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The Top 5 Best Selling Playoff Gimmicks

Tom Rotunno, Producer, CNBC
Thursday, 23 Sep 2010 | 4:52 PM ET

This post was written by CNBC Sports Business Producer Tom Rotunno

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After clinching their sixth playoff spot in the last nine years, the Minnesota Twins announced they are bringing back the “Homer Hanky” for home playoff games.

The Homer Hanky has been a part of Twins playoff lore since its debut in 1987.

While immensely popular in Minnesota, the Hanky is not the most popular playoff gimmick of all-time.

Here’s a look at the top five best selling playoff gimmicks:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel. The most famous and most traditional stadium “gimmick”, this is the towel that started it all. You can thank the late Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope for changing the sports marketing landscape. Cope came up with the idea during the Steelers playoff run in 1975 when he encouraged fans to show up to the Steelers playoff game against the then-Baltimore Colts with either a yellow or black dish towel to wave in the air. Steelers players were against the idea at the time, saying the Steelers weren’t a “gimmick” team. About half the fans showed up with towels, the Steelers won the game, a few weeks later they won the Super Bowl and the rest is history. Cope went on to trademark the “Terrible Towel” and in 1996 gave the rights to the to Allegheny Valley School, a network of Pennsylvania schools for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. With the towels selling at $7 a piece, the school has received more than $3 million dollars. The towel has given birth to a whole line of “terrible” products including the “Terrible Tote", "Terrible Tie" and ‘Terrible Towel Toddler Bib”.

2. Minnesota Twins Homer Hanky. The Hanky dates back to the Twins World Series appearance in 1987, when the Star Tribune gave away “Homer Hankies” as a gimmick to sell more newspapers. In 1991, the Twins once again reached the World Series and the team tried to sell their own version of the hanky, dubbed the “Rally Rag”. The Star Tribune went to court to block the sale of the “rag” and after both sides reached an agreement, the Homer Hanky lived on. The Hanky, reserved only for playoff games, sells for $2. Proceeds benefit the Twins Community Fund. During the Twins World Series runs in 1987 and 1991 fans bought an estimated 2 million towels each year.

3. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Thunderstix. Give the Koreans credit for inventing the concept of inflatable noise sticks at baseball games, but give the Angels credit for putting them on the map in the United States. A staple during the Angels march to victory in the 2002 World Series, the inflatable noisemaker business is estimated to be a $2 million a year business. The cost to the average fan is cheap, usually between 20-30 cents each. They are more common as giveaways, with a one day stadium promotion costing anywhere from $16,000-$20,000, with the cost normally picked up by a sponsor.

4. Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Chop. Former Florida State Seminole and Braves outfielder Deion Sanders is often given the credit for helping to initiate this rallying cry during the Braves run to the 1991 World Series. As the cheer gained in popularity, foam tomahawks, retailing for $5, started popping up in the stands. While controversial, the team hasn’t shied away from the imagery, even going so far as to hand out tomahawks to fans in the stands for crucial playoff games. For those reading closely, yes, 1991 was a Homer Hanky v. Foam Tomahawk World Series, with the Twins defeating the Braves in seven games.

5. The Detroit Wings Octopus. While not necessarily a best seller, it’s certainly an iconic playoff “giveaway” - only in this case it’s the fans giving to the team instead of the other way around. In this tradition, Red Wings fans throw Octopi onto the ice, the eight legs of the Octopus symbolizing the eight wins it used to take to win the Stanley Cup playoffs. The tradition dates back to 1952 when two Detroit brothers, Pete and Jerry Cusimano, storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, threw the first octopus onto the ice and its been happening at Detroit home playoff games ever since. For the owners of Superior Fish Company, located 11 miles from the Joe Louis Arena, it means a steady business in Octopi each spring. Octopus currently retails for approximately $4.50 per pound.

Tom Rotunno is a producer at CNBC

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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