Major League Baseball greats from Babe Ruth to Reggie Jackson have been immortalized with their own bobble-head dolls. But only one Major League Baseball hot dog (that’s right, hot dog) has its own nodding porcelain figurine – the beloved Los Angeles Dodger Dog.
The Dodger Dog’s celebrity status is really not surprising, though. We’re talking about arguably the most famous frankfurter on the Major League Baseball circuit. Dodger Stadium served 2.2 million Dodger Dogs, which come in all-beef and all-pork versions, during the 2009 baseball season. A lot of MLB teams don’t even draw 2.2 million fans to their stadiums in a season. The near 11-inch Dodger Dog deserves to be commemorated.
But the Dodger Dog, manufactured by Los Angeles-based Farmer John, is getting more competition these days from frankfurters making names for themselves in ballparks across the country. Consider the Phillies Frank, the hot dog offering at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. There’s also the new Twins Big Dog at the new Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. And let’s not forget some of the specialty hot dogs, such as the Boston Dog, topped with baked beans and bacon, which is served at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox; and the Kansas City Barbecue Dog, topped with smoked-beef brisket and a tangy barbecue sauce, which is served at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals.
Major league ballparks will serve about 21.4 million hot dogs this season, enough to round the bases 29,691 times, according to a report from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. And then there’s sausage. Ballparks will sell more than 4.9 million sausages, led by Miller Park in Milwaukee, home of the Brewers, which will serve more sausage sandwiches than hot dogs.
With statistics like these, it’s no wonder processors like Farmer John and Hatfield Quality Meats, maker of the Phillies Frank, are fanatical about the relationships they have with the MLB teams they supply. The alliances aren’t only good for the companies’ businesses, they’re good for their images and a lot of fun, too.
Just ask Ian Lavallee, senior product manager for Farmer John, a Hormel Foods subsidiary that has supplied Dodger Dogs to Dodger Stadium for more than 45 years.
“It’s a treasured partnership that both parties get more excited about each year,” he says.
Says Eric Haman, corporate communications manager for Hatfield, Pa.-based Hatfield Quality Meats: “To be a partner with a world-class organization like the Phillies certainly creates a positive affiliation for our brand.”
It’s no surprise that several MLB ballparks have hot dog suppliers that have been around for many years. Hatfield Quality Meats has been around for 115 years. Kayem Foods, which supplies the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Buccaneers with hot dogs at home games, was founded in 1909. Farmer John has been around since 1931, and Fresh Mark, which supplies the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Park with its Superior brand of hot dogs, has been around 90 years. Klement Sausage, official sausage supplier to the Brewers, is 55 years old.
Lavallee isn’t surprised Farmer John has processed Dodger Dogs for almost five decades. The company is located about six miles from Dodger Stadium, and the Southern California locals recognize Farmer John for its authenticity to the region. The brand resonates with them.
“We’re fans of the Dodgers ourselves,” Lavallee says, adding that Farmer John plant workers often wear Dodger jerseys under their protective gear. “We’re the perfect fit.”
A big, corporate name likely wouldn’t be as successful as the more humble reputation Farmer John has enjoyed with the Dodger Dog, Lavallee says. It just wouldn’t be the same.
“People would be turned off if it was a national supplier offering hot dogs at Dodger games,” he adds.
The relationship has been so good over the years that Dodger Stadium recently made a deal with Farmer John for the company to supply its smoked sausages, including Italian, Polish and Louisiana Hot.
Hatfield has supplied hot dogs to the Phillies for about 30 years. While Hatfield officials are proud to be on the roster with the Phillies, the relationship wouldn’t work if it wasn’t valuable for both sides, Haman says.
“It’s valuable for the Phillies to be a partner with us because we have such a well-known, established and positive brand image in this region,” Haman adds.
David Buck, senior vice president of marketing and advertising sales for the Phillies, agrees.
“Hatfield’s strong brand presence, along with its commitment to deliver a high-quality product and give back to the community, continues to make it a perfect partner for both the Phillies organization and for our fans,” Buck says.
Even though Farmer John sold 2.2 million Dodger Dogs last year at Dodger Stadium, the number didn’t comprise a large percentage of overall Dodger Dog sales that Farmer John has in its foodservice unit. The company sells millions of hot dogs through quick-service restaurants such as Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box. But a big reason for the strong sales at QSRs is that Farmer John markets that hot dog as the Dodger Dog.
In fact, Farmer John’s marketing campaign at foodservice and retail outlets in Southern California centers around Dodger Dogs.
Farmer John also sells Dodger Dogs at other popular sports venues in and around Los Angeles, including the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, the Staples Center and the Home Depot Center.
Not to brag, but no other hot dog brands can get a leg up on the Dodger Dog in the Southern California market, Lavallee says.
“We’re the category leaders in the territories we play,” he adds.
Farmer John and its advertising agency decided to capitalize on the Dodger Dog’s popularity at the sports venues by targeting fans who are watching games on TV from the comfort of their living rooms. Realizing fans enjoy eating hot dogs more than any other meat product at sporting events, especially baseball games, Farmer John set out to create the “game-day experience” for people watching at home, Lavallee says. The “game-day experience” includes three aspects – a TV, a cold beverage and a Farmer John Dodger Dog. It makes sense to go after sports fans watching from home because most sports fans watch from home, Lavallee says.
“The campaign’s theme states that you can get the hot dog you eat at the game at home,” Lavallee says.
The Dodger Dog has gained market share at retail, he says. That’s a good sign, considering how competitive the retail hot dog segment has become.
Hatfield also manufactures a retail line of Phillies Franks. Like Farmer John, Hatfield markets its retail products as the same products sold at the ballpark.
“You can’t beat the taste of a Hatfield hot dog at the ballpark, but now you can go to the supermarket and have that great taste on your grill at home,” Haman says, describing the promotion. “This helps drive sales for us at retail.”
Haman is not sure what percentage of its products sold at Phillies’ games comprise annual sales. The company also sells sausage, kielbasa, bratwurst, pulled pork and ribs at Citizens Bank Park.
“While I don’t have numbers, [the sales] certainly have a positive impact on the company,” he says.
Hatfield has increased its signage at concessions throughout Citizens Bank Park, which has helped create brand awareness. But the Hatfield-Phillies relationship is also about creating an emotional connection.
“We’ve partnered with the Phillies in a lot of innovative ways to help enhance the fan experience and make a memorable fan experience,” Haman says.
For instance, there’s Hatfield Dollar Dog Days at the ballpark when all hot dogs are sold for a buck. (Dollar dog days are popular at stadiums throughout MLB.) This is a big promotion for Hatfield, which sends its grill team to the park to cook product samples – which aren’t available in the stadium – to give to the crowd. Grill team members also pass out coupons to purchase Hatfield Quality Meats products at retail.
Then there’s the Hatfield Hot Dog Launcher, which can really make a fan’s emotional experience memorable, especially if he or she is on the end of one of the cannon-style launcher’s hot dogs. Hatfield’s mascot, Smiley, teams with the Phillies’ mascot, the Phillie Phanatic (arguably the most famous mascot in pro sports), launching hot dogs into the crowd and interacting with fans.
“Fans leave the ballpark talking about the hot dog launcher,” Haman says, noting the emotional connection. “It leaves them with a very memorable experience – one that’s branded.”
Kayem Foods, which began supplying Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field this year with hot dogs and sausage, plans to capitalize on the agreement outside of the ballpark. Kayem and the Rays plan a number of joint marketplace activities, such as product promotions and special events, aimed at extending the relationship beyond Tropicana Field and into the minds of consumers throughout the region. “You won’t have to be at the game to know that Kayem is the official hot dog and sausage of the Rays,” says Bob Kufferman, Kayem’s senior brand manager. At least one company is moving plenty of product, even though it’s not inside a ballpark. Bianco & Sons, a familyowned sausage institution in Revere, Mass., sells its products through 10 vendors outside Fenway Park during Red Sox games.
“We run about 6,000 to 8,000 lbs. of sausage a game,” says Joe Bianco, the company’s second-generation owner.
That number is usually on the higher end when the Red Sox win.
“People eat more sausage when they win,” Bianco says. “They’re happy and celebrating when they come out of the stadium, so they eat. But when the Red Sox lose a game in the bottom of the ninth, people come out and they’re mad. They walk right by the vendors.”
Bianco & Sons sells a box of its special-and secret-recipe sausage to vendors for $10. But it’s the vendors who make the big bucks on the product by charging $8 or $9 a sausage sandwich, Bianco says. The vendors promote the Bianco & Sons brand by displaying sausage boxes on their carts. Bianco also outfits them with sweatshirts, T-shirts, hats and aprons.
Bianco & Sons has sold its sausage, as well as chicken, hot dogs and steak tips, during Red Sox games for about 15 years. Bianco says his father, Joe Sr., created the sausage, which is a secret recipe made from ground pork butt.
At the beginning of the season, when the Red Sox were gearing up for a 10-game homestand, Bianco says one vendor purchased 12,000 lbs. of sausage. Another bought 800 lbs. of sausage, 200 lbs. of hot dogs and 200 steak tips.
Some out-of-town fans are so taken with the 50-year-old company’s sausage sandwiches they ate outside of Fenway that they contact Bianco & Sons later and place orders for home delivery.
“Last week, I sent about 25 lbs. of sausage to a guy in Houston and about 25 lbs. to someone in Alabama,” Bianco says.
Sounds like a sausage worthy of its own bobble-head doll. Move over Dodger Dog.
Larry Aylward is a free-lance writer from Cleveland.