There are few trinkets and knick-knacks in professional sports that are much greater than the bobblehead. Equal parts creepy and indelibly cutesy, the springy headed figures are impressive whether they sit on a shelf in your man cave or on your desk in your Manhattan skyscraper of an office. They simply work. Chunks of plaster shaped into tiny bodies, with little muscle tone, are a topped wtih ginormous sized Sesame Street inspired heads whose eyes have been known to follow you around the room. You don’t necessarily play with them, so they can’t be a child’s toy. You can’t really do much with them for that matter. Instead they are like trophies of the whos-it-and-whats-its of your sports viewing/collecting/inheriting life. And like a 6 year old boy who discovers a bull frog in the back yard, you force people to look at them however creepy or lovely they may be.
Like any warm bloodied, tax paying, face shaving adult — I too love a good bobblehead. And the minor leagues of various sports seemingly have the most outrageous of the bunch.
This summer (my that’s early, but certainly on top of the ball), the Milwaukee Admirals announced plans for an election season bobblehead night where Obama and Romney would be enshrined in shaky head glory for years to come. The “fair and balanced” distribution of these creatures will go 2,500 Obama/2,500 Romney. The hitch is that you do indeed have a choice of bobblehead which will no doubt spring forth a very scientific exit poll.
The Admirals are somewhat of the darlings of the AHL. A team has been in Milwaukee since 1970 and in that time they’ve won a Calder Cup, a slew of divisional championships, two conference championships, five retired player’s numbers, and a host of other noteworthy achievements. Sure they likely haven’t always been that good at selling the team, but when it comes to weekend promotions they rarely miss the boat.
In 2005 when Jon Greenberg, then Milwaukee Brewers Public Relations Director, took over as the President of the Milwaukee Admirals he had this to say of its future:
We want to raise awareness of this organization in the hockey community. People in hockey in this community have told us repeatedly they haven’t heard as much from the Admirals in recent years. Youth hockey, high school teams, men’s leagues. Those groups are core for our organization. We are going to do a lot of grassroots work with them. We want to work more with our alumni. We want to re-engage them. We will increase our advertising budget and reach out to fans through a variety of vehicles.
We have a strong product on the ice. We have no control over the hockey product since Nashville makes the personnel decisions on who is here. But, Craig Leipold (Nashville owner) has said player development is very important to his franchise. They are very similar to Milwaukee in baseball. They don’t have a huge payroll so they have to do it with player development.
What we have to focus on is once we get the people here we have to give them a great entertainment package – promotions, giveaways, other things along with the hockey. Once we get them in the building we have to give them something that will make them want to come back.
Greenberg himself was a Milwaukee native son who began his sports endeavors as a bat boy with the Milwaukee Brewers. He watched. He listened. He took it all in and carried those things with him to the front off of the Ads. And surprisingly, it has worked.
Talk of the “full package” at hockey games is so cliche that when I use it myself I immediately shrug. But in the case of the Admirals it’s anything but cliche — it’s a commandment.
I hope that other AHL teams can learn from the Admirals. Don’t take a formulaic approach and assume that “What Milwaukee did, we can do here”, instead embrace the core beliefs that the organization holds dear — care for employees, listen to ticket purchasers, incorporate a sense of pride, embrace the overall theatrical package. Because those themes are timeless.
As election season rolls around, I’ll be anxious to see the various twitter images of the Ads Obama/Romney bobbleheads. I’ll also look for the excited smiles as fans receive them and know that something really winning is happening in Milwaukee.