Newspaper article International New York Times

Big Heads Become a Big Hit in College Basketball ; A Cottage Industry Fulfills the Needs of Fans Who Wave Bug-Eyed Cutouts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Big Heads Become a Big Hit in College Basketball ; A Cottage Industry Fulfills the Needs of Fans Who Wave Bug-Eyed Cutouts

Article excerpt

Giant printed heads seem to pop up everywhere: Nascar tracks, beauty pageants, even political rallies. But their home is in college basketball.

With college basketball's postseason in full swing, casual television viewers soon will see famous faces popping up at games across the United States: Kim Kardashian. Donald Trump. Miss Universe. Not their actual faces, but rather their attention- grabbing likenesses: oversized cutouts of their heads, waved around by fans looking to draw the eye of both opposing shooters and network cameras.

Forget heckling and Thunderstix. The new crowd staple is Taylor Swift. Or Tom Brady. Or Bert and Ernie.

For better or worse, giant heads have become ubiquitous, nosing into college games, Davis Cup matches and N.F.L. victory parades. They even have become staples at political rallies, rising above cheering crowds to reflect the smiles of the candidates right back at them.

"It's amazing to see how the phenomenon has grown," said Nathan Partington, vice president for licensing at Fathead, now one of the leading suppliers of items of the sort once fashioned at home from pizza boxes and glue sticks.

Few places have embraced the fad quite like college basketball, and few programs with as much variety as Marquette University. The Golden Eagles got into the big-head game in 2005 after Craig Pintens, a former associate athletic director, found inspiration in something that caught his eye in crowd photographs from another team's gym: giant cutouts depicting the face of the singer Michael Jackson.

"I thought, 'Why can't we do this?"' Pintens said.

Pintens reacted like any good marketing man. He drove to a hardware store and bought a jigsaw. Then, in the basement of Marquette's athletics building, he got to work hand-crafting sheets of plastic into the shapes of other famous visages. Beyonce. Chuck Norris. Jay Leno. Mr. Potato Head.

The initial 20 or so creations, first distributed to students at halftime of a Marquette-Connecticut game in January 2006, became so popular that Marquette eventually put a page on its website where fans could submit ideas, vote for favorites and "retire" the classics.

Of course, jigsaws are no longer necessary. Several companies allow fans to order big heads on demand, fueling a bespoke industry that reaches well beyond the sports arena.

Fathead, known for giant wall decals, has more than doubled its big-head production since it started offering signs in 2012 -- thanks, in part, to its success with music acts like One Direction and Luke Bryan and interest (and orders) for heads related to Marvel comics characters and World Wrestling Entertainment stars, and more recently to all six of the remaining United States major-party presidential candidates. The party supplier Shindigz offers customizable three-foot-tall big heads specifically for graduations, birthday celebrations or retirement parties. …

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