Phanatic edges Chicken as favorite mascot
The Philadelphia Phillies certainly are on a roll. The team owns four straight division titles, a 2008 World Championship, one of the best starting rotations in modern history and a state-of-the-art ballpark that’s at capacity every night. It’s enough to make them the envy of about 90 percent of the sports teams across America. But just when you want to say enough already, the Phillies can dust off one more asset to boast over: the most popular mascot in sports.
The Phillie Phanatic, now in his 34th big-league season, rolls on as a national mascot favorite. His routines – zipping around the field on his all-terrain vehicle, taunting opposing players and shooting hot dogs into the stands – helped bring acceptance of the mascot as part of the show. He’s even been a guest on “Late Night With David Letterman” and “SportsCenter.”
|In Pictures: America’s favorite sports mascots|
The Phillies hatched the Phanatic back in 1978, after they saw the crowd-pleasing benefits of the true original modern mascot, the San Diego Chicken, who had debuted with the Padres a few years earlier. The Chicken, it should be noted, is still going strong, despite having severed formal ties with the Padres years ago. He topped the Forbes mascot list last year by a slim margin over the Phanatic, with the two narrowly switching places this year. So go the vagaries of polling – when it’s that close, a few responses either way decide the winner.
This year’s survey, conducted by The Marketing Arm’s Davie Brown Index, measured pro sports mascots on four key attributes: awareness, appeal, entertainment value and team identification (the degree to which consumers are able to associate a mascot with the team it represents). Following the Phanatic and Chicken, whose winning scores were driven most by high national awareness and entertainment numbers: the Milwaukee Brewers’ Racing Sausages (very entertaining), the New York Mets’ Mr. Met (not so entertaining, but highly likable) and the Phoenix Suns’ Gorilla (the first popular slam-dunking NBA mascot who’s still going strong).
Perhaps not surprisingly, all 10 top mascots hail from baseball or basketball, sports where frequent short breaks in the action make an ideal setting for lots of quick mascot routines. NBA types favor athleticism – full-court runs and dunking off trampolines – while MLB mascots go with the humor of umpire baiting and faux races around the bases or down the foul line. Whether it’s the Gorilla joining the cheerleaders in a dunk routine or the Phanatic chasing umpires on his oversized motorbike, the entertainment they provide is considered a must in modern sports. Purists may cringe, but holding those casual fans with humorous entertainment drives attendance and ticket prices.
The other obvious target audience: kids. A 5-year-old at his first baseball game may not remember the score or the players a week later, but he’ll remember the mascot – making it all the more likely he’ll become a fan for life. Teams see the community relations benefits as nearly endless, making the mascot job a tough grind. Most make hundreds of local appearances a year at store openings, hospitals and other community events, in addition to a full schedule of games. It’s a unique job, one in which you’re known by everyone and by no one. Who but a mascot can turn every head in the room when he’s in costume but walk by in total anonymity otherwise? And in modern sports, pretty much essential.
The top five: