Big Heads Become Cottage Industry




By Darren Rovell , CNBC Sports Business Reporter

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- 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.

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 .

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.