures are popular, Mr. Warrington said, football dolls with jerseys sell even better.

        “Everybody wants a piece of memorabilia,” he said. “One team sells out and they pick another team.”

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