Behind the Bobble: A chat with bobblehead innovator Jay Deutsch of BDA Inc.

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

We don't need to tell you how big of a deal bobbleheads are in baseball. Fans flock to stadiums hours and hours in advance to be one of the first 15,000 people on bobblehead day. They can't miss out. Some of them are diehard collectors of their favorite team and players. Some of them just want to grab a prized bobblehead, put it on eBay and make a buck. Because, as we know, bobbleheads are also a big business.

Just ask BDA Inc., a merchandising company based in Washington state. BDA is one of the top bobblehead-makers, creating various figures for teams all over Major League Baseball. BDA can claim some of 2013's most interesting bobbles as its own. The dancing Coco Crisp bobblehead? That was theirs. Albert Belle pointing at this bicep? Also them. Yu Darvish's strikeout-counting bobblehead. Yep, BDA. The list goes on and on.

This season, BDA created about 1.7 million bobbleheads, which is 200,000 more than last season. And that's just a fraction of what BDA does in the merchandise arena. It also has worked with Target, Coca-Cola and the NFL. It's repped brands you know well: "Star Wars," Lego and "American Idol."

CEO and co-founder Jay Deutsch talked to Big League Stew about the business of bobbleheads, being an innovator in the field and some of his favorite products. If Deutsch's name sounds familiar, it might be because you saw him on a recent episode of ABC's "Secret Millionaire."

Mike Oz: Was there a moment that changed the bobblehead game, when it went from simple bobbleheads to the more creative stuff we're seeing nowadays?

Jay Deutsch: There wasn’t a specific moment. It has been an evolution of technology. Every year we’ve been able to create bobbles in more distinct shapes, sizes, angles and movements.

We’ve streamlined the polyresin process, enabling us to shorten lead times and create the most accurate versions of fan favorite players, coaches and mascots.

While technology has advanced the art of bobblehead making, we still pay close attention to the details and hand-paint each bobble we produce.

MO: What's the most innovative bobblehead you've seen this year? Why?

JD: The “Coco Lean” bobblehead for the A’s was a unique approach due to the angle and movement of the bobble. He “leans” at his torso versus at the neck to mimic the “Bernie Lean” dance. Another standout this season is the Rangers’ Yu Darvish “K-counter” bobble, which lets fans keep track of Yu’s strikeout total on the base of the figure. Throwback bobbles are a definite trend around the league this season.

Half of the Brewers’ 10 bobblehead dates are a nod to the past, including Hank Aaron, Gorman Thomas and George “Boomer” Scott giveaways. Scott’s includes his trademark mutton chops and distinctive necklace he joked was made of “second basemen’s teeth.” We also did 10 bobbles for the Rockies to commemorate their 20th anniversary. Fans voted on which players, past and present, would be included in the set.

MO: How does your company stay ahead of the curve when producing bobbleheads?

JD: We’re all big sports fans, so when we’re watching a game or catching up on highlights, our minds start picturing how that great play might look in bobble form. Creative thinking and extreme attention to detail really differentiate BDA. The marketing and promotions departments around the league really push us, too. The asks are becoming more elaborate, which we love. The combination of our in-house artists and overseas product developers and direct access to the latest technological advancements at the factory level keep us at the forefront.

MO: What's the process like when figuring out how the bobbleheads will look or be posed? How did, for example, the Coco Crisp "lean" bobblehead happen?

JD: The Coco Crisp bobble started as the brainchild of the A’s. The “Bernie Lean” became popular at Coliseum last year and the club wanted to keep the tradition alive, so the promotions team asked if we could translate the dance to bobble form. The impetus is then on us to figure out the mechanics. With a bit of creativity and a lot of ingenuity, we can make any idea come to life. It’s truly a collaborative process, requiring a lot of trust from the teams that our experts will deliver the best bobblehead possible.

MO: Which players have been the most into the bobbleheads you've made of them?

JD: Inevitably it’s the rookie or younger player with their first-ever bobblehead who is the most enthusiastic. It’s always fun when clubs share pictures or video of players and coaches seeing their bobble for the first time.

MO: Do you have a favorite bobblehead?

JD: My favorites are a bobblehead set we did for my hometown Mariners back in 2007 of Felix Hernandez, Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima. When combined, the players form the Safeco Field roof in the background.

MO: Do you think bobbleheads have made it past the "trendy" phase and they're here to stay?

JD: The modern bobble has been around for more than six decades, so yes, they are definitely here to stay in one form or another. Over the past few years in particular, their popularity has really hit a highpoint that I don’t foresee diminishing anytime soon.

We’re seeing fans line up outside the ballpark hours before giveaway games to make sure they receive a bobble. More clubs are offering “guaranteed giveaway” programs so fans can secure their bobbleheads with the purchase of a ticket package. The emergence of social media has also increased the overall excitement of giveaways. Clubs are taking advantage of tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine to promote bobbles and engage the fan base with a high rate of success.

MO: What's the next bobblehead innovation going to be? Any guesses?

JD: Sound chip technology continues to improve, which presents some interesting possibilities. How about a motorized bobble that swings, pitches or slaps a high-five? We’ve tinkered with putting real grass in a bobble’s base. We’re prepared to take on every new and creative challenge that comes our way.

Baseball season's in full swing. Don't miss a thing.
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