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ARENA A-PEEL COMPANY SEES SPUD'S GOT GAME.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

GLENDALE - In his 50 years, Mr. Potato Head, the big-eyed toy spud, has donned a Santa Claus outfit, dressed up as the Easter Bunny and will soon become the intergalactic scourge Darth Tater. But stick him in a Detroit Pistons jersey and pop a basketball in his white, plastic hand and the many-faced toy becomes a potent tool for a small Glendale-based toy company.

Promotional Partners Worldwide recently partnered with Hasbro Inc. to produce the Mr. Potato Sports Spud, a miniaturized version of the icon that aspires to take on bobbleheads as the to-die-for goofy sports giveaway. Though the 12-year-old company has dealt with big-name products before - manufacturing Jack In the Box antenna balls and Hello Kitty cupcake toppers - none has quite the cachet as the famous tater.

``It's a lot of fun pitching these,'' said Dean Gorby, Promotional Partners' sales manager. ``If you can whip out a Mr. Potato Head, oh yeah, you get attention.''

Hasbro had attempted to turn its signature character into a giveaway before, with a one-time promotion several years ago for the Chicago Cubs that never gained much traction. Promotional Partners refined the concept, shrinking him down, outfitting him with a jersey and goggles, and shopping him to pro teams looking for an unusual way to get fans to come out to the game.

``If we get 15 minutes with our bag of tricks, pretty soon it turns into an hour,'' said Cheryl Brancaccio, who heads North American operations as vice president of sales and marketing. ``They start playing with it and they get distracted, so they're not even looking at the prices.''

Sponsors usually pick up the tab for the Potato Heads, which go for around $2 apiece, roughly comparable to a bobblehead. Teams grant the use of their logos and get a free handout to help draw and retain fans in return. Even for a popular franchise such as the Pistons, it still drew added hype to the arena when the team gave away 5,000 of the spuds at a recent home game.

``We looked at the line and saw little kids and their parents to fans in their 20s to older fans,'' said Dave Wieme, the Pistons' director of strategic communications. ``We showed it to the players and they loved it, too.''

If the concept catches on, Hasbro gets a nice boost, as well. The toy giant doesn't have to manufacture the character and Promotional Partners handles the sales pitching. At a time when Hasbro's domestic toy sales are slumping - it reported Monday that fourth-quarter revenue in the segment fell to $263.7 million from $318.9 million in the same period a year ago - the company gets its brand reintroduced in an entirely new fashion.

``Promotions are a core part of the marketing,'' said Audrey DeSimone, Hasbro's director of corporate communications. ``Here, we can bring Mr. Potato Head to consumers in a fun way. It's another way they can enjoy him.''

But while Promotional Partners hopes to sell Mr. Potato Head to as many pro teams as possible, he serves the equally important purpose of getting Gorby and Brancaccio in the door. The company also sells eerily lifelike marionettes of sports figures, so even if the spud doesn't suit the team, he at least serves as a recognizable calling card that paves the way for other sales.

``It gives us more credibility when a major league team does it,'' Brancaccio said. ``We don't want to be just the Mr. Potato Head company or the marionette company, we want to be the company that can come up with an idea.''

Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Promotional Partners Worldwide is using team-themed Mr. Potato Head and marionettes of NBA players for sports promotions. At left, Cheryl Brancaccio, vice president of sales and marketing for Promotional Partners, shows a Mr. Potato Head and marionette of the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 8, 2005
Words:668
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