Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cutting the fat

For me, the area just past the fine line that separates "healthy" sports fandom and "Robert De Niro in The Fan" sports fanaticism can be summed up in one word: Fathead. A few years back when I initially caught their first cheap commercial introducing their bizarre niche product to the sports loving public on some ungodly hour on ESPN, I wrote the whole thing off as a complete blunder. I mean, who is willing to pay a hundred dollars for a massive life size sticker of a sports athlete to take up the entire wall of a room? I think I recall the commercial trying to sell it off as something as common and unobtrusive as a still life picture frame. Like no one will find it unsettling or disturbing if they come into your living room and find a life size, highly detailed poster of a barreling Jerome Bettis or a sweat drenched Shaq posting up.

You could get it as an ironic gesture or for the camp value, however at that price, it's way too much to pay for just that alone. It might be borderline passable if you're getting it for your kid's room. However, one has to wonder how well the kid will sleep at night with a life size, manic Ray Lewis charging at them. Also, for a hundred bucks, I think your kids would have probably preferred a couple of video games or a Hannah Montana DVD box set.

Despite my misgivings (and common sense) it appears that this crazy Fatheads trend has flourished. They've certainly made enough scratch to inundate my Sunday afternoons with their (surprisingly brilliant) ads during the recent football season. Their selection of Fatheads have also grown as well, encompassing nearly all significant professional sports (unfortunately bowling fans are still waiting for the coveted Pete Weber Fathead) and branching out into iconic entertainment characters (Darth Vader, Spiderman, Batman) and Disney properties (OMG! TROY IN MY ROOM!). The non-sports stuff is actually somewhat cool (I know my middle school self would have been all about the Boba Fett Fathead), albeit still insultingly expensive.

In the end though the Fathead's bread and butter will always be sports. And it's somewhat admirable, the way they've been able to do what they do in such an unstable business area. The makers of PEZ have a fairly strict rule about not using the likeness of any real people for their dispensers. This is so that the reputation of the dispensers don't get sullied by any thing the actual person does or any new facts about the person (hence no O.J. Simpson, Woodrow Wilson, Britney Spears dispensers). The makers of Fatheads don't have the luxury of just being able to stick to stable, scandal free fictional characters.

Given considerations of production costs and time, the makers of Fatheads would seem to engage in more calculation and speculation than Goldman Sachs in selecting the right Fatheads for investment. A constant issue that they probably have to deal with is the modern day explosion of free agency. Thought that Elton Brand Clippers Fathead was solid? I'm sorry he opted to go to Philadelphia. Now you have a warehouse full of outdated Brands that you have to dump for 80% off. Will Jason Taylor retire and become a professional ball room dancer? Will he return to the Dolphins? Will he be traded? Outlook cloudy...looks like another discount. The team has been relocated to Oklahoma City? Damn it! Then there's always the chance that a legendary athlete will completely destroy their reputation (I wonder where that Roger Clemens Fathead disappeared to?) and thus their Fathead value. Maybe one day it turns out Dale Earnhardt was a Klansman or Boomer Esiason gets arrested in a Dateline kiddie porn probe. They just have to go straight to burying those stocks of Fatheads.

It's that sort of volatility that the Fatheads people have to work under. No doubt, a lot of thought an consideration goes into the company considering an athlete famous enough, stable enough, talented enough, and scandal free enough or them to invest in producing their poster. It's almost like being voted into the hall of fame (possibly even more stringent). This conservative approach is apparent when you see the sheer number of non-marquee teams on the site that don't have any players represented (alas the 1st place Tampa Bay Devil Rays get snubbed again). Given the rigorous Fathead standards its got to be a huge letdown for a featured athlete to see their poster de-valued just because they're just plain bad. As of this post, the ultimate poster child (pun totally intended) for this is Giants "ace" Barry Zito. So how much does not living up to your massive 7 year/$126 million contract, having an ERA near 6.00 with more walks than Ks, and a shot at losing 20 games take away from your Fathead value? About 70%. In the case of NY Knick point guard/team cancer Stephon Marbury, how much does being clubhouse poison, unrivaled malcontent, and having an uncertain future on your team effect your value? About 80%. Being an aging, injury prone, NFL QB with no ability to make deep throws, and locked in a tight death struggle for the starting spot with "superstar" Kellen Clemens will get you, Chad Pennington, a 70% Fathead hit.

I don't even want to know what sort of behind the scenes unpleasantness has led to the Denver Nuggets' beloved mascot "Rocky" to take such a tumble.

For such a needless product with so many obstacles in production, it's actually quite amazing that Fatheads continues to thrive and flourish against football phones, paper posters, and bobble heads in the cutthroat world of licensed sports memorabilia. My suggestion for the Fatheads people for the next stage of Fatheads expansion? Customized, personal Fatheads. If the rise of Web 2.0 and social networking has taught me anything, it's that personal vanity is one of this country's greatest natural resources (that year when Time Magazine named "You" the Person of the Year with that stupid mirror cover basically says it all). I myself would totally pay $99.95 plus shipping for a life size Victor Fathead.

(Crude artists rendering)

On second thought, I'd probably wait till it gets to clearance.

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