How the Sharks reinvented the hockey bobblehead


The bobblehead doll is one of the more coveted fan giveaways at an NHL game. At the very least, it’s more a more substantial reward for one’s patronage than, say, a magnetic schedule.

The San Jose Sharks have handed out dozens of these dolls, but in recent years have given them a peculiar emphasis: Turning them into a “content platform,” according to said Doug Bentz, Vice President of Marketing and Digital for the San Jose Sharks. “We’ve tried to change what the bobblehead means,” he said.

At first, that meant getting cheeky with them: Like a Marc-Edouard Vlasic bobblehead featuring the Sharks defenseman with a bunch of dogs as part of their AHL affiliate’s “Pucks and Paws” night. Or, more infamously, the shirtless Joe Thornton bobblehead that was based on a viral photo of him strolling through Pittsburgh.

Last weekend, it meant transforming the bobblehead from a ceramic knickknack collecting dust on your office shelf to something that delivers an interactive augmented reality experience … while also collecting dust on your office shelf. The same technology that allowed you to catch a Pokemon in your living room now allows you to play an NHL player documentary, via his bobblehead doll.

On Saturday, Feb. 10, the Sharks handed out 17,562 Logan Couture bobbleheads to fans who watched them defeat the Edmonton Oilers, 6-4. At first glance, it looked like a normal giveaway — Couture striking a pose, screaming in celebration after scoring a goal. But by going through the Sharks’ mobile app and scanning a marker on the doll with their phones, fans were sent an augmented reality video that played next to the doll’s base and featured a unique look at a day in the life of Couture — from breakfast through him stepping in the ice for a game, all filmed with a Go-Pro camera strapped to his head.

Bentz said it’s the first AR bobblehead created by an NHL team, and believes it might be the first one in pro sports.

The gimmick sprung from the Sharks’ relationship with technology company Zeality, which created 360-degree video for the team’s app and the helped them become the first NHL team with an Oculus Gear VR app last October. “We continue to be inspired by how the Sharks are embracing and enabling new content formats, experiences, and technology,” said Dipak M. Patel, Co-Founder, and CEO of Zeality.

The Sharks loved the VR content, especially with the video library that they had built, “but we weren’t seeing the interactivity,” said Bentz.

Enter the bobblehead.

“What can we put on the canvas that fans will find interesting? What do we do that would make that meaningful?” said Bentz. “You not only have Logan’s bobblehead, but you have a look inside his life as well.”

The Sharks also have a new way to offer their ticket buyers something exclusive. The marker will work with the app in perpetuity, which means that San Jose can upload new content to the Logan Couture bobblehead at any time. If you own the doll, you have a gateway to more exclusive video content — or, perhaps, even ticket and merchandise discounts, if the Sharks decide to send those out as well.

“We’re in the early innings of augmented reality. This is the first of many experiments of seeing where the sweet spot is,” said Bentz.

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