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Monday, April 1, 2002
Updated: April 4, 8:39 PM ET
Promotional trend is simply ducky

By Darren Rovell
Special to Page 2

Rubber Ducky, you're the one ... you make ballgames lots of fun.

Allen Iverson Celebriduck
Allen Iverson's Celebriduck is accurate right down to his elbow sleeve and tattoos.
Sure, it might be one of the craziest ideas you've ever heard of, but as Craig Wolfe will tell you that's why you've absolutely gotta have one!

Celebriducks, rubber ducks that feature faces of celebrities or athletes, are emerging as the successor to the bobblehead doll, which replaced the Beanie Baby as the sports promotion of choice 2½ years ago.

Five years ago, Wolfe's company was the largest seller of commercial animation artwork. And although there was enough M&M's, Pillsbury Dough Boy, Budweiser Frogs and Coca-Cola polar bear commercials to make a good living, Wolfe decided to listen to a friend's seemingly idiotic suggestion of making rubber duckies with familiar faces of celebrities.

Betty Boop was the first.

"If you saw the original drawings, you would have said, 'Now this is an idea that should have never been born,' " said Wolfe, a 49-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Celebriducks.

Celebriducks made their professional sports debut at a Philadelphia 76ers game on Jan. 11, when 5,500 Allen Iverson ducks were given away, after being escorted by four police cars to the First Union Arena. Since then, Wolfe said he has been getting calls at his California office from teams wanting to turn their star into a floatable, nontoxic vinyl duck that comes complete with a beak and a squeak.

Craig and Rebecca
Creator Craig Wolfe and daughter Rebecca, art director for Celebriducks, will stretch the concept as far is it can go.
"Bobbleheads are funny; Celebriducks are hysterical," said John McDonough, the Chicago Cubs' vice president of marketing, who is credited with first bringing Beanie Babies to ballparks. Not so coincidentally, the Cubs will be the first baseball team to offer a rubber duck.

The first 10,000 fans at Wrigley Field for the Cubs' June 20 game against the Texas Rangers will get a Moises Alou duck, and those who show up early to the Aug. 1 game against the San Diego Padres can get their hands on the Sammy Sosa model. The New York Yankees will have two Celebriduck giveaways of Yankees greats of the past and future: Babe Ruth and Jason Giambi.

In all, 90 bobbleheads are slated to be given away at 29 major-league ballparks this season. The Celebriduck hype has been gaining momentum ever since Entertainment Weekly listed it among the top 100 gifts of 2001 in December. Wolfe said his company will manufacture 300,000 Celebriducks this year and revenues are expected to reach $3 million.

Bobbleheads are funny; Celebriducks are hysterical.
John McDonough, Chicago Cubs' vice president of marketing

Sales haven't always been so brisk. Wolfe acknowledges that the demand for the original Celebriducks was "horrendous," but as the fad has begun to catch on, he since has been able to buy a nice house where he tests countless Celebriducks in his hot tub. Today, Wolfe has 22 Celebriducks in the company's collection, including ducks with the faces of Groucho Marx, Shakespeare and James Brown (who insisted his duck appear in a green suit). A Mr. T duck, complete with chest chains, is coming to a store near you in the spring.

And it doesn't stop there. His company is the official rubber ducky of the NBA and will produce a line of 11 NBA Celebriducks in likenesses of the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, and other NBA stars such as Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Latrell Sprewell, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Iverson, Darius Miles and Gary Payton. They'll hit stores in August with a retail of about $12 each.

And Wolfe isn't ruling out morphing other creatures with the heads of celebrities. The Memphis Grizzlies, in the heart of barbeque country, are interested in commissioning a Celebripig featuring one of their players. And the Detroit Red Wings, whose fans are known for throwing an octopus onto the ice during playoff games, are talking about a Celebripus. Apparently there is no rest for a vivid imagination.

Sammy Sosa Celebriduck
Keep the Sammy Sosa Celebriduck away from McCovey Cove.
Wolfe even is making ducks for Arena Football and minor-league baseball teams. The Portland Beavers, a Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League, commissioned a Celebriduck of its mascot, Boomer the Beaver. "I'm positive no one has ever thought of doing a Beaver as a duck before," Wolfe says.

But while it might look like a rubber duck and squeak like a rubber duck, getting a Celebriduck to float like a rubber duck took two years.

"Celebriducks have larger heads than your average rubber duck, so it kind of throws all the weighting off," Wolfe said. "If I knew how difficult that was going to be, in a million years I wouldn't have gone as far as I have now. Apparently, no one who we spoke to in the entire country of China knew how to make a Celebriduck float."

Wolfe eventually found Assurance Industries, specialists in rubber duck engineering and manufacturing, that figured out how to keep the duck upright.

So far, no athlete has objected to becoming a novelty rubber ducky. Wolfe said Alou, the Cubs outfielder, requested to become a duck. And the initial guinea pig, Iverson, didn't nix the idea either since he has seen his likeness on a bobblehead doll and an "Alien" Iverson doll.

Horace Grant Celebriduck
Even Horace Grant Celebriducks need eye protection.
"Allen thought we were nuts anyway by then, but when I showed him a prototype of the duck, he smirked and said, 'It's crazy,' but he approved it," said 76ers executive vice president Dave Coskey, who noticed the wacky idea in a local paper and called Wolfe.

"I had a gut feeling that this was going to be huge," Coskey said.

Celebriducks are an ideal novelty for a sports promotion, Coskey says. He believes the rubber duck is something an adult can relate to, but a kid also can enjoy. That includes metal lunch boxes, Pez dispensers, Match Box cars, snow globes, Viewmasters and bobbleheads.

As Wolfe points out, "Everyone had a rubber ducky as a child. Rubber ducks are an American icon that's about to get a whole lot bigger."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com