From holiday suits to superheroes, Sharks bobblehead series continues creative legacy
You’re going to want an extra shelf ready to go this December.
If there’s one thing that sets the San Jose Sharks game experience apart from the rest of the National Hockey League, it’s their arena promotions. Every summer, the Sharks announce a number of promotional nights on their schedule, with giveaways ranging from replica jerseys to posters — even a Chia Pet in the shape of Joe Thornton’s head.
But there’s one kind of promotion that the Sharks fanbase always looks forward to more than any other: the bobbleheads.
The Sharks have been doing bobblehead nights for years, and today the figures make up the majority of their promotional schedule. With so many miniature versions of players, coaches and even celebrity fans, the bobbleheads have developed a small fanbase of their own, with many Sharks fans highlighting those games on their calendars when they make their ticket choices each year.
With so many bobblehead giveaways every season, the Sharks are expected to up their creativity every season. In 2017, the team partnered with Franklin Group, a promotional products company based out of New York, to help create the next line of collectibles for both the Sharks and the Barracuda.
When I sat down with Daria Fox, Franklin Group’s Chief Marketing Officer, in mid-November she came equipped with three of the 11 bobbleheads the Sharks will showcase in 2018-19, and was able to take me through the process on how these collectors items are brought to life each year.
From Concept to the Bay
The bobblehead process starts in the Sharks marketing department, where the team decides on the concepts, styles and players they want to showcase. Once the ideas and promotion dates have been finalized, the concepts are sent off to Franklin’s main offices in Brooklyn for production.
Franklin begins the design phase using a collection of player photos to create a computerized 3D rendering of the bobblehead. This digital prototype is then sent back to San Jose to be approved by both the team and the individual player, who can request changes to the design such as a different hair style or facial expression.
Once everyone is happy with the design, a clay mold of the bobblehead is made and painted, so Franklin can double-check the finer details that only a physical model can show. After the models are given the approval for mass production, a plastic mold is sent overseas to create the final product.
But the most interesting part of the process might be the painting. Each of the 17,000+ bobbles that arrive at the SAP Center for game night are painted by hand, making each collectors item one-of-a-kind. According to Fox, an entire project takes about 60 days to go from an idea to ready for shipment, most of which is taken up by the delicate painting process.
Real World Impact
As with all professional sports, players come and go, and in some cases that requires Franklin to make a last minute revision. The first bobblehead of the season, which will be given to fans purchasing the bobblehead ticket pack for the Sharks’ Dec. 5 matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, features Hertl sitting on a school bus seat in a nod to the team’s “Sharks For Life” TV commercial.
But like the commercial, the original version of the bobblehead had Dylan DeMelo sitting to Hertl’s left. So while the hockey world was fixated on the news that Erik Karlsson had been traded to San Jose back in mid-September, it was DeMelo’s move to the Ottawa Senators that required Franklin’s attention.
“It depends on the production phase, but in this case we knew in advance, so we were able to make that change pretty easily,” Fox said.
But even though the DeMelo version will never see the light of day, the trade and Karlsson’s memorable introduction to the San Jose faithful inspired the team to add one last bobblehead to the calendar, depicting the newest Shark as he debuted the club’s Stealth Mode uniforms.
Bobbleheads are a concept that have been around for decades, and as with any industry, innovation and creativity are key. So it’s no wonder that when Franklin created Brent Burns and Joe Thornton bobbleheads featuring faux beards last season, they became immediate must-haves.
One of those bearded collectibles featured a shirtless Jumbo Joe, referencing the viral photo of Thornton walking through Pittsburgh with his abs on full display. Fox considers it one of her all-time favorite projects, and used it an example into how bobbleheads can go far beyond just a way to sell tickets.
“I don’t think there’s another promotional giveaway out there that a fan can go home with that would be able to give them the same kind of expression of the player’s personality,” she said. “Their persona on the ice isn’t always indicative of their personality off the ice. So I think these are the best form of that expression.”
In some cases teams will borrow another popular brand, such as Star Wars or Nickelodeon, in order to create a themed bobblehead. On Jan. 12, the Sharks will give away a Martin Jones figure themed to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which required the team to get Marvel’s stamp of approval before production could begin.
Even without other brands involved, the Sharks have made an effort to explore new realms through the giveaways every season. The 2018-19 collection will feature bobbleheads including Brent Burns surrounded by zoo animals, Joonas Donskoi as “The DonFather”, Evander Kane with his dog Penelope and, in honor of San Jose’s hosting of the 2019 NHL All-Star festivities, a throwback to Owen Nolan calling his shot in 1997.
As for the future of the medium, Fox mentioned bobbles that shake more than just their heads as something Franklin is currently working on.
The San Jose Difference
Franklin’s work spans across the United States, including several other NHL franchises like the Washington Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders. But in Fox’s mind, what sets the San Jose fanbase apart is the team’s willingness to listen to what their fans want and push the creative envelope.
“The Sharks have an amazing, creative marketing department. They’re so fun, so energetic and really get their fans, which not every team does,” Fox said. “I think the organization has worked really hard to attract fans from outside the San Jose city limits, and they’ve done that better than any other team I’ve seen. The energy in the arena is unlike any other.”
As our interview was wrapping up, I asked Fox if there was a Sharks bobblehead she’d like to see done in a future season. Her concept was simple and perfect.
“I want to make one with a player holding the Stanley Cup.”
For more information on the Sharks bobblehead and promotional schedule, go to sjsharks.com/promotion.