They were once pretty simple. A cherubic, generic face planted with a spring atop a standard body and base. The only thing different from one to the next was often the team colors. Since those early days, bobbleheads have gotten more lifelike, more sophisticated and, thanks to one company, as fresh as the day’s headlines.
With new pieces put into production on a regular basis, FOCO bobbleheads are sort of a springy news chronicle of of the fun side of sports.
You may not be able to buy a Kawhi Leonard Clippers trading card just yet, but you can order a Kawhi Clippers bobblehead (or an Anthony Davis Lakers model).
There’s no Alex Morgan World Cup tea-sip card or autographed photo but there’s a FOCO nodder in the works.
Pete Alonso, home run derby champ? Done.
It’s all part of the daily routine for the New Jersey-based company that has carved its own niche in the ever popular bobblehead market.
History of FOCO
The company started in 1998 near the height of the Beanie Baby craze. In fact, their first product was a plush bear toy called a ‘Team Bean.”
“A couple of years later bobbleheads became a popular giveaway at MLB games and that created a secondary market for retail bobbles,” said Anthony Davino, FOCO’s Marketing Director. “The company pursued licenses with the leagues and the rest is history.”
FOCO has since become a major player in the industry, focusing on sporting events or athletes that are noteworthy. While the turnaround time can take a couple of months, the products are unique and they crank out a lot of them.
The recent United States Women’s soccer team triumph in the World Cup was huge news and with a limited number of memorabilia and cards available, making USWNT championship bobbbleheads was no brainer.
Athletes or teams who are playing at a high level, breaking records, changing teams, getting drafted or winning awards are always considered for bobbleheads. Pop culture and viral sensations on social media also are on the radar. But you can’t just make one and start selling it. FOCO utilizes its deals with various leagues and their athletes to make things happen as quickly as possible.
“All licensed player product goes through a two-step process which are the league QC departments and the Player’s Association,” says Davino. “FOCO has a group license agreement with the various players associations allowing them to make player product as long as a minimum number of players are offered.”
The in-house team then sketches every bobblehead that’s been approved. Each is hand-carved and painted. They are crafted to look authentic and the theme is often just as much a part of making the likeness as real as possible.
“We work closely with our supplier in each stage of the process from first mold to final painting,” Davino adds. “Often multiple revision are made to meet the standards of FOCO and the respective leagues.”
Among the more creative efforts: a mean-mugging Giannis Antetokounmpo towering over the Parthenon.
The creative process can have its pitfalls, though. In the bobblehead game, not everyone is satisfied with the finished product.
“We try our best to get all the likenesses as close as possible, but we have unfortunately missed the mark a few times and believe it or not we have had players’ mothers call us to complain.”
Popular FOCO Bobbleheads
Paging through the company’s online catalog is sort of a look back at recent sports history.
Among the hottest sellers: one created to commemorate Jason Kelce’s famous Philadelphia Mummers Parade outfit, one that features Baker Mayfield sitting top an RV; another celebrating the Washington Capitals’ first Stanley Cup title in 2018 and a series of hybrid Game of Thrones/sports bobbles. Having an opportunity to take the hottest TV show characters and mesh them with popular baseball teams is something FOCO wasn’t afraid to try.
What’s popular is also what’s important in the eyes of a company that produces sports figures and memorabilia. Much like trading cards or autographs, it’s about keeping up with what’s happening.
“The news cycle and current events are checked night and day,” Davino admits. “It’s our life line of keeping things fresh. We have enough designs to release a bobble of the same player every week for years to come, but if it doesn’t make a connection with a fan base through these moments then we would be missing the purpose of why we do what we do.”
When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was called up to the majors, FOCO went to work on a Vlad/Vlad Jr. dual nodder that’s now on the market.
The effort also helps create a product that can appeal to both avid collectors and casual fans looking for a conversation piece.
“It’s a healthy mix for the most part. Of course when we hit hot market items such as the St. Louis Blues first Stanley Cup, the fans are going to drive 90% of our orders.”
Those championship squads compel FOCO to incorporate multiple players for a series honoring their accomplishments, usually holding the spoils like a championship trophy or wearing goggles as if in the middle of a champagne celebration.
Personality is a big deal for making a successful bobblehead. An athlete like Mayfield can be a big seller and the company has already created multiple bobbles of the young Browns quarterback.
FOCO has also dipped into great moments from the past to create bobbleheads that have never been done before.
While some may have thought the bobblehead had run its course, the opposite seems to be the case. There’s even a National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum open in Milwaukee, showcasing thousands of different creations.
“After 20 years of doing this business, we’ve only seen the market grow,” Davino says. “We still get requests to re-introduce bobbleheads we made 10-15 years ago. As long as fans are engaged in sports and as long as we have the resources to reach fans nationwide this business will forever have power behind it.”
You can see the current bobblehead offerings at FOCO.com.