Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Big Heads Become Cottage Industry

For years, fans have held mini heads of players on a stick. I remember holding one myself in 1999 of our best player Evan Eschmeyer while I was at Northwestern.

Jeremy Lin Big Heads
Source: Build-A-Head

And while Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon made heads on a stick a frequent feature on their popular ESPN show “Pardon The Interruption,” it took years for heads to go viral across the country.

The tipping point? Bigger heads that have been noticed on TV and by still photographers have attracted greater buzz.

The guy responsible for most of the recent talk about heads is University of Alabama student Jack Blankenship, who made a head of himself making an ugly face and matches that with the same ugly face behind the basket where the opponent shoots his free throws.

“The university will print out pictures of random celebrities and players on the basketball team for everyone to hold a photo of and I figured it would be hilarious to bring a picture of myself making a face, between my friends, that we like to do,” Blankenship told The Today Show on Tuesday morning.

Blankenship was first seen on an ESPN2 game earlier this month. The clip has been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube. (see clip below)

There’s one company in particular that is set to cash in on the head craze: Build-A-Head in Phoenix, Ariz.

Bryan Price and his business partner Stas Chomokos had heard about a friend who had made a head for his brother for his Senior Night at his college.

“It was expensive as hell to do a one-off version and it varies everywhere you go,” Price said.

Price and Chomokos decided to give the business a try when they heard Lance Armstrong would be riding through the small town of Silver City, New Mexico, in the summer of 2009. From their garage, the two made 100 Armstrong heads and went to the city to sell them for $5 each.

“We stayed up all night and they were on this crappy cardboard, but they sold out quickly,” Price said. “We were just two college kids trying a make a buck.” Price said he was pleasantly surprised by Armstrong’s reaction.

“He loved them and even wrote about us in one of his books,” Price said.

Almost three years later, Armstrong told CNBC he remembers the moment, laughing at the fact that they ran out and the price (five bucks).

Like any entrepreneurial business, it has been a tough road to turn Build-A-Head into a viable enterprise. At 25, Price says he felt like a big shot when he got a meeting to talk heads with Arizona Diamondbacks executives.

“An hour later, I was running out of there so I could deliver spaghetti and meatballs to a woman who ordered from (local Italian restaurant) Pasta Brioni so that I could get a $2 tip,” Price said.

But Price says the business is now mature that he thinks he can really make a nice living.

“We were just waiting for the tipping point and this is it,” Price said.

Although the business still runs out of his garage, a slick web site has yielded some pretty significant business of late. The New York Rangers called and asked him to make 5,000 Rangers logos on sticks. And he’s talking to the Knicks and memorabilia company Steiner Sports about bringing big player heads to retail.

The company sells a set of 3 small heads for $11.99 and a huge face cutout for $59.99, among other items. Up until now, Price says the biggest business has been turning head pictures into ornaments and the sport he gets the most business from is marathons as well as high school football and basketball.

“We’re getting orders every day and that wasn’t happening before,” Price said.

As for whether he’s scared that a big company like Fathead will steal his business, Price answered like he has been asked that question before.

“I don’t think (Fathead and Cavs owner) Dan Gilbert would want to pick on a little guy like us,” Price said. “And if we need LeBron, I’m sure he’ll come to our rescue.”

Questions?  Comments?