View From The Bleachers

July 17, 2012

In Praise of Promotional Giveaways

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 3:39 am

I recently bought a Zim Bear.  But perhaps that’s not the best place to start.

To some degree, everyone likes receiving free stuff at a ballgame.  Even when the stuff isn’t really 100% free, and even when it’s sure to clutter your home or collect dust in your garage, there are still plenty of us who thoroughly enjoy the promotional tchotchkes that are regularly handed out in ballparks across the country.

Some people love the utilitarian nature of the giveaway items–who couldn’t use another hat or t-shirt?  Some enjoy the novelty of the item itself–where else can you find a superhero action figure bearing the likeness of your favorite power hitter?*  Others are easier to please–they indiscriminately line up for the swag simply because it bears the insignia of their favorite team.  And still others have some twisted compulsion toward accumulating junk to litter their homes (those people are often called hoarders, and the less said about them, the better).

*I didn’t make this up–one of my nephew’s favorite teething toys was an Andre Ethier action figure called “Super Dre.”

Ideally the best swag has some real-world use.  Hats are the most immediately useful item, and along with t-shirts, probably give the advertising sponsor the best publicity bang for their buck.  But I’ve been handed all kinds of useful giveaways as I walk through the turnstiles–novelty pens, keychains, wallets, and watches all have staying power.  Even the less worthwhile items (is there anything more useless than a bobblehead?) can be allowed to linger in your home or office indefinitely if it strikes a chord with you.

Regardless of what compelled you to keep it, I’d wager that if you’re reading this, you’ve got some promotional giveaway item somewhere in your house right now.

It doesn’t even have to be Cubs-related.  Just the other day my mom asked me why there was an Anaheim Ducks hat in her laundry room.  I couldn’t give her a good answer–although I knew I wasn’t the one who left it there, since I stopped taking other team’s free stuff a while back.**  As a general rule, I waive off any opponent swag I won’t personally use.

**The final straw: I had four Cesar Izturis bobbleheads from his time with the Dodgers that I absolutely could not give away.  The might as well have been used syringes–no one would take them off my hands.

And frankly, we’re living in the Golden Age of useful swag.  Back when I was a little kid, the best you could hope for was a classy pin, a cheap pennant that wasn’t too cluttered with advertising, or maybe a few oddly-sized baseball cards.  You hoped against hope that you’d be handed a free baseball upon arrival.  But free baseball days mostly died out of popularity.***

***I remember a game in San Diego many years ago when Cubs fans threw back their free balls after a couple Padre homeruns, halting the game for several minutes.  That may have had something to do with it.

Then there was the inexplicable Beanie Baby craze, and suddenly every team had their own branded, vaguely animal-resembling toy to hand out to eager children and lonely women.  Bobbleheads enjoyed a similar wave of popularity, and the promotional giveaway industry hasn’t been the same since.

Today the “free” giveaways are pretty creative and staggeringly diverse.  Hats, t-shirts, and bobbleheads are commonplace–the Cubs will give away several of each this season, along with a variety of bags, some branded stationary, and a set of winter accessories.  Look through their schedule of promotional items and you’ll see there’s almost nothing they can’t slap a Cubs logo onto and hand out by the thousands.  And I think that’s great!  Who wouldn’t want a Cubs-branded iPhone skin (August 25th) or luggage tag (September 1st)?  Personally, I’d love to have a wall clock that looks like the Wrigley Field scoreboard (July 29th), even if it is sure to be tackily emblazoned with an unsightly MasterCard logo.

As far as I’m concerned, the high-water mark for the Cubs’ 2012 promotional giveaways comes on Friday, July 27th, when they will bestow a replica of Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame plaque on the first 10,000 fans in attendance.  Any way you cut it, that’s a classy promo.

That’s not to say they’re all gold.  Remember the Ryan Theriot Gone Fishin’ bobbleheadOr the Kosuke Fukudome bobblehead that looked nothing like him?  For every useful giveaway (seriously, how great is the fridge magnet schedule?), there’s a creepy Jeff Samardzija bobblehead (from June 29th) you wouldn’t dare bring into your home, a Cubs-themed Dora the Explorer doll that clearly wants to murder your children, or a camouflaged bucket hat you’ll never wear again.  When you’re giving away that much stuff over the course of one season, they can’t all be winners.

Which brings me back to the Zim Bear.  There’s really nothing classy or redeeming about it.  It’s Don Zimmer’s face on a teddy bear body in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform–that’s it and that’s all.  It serves no purpose and has no function, unless you count creeping out friends and family.  It simply exists to draw a little attention to the Rays and to the Tampa Bay Times (who sponsored the distribution of the bizarre man/animal half-breed collectible).  It’s 100% novelty, and it could only exist in the world of promotional giveaways.

And I think that’s fantastic.

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    The Marlins have made good use of bobble heads. They have a museum of 700, which I thought was pretty cool.


    But yes, the promotional giveaways are over the top. I’ve gotten like 10 shirts over the years, I’ve given a good amount away

  • Timothy Scarbrough

    I enjoy every give away except for t-shirts. Every single race I’ve ever been to gives away t-shirts, I don’t need anymore.

  • Doc Raker

    A friend invited me to a White Sox game back in grammar school and they gave away a regular size baseball bat and I don’t recall any news stories of any assault and batteries with said bats. Can you imagine the White Sox or Dodgers giving away full size bats to a ball park full of paroled felons now a days?

  • jswanson

    I still think they should have had Fontenot mullet-head bobbling in the boat with Theriot.  Arm in arm.  

  • Seymour Butts

    I had several trips to Wrigley on Bat day in the late 60’s. As Raker stated, full sized. The wood was not great as they tended to break easily in little league, but far and away the best swag.
    Number 2 is the Padre hats I got in Petco about 5 years ago. Nice wide full circumference brim is great for working outside on sunny days. I brought home about 5 and still have a couple in mint condition, and a couple dirty, greasy and barely usable.
    Most of the time if you linger on exiting the stadium after the game, you can collect what others have forgotten. That’s how I came away with so many Padre hats.
    Worst swag… refrigerator magnet schedules. Usually complete with the logo and phone numbers of some So Cal optometrist. Give me a tootsie roll instead.

  • jswanson

    Drop on in and “see” us…

  • LVCubFan

    “What a horrible thing to happen on Free Range Chicken Night” – Baseketball

  • cap’n obvious

    cardiologists too cheap to buy work hats (or hire people to work outside for that matter)running smack at soCal optometrists.  You gotta love VFTB.

    I do recall bat day footage from somewhere where, after a blown call, the bats rained down on the field like so many of Seymours $1’s at a north Phoenix ballet.  Can’t remember where or when, but I’m sure it happened.


    U.S Never Sell Out Field: Where there are more DRIVE BYS than LINE DRIVES

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Better. Best would have been if Fontenot was caught on the end of his fishing line.

  • Seymour Butts

    At Coors field one Cub series they gave away Rockies seat cushions (still got ’em). Several hundred did end up in the out field after a close play. I can’t remember if it was Cub fans throwing them or Rockie fans. At least they were soft.

  • Doc Raker

    “As God as my witness I thought turkeys could fly” WKRP official after dropping turkeys off the roof for a promotional stunt.
    * Seymour hangs out at the little league fields chattingup moms, “Your kid growing out of his shoes? What size is he? Can I have them when he’s done? Hate to see a good pair of shoes go to waste. What size sliding shorts does he wear?”

  • Seymour Butts

    Les Nessman himself.

  • jswanson
  • cap’n obvious

    Seymour looks a little like Dr. Johnny Fever….

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Spot on! Hadn’t already made the connection, myself, but you’re totally right.

  • flyslinger2

    Bobbleheads make great target practice. You gorilla glue the base to wood and plink away. A big Z BH would make for lively practice!

  • Doc Raker

    WKRP’s general manager Arthur Carlson aka Big Guy thought turkeys could fly I believe.

  • Doc Raker

    I thought it looked like Ron Santo the Hall of Famer, not the Ron Santo Jr whom Seymour had dinner with at the Mesa Yogurt Land.

  • Seymour Butts

    I’m sure it was Les. And they dropped them from a helicopter.

  • Seymour Butts

    I should have you tubed it, you were right, it was the big guy. Well a broken clock is right twice a day.

  • Gymjok

    You can tell that from his icon picture? :)

  • Cap’n obvious

    No…I’ve dined with him.

  • Doc Raker

    That was the Big Guys character, the incompetent general manager, son of the owner. Helicopter, I do remember that now.

  • Doc Raker

    Dr Johnny Fever had a lot more hair, probably still does, than Seymour.

  • Diane

    how early does one need to arrive to receive a promo items?

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    The promos usually go to the first 10,000 fans, but the calender I linked to above will tell you how many of any given item they will give away before the game. My general rule of thumb is that if you get there during batting practice, you should have a good shot at getting your freebie.

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