Little of that pageantry varies much year to year–everyone has a parade and sells the same sort of stuff. One thing that isn’t always consistent is the use of World Series-related promotional giveaways by teams the following season—replica rings, commemorative caps, and whatnot. I thought it would be interesting to look at giving patterns over the last few years: which teams have been the most generous, which items the most popular, and when teams typically give them out.
I collected information on giveaways by going through old promotional schedules; MLB has preserved the information in a better manner than I expected, and all team sites have giveaway schedules going back to 2009. My goal was to collect schedules going back to 2005 (which would have the 2004-05 Red Sox as a comparison point to this year’s Cubs); instead, I was able to find schedules for each World Series winner and loser since 2006, except for the 2005-06 Astros and 2007-08 Red Sox.
To determine which giveaways counted, I used these guidelines, and made subjective calls as necessary:
- An item counts if it is labeled with “Champions,” “Postseason,” etc. on the schedule.
- An item also counts if there is prominent “Champions” messaging (e.g. the corresponding champions logo) on the item.
- An item of an individual player counts if it is specifically tailored to that player’s performance in the previous postseason, e.g. a “World Series MVP” photo or a bobblehead of a specific play that occurred the previous postseason.
- Though the only teams for which data were collected are pennant winners, references to events that occurred in the postseason but before the World Series are also counted (e.g. an LCS MVP bobblehead).
Rules two, three and four do unfortunately create the possibility of inconsistency, to the extent that they rely in part on pictures of the items that are not available for all teams.
Some General Findings
To start, here’s a plot of the number of giveaways, split by whether a team won or lost the prior World Series:
The median giveaways for winners is seven (mean of 7.7), compared to three for losers (mean of 3.3), so the norm is for winners to give away more swag, which is what we’d expect, after all. (For the technically inclined, the averages are statistically significantly different, with p < 0.02 according to a t-test; the medians are not significantly different, with p < 0.13 according to a permutation test.) With that said, there’s a fair amount of variation, with some winners who are tightfisted even by loser standards and losers who’d be generous even if they’d won.
Here’s a plot showing giveaways by year:
One thing that stands out is that while there hasn’t been much of a trend for World Series losers, there has been a pattern for World Series winners, which you can see below:
While I’m quite wary of saying that this is a real trend that is likely to continue (it’s 11 data points from eight teams, after all), teams have been more aggressive with respect to giveaways in the last couple of years than they were five or 10 years ago.
What’s Being Given Away, Anyhow?
So, teams are marketing more aggressively, and winners give out more stuff than losers. Nothing surprising thus far, so let’s look at the sorts of items that are being given out (with this and all of these graphs/charts, you can open them in a new tab to see a larger version if you can’t read this version):
Rings and trophies are popular with everyone; apparel is a bit more popular with winning teams; losing teams basically give out only the classics. If you’re curious about a couple of the rarer items: the Rays gave the cowbell after winning the 2008 pennant, naturally; the Phillies gave a children’s book in 2009; the Cubs are giving away ice molds this August. On the whole, about seven percent of the items are children-only giveaways; I didn’t track adults-only items (which are mostly ones related to alcohol, like the ice molds).
As you might expect, the teams giving out the unique items are largely the teams giving out the most loot, led by the 2014-15 Giants (five unique items out of 17 total), 2009-10 Yankees (three of seven), 2012-13 Giants (three of eight), and the 2016-17 Cubs (three of 15).
Corresponding to the increase in giveaways by winners, there’s also been an extension in the giving season. Until a few years ago, the norm was for almost all the giveaways to be handed out by the end of May, but in the last few years half or more have been handed out after Memorial Day.
The Team with the Most Swagger
It would be remiss of me to work with a team-level baseball dataset and not come up with some sort of ranking metric for naming the best and worst teams. To create our first metric, which I’ll call Loot Above Average, we can just take the aforementioned average number of giveaways (split by outcome of the World Series in question) and subtract it from the giveaways a team had. This isn’t particularly sophisticated (since it’s just a constant adjustment to the leader board), but it does offer the slight benefit of making it clear how certain teams have been slacking relative to others.
The striking outlier here is the 2013 Red Sox, who offered just a single related giveaway the year after their team won the World Series. This may indicate a general lack of emphasis on giveaways on their part. For instance, for 2017 they list many of their best giveaways on a separate page from the MLB standard giveaways site and only give them out to fans purchasing through a particular offer. I couldn’t find a similar page for 2014, so I can’t rule out that they had more giveaways I couldn’t find, though restricting a championship giveaway would seem stingy in its own way. Looking back at their promotional schedules I could find for other years, it seems like they do fewer giveaways of any sort than most other teams, though without a broader survey it’s impossible to say for sure. (It wouldn’t surprise me if this de-emphasis is a reason I can’t find press releases or news articles concerning their promotions following their other World Series victories; it would also make sense that a team with a small ballpark and a very good team has realized that it’ll sell the tickets regardless of the giveaway and doesn’t need to spend money getting people to the park.)
This metric, however, doesn’t account for the quality of the giveaways. In my view, it’s better for a team to give out a moderate number of items closely tied to the World Series win (like rings and banners) than it is to give out a ton of junk. To do that, I (subjectively) assigned the following values to each type of item given away:
|3||Flags, Pennant, Banner, Bobblehead|
|2||Poster, Cap, Shirt, Ball, Jersey, Snow Globe|
|1||All Other Items|
Additionally, children’s items were penalized 25 percent of their raw value, and items that were given away multiple times in a year were penalized 0.5 points per extra, up to a maximum of half the item’s value. For instance, the 2015-16 Royals gave out five postseason bobbleheads, which this system values at 3, 2.5, 2, 1.5, and 1.5 points respectively.
When we add up all the values for a given team, we get another metric, which I’ll call Simple Weights-Adjusted Gifts, or SWAG.
While this doesn’t shift the order at the top of the list (giving a lot of stuff away means you can rack up a bunch of points, after all), it does highlight that some teams aren’t punching their weight even if they give away plenty of stuff. The most glaring example of this is the 2009-10 Yankees, whose average value (the lowest in the sample) pushed them down several spots; they take a big hit for having three kids-only giveaways and few of the more highly rated items.
Looking at the rankings, though, there’s still some cases where teams are getting rewarded a bit too much for quantity over quality—for instance, the 2012-13 Giants had three more giveaways than the 2014-15 Royals, but their SWAG was only two higher, meaning the difference between the two is driven by lower quality items. What we’re basically trying to define is the point at which the additional World Series themed giveaway probably would’ve been better off as a more conventional giveaway (or some other promotion). This problem is probably familiar to most readers of this site, as it’s the core conundrum that replacement level is intended to solve in the WAR framework.
Obviously, layering the concept of a replacement level gift on top of my already highly subjective ranking system isn’t particularly scientific, but I took a stab regardless. My thought was that if there are only a few items handed out, the bar for them is pretty low, but after the first several are handed out the expectations should be higher—the eighth or 10th item should be a cap or a jersey or a bobblehead, not a towel or license plate holder. With that in mind, I used a sliding scale for “replacement level,” where replacement level starts at 0.5 for the first gift and increases by steps of 0.1 until it reaches one (at giveaway No. 6), after which it stays at one. In effect, the first few gifts help a team’s score even if they’re of lower value, but piling on low-value gifts after that helps the rating less.
WIth that added in, we can tally our final metric, which I’ll call Simple Weights-Adjusted Gifts Given Exceeding Replacement, or SWAGGER. As you can see, it doesn’t totally alter the leaderboard, but it shuffles things in what I think is the right direction:
There are a few final thoughts you can draw from that list, including some about the uninspiring generosity of the last couple of runners-up, but I’ll conclude on a less critical note. There’s been a ton of ink shed about the Cubs baseball operations side the last two years, given their rapid and thorough rebuilding effort, big name talent, and high number of unexpectedly successful moves. Even this White Sox fan can begrudgingly admit, then, that the promotions part of the Cubs front office seems to have lined up a giveaway schedule that is in its own way as dominant (relative to other World Series winners) as the actual team was last year.