The sales slogan used by the San Francisco Giants this season, “It’s Magic Inside,” seems to pertain to this trick: Fans arrive early hoping for a precious promotional souvenir and, for many, the Giants make their hopes vanish.

Cartoon by Andy Singer - PoliticalCartoons.com (click to reprint)

Cartoon by Andy Singer - PoliticalCartoons.com (click to reprint)

The slogan is unique to the Giants, but the ploy of getting fans to show up early because of severely limited quantities of promotional items is increasing among Major League teams.

One of the most egregious examples of this sleight of hand took place at the Giants’ game July 17, when 20,000 paying customers obtained the much-sought Tim Lincecum bobblehead, while 22,599 others did not. How successful is a “promotion” that disappoints more people than it pleases?

Worse, in order to stand a chance at obtaining the souvenir, fans gathered outside AT&T Park more than three hours before the scheduled game against the Mets, with lines stretching around the stadium on all sides.

By limiting the promotion to “the first 20,000 fans,” the Giants created massive congestion at the stadium hours before the game, while effectively blocking paying fans from entering on time even if they didn’t want the bobblehead. The move also fostered a bustling street-sale market for the Lincecum doll after the game, and frustrated thousands of people – including many kids who stood in line yet were too late for the doll.

Why? Could it be that the Giants, like many other clubs, profit handsomely by selling food and drink to thousands of customers who wouldn’t ordinarily be sitting in the stadium hours before the first pitch? And how considerate of the Giants to even send vendors out to sell things to fans in line.

The idea of attracting fans with a promotion, then limiting its distribution, becomes even more unfortunate when the targets are children. On the Giants’ Mesh Jersey Day, Aug. 15, only the first 7,500 youngsters will get the souvenir. In Kansas City, the Royals held a Bat Day July 18 but only furnished bats to the first 8,000 kids. On August 22, the Marlins will limit their Lunch Cooler souvenir to just the first 5,000 youngsters.

With attendance slumping, promotions at Major League parks are increasing. Most teams follow the pattern of limiting promotional giveaways – ranging from 10,000 for most Cubs’ premiums, to 25,000 for the Mets.

At Yankee Stadium, which has had the largest attendance this season and some of the highest ticket prices, fans pay $300 for a field-level seat, but on July 22 were denied a free baseball cap if they weren’t among the first 18,000 to show up. Assuming current management hopes to rehabilitate Yankee Pride now that George Steinbrenner is gone, they should start by fixing marketing schemes like that.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have four bobblehead giveaways this season and to their credit stepped up to supply 50,000 for each game. A few teams, known for graciousness to fans – including the Angels, Indians, Phillies and Pirates – manage to provide virtually all premiums to all fans in attendance, without limits or excuses.

And then there’s the Red Sox, a team that continues to play in a league of its own, selling out all games at Fenway Park in Boston while offering no promotional giveaways whatsoever.

Few teams are as fortunate as the Red Sox and Yankees – especially during this economic losing streak – but being cheap with promotions isn’t going to win new fans, or help keep the old ones. You want cheap? How about opening day in Houston when the Astros limited magnet souvenirs to the first 40,000 fans. Minute Maid Park holds 40,950.

After the Lincecum bobblehead game in San Francisco, fans with kids who paid to attend but missed out on the “Magic Inside” because they were too late for the souvenir, were seen buying the bobblehead on the street outside for more than the price of a ticket. That’s not “magical,” as the Giants’ marketing claims, it’s just a dirty trick.

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©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail [email protected].

Peter Funt writes about newspapers at www.FuntonFronts.com and is a writer and public speaker. He’s also the long-time host of “Candid Camera.” A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.