My Somewhat Subjective Sports Mascot Hall of Fame

In the February Marketing: Sports, Jon Last pays homage to the power of team mascots in building brand equity and fan engagement.

The Olympics aside, this post Super Bowl lull marks the 3Q of the lengthy NBA and NHL seasons and rides on the cusp of Spring training and March Madness. So, in seeking to satisfy my insatiable appetite for all things sports, I stumbled upon a great promotion that my beloved Tennessee Titans are again offering for Valentine’s Day.  For a nominal fee, the Titans will send lovable “T-Rac,” their raccoon mascot, to personally deliver a Valentine’s Day gift to anyone’s favorite Titans fan. It got me thinking about the power of mascots.

I may be a kid at heart, but as both a fan and sports marketing researcher, I’ve forever been enamored with mascots. Be they cute, wacky or ferocious, our research has shown them to be a powerful branding tool that resonates with the next generation of fans, while creating nostalgia for and firing up the current generation. A great mascot provides both a diversion and a constant reminder that sports is entertainment. Fans care about their mascots. There is even an MVP award for NBA mascots, of which Orlando’s Stuff the Magic Dragon is the reigning and repeat champion. Social media exploded with vitriol when the L.A. Clippers rolled out their menacing first version of Chuck the Condor. You can even put mascots into the starting line-up in several of the best selling sports video games. Here, then, my mascot Hall of Fame:

My Top Five

1. The San Diego Chicken: The man who began the mascot trend across professional sports, Ted Giannoulas first appeared back in 1974 and has enjoyed a career filled with laughs and a fair dose of controversy. Some 42 years later, he was still going strong.

2. Youppi: One of only three mascots enshrined in the MLB Hall of fame, he began cheering on the Expos in 1979. When that team moved to Washington, the NHL Canadiens wouldn’t let him leave Montreal.

3. The Mountaineer: I admit a little subjective fan interest here, but West Virginia’s human mascot must assume his persona throughout the year and has been selected from among the student population, since the 1930s, through a rigorous and somewhat secretive process.

4. Go, The Phoenix Suns Gorilla: He was the first NBA mascot, and I’m still amazed at the athletic flips and dunks he performs in that bulky costume.

5. The Live Animals: As an undergrad, I was a Tufts University Jumbo and as the PA announcer for our football team, always made a point of calling out the live elephant pacing our sidelines during homecoming. I would also give props to fellow NESCAC rival Colby College and its somewhat bizarre mascot choice, the White Mule.

Of course, no name in my book tops Campbell University’s Gaylord the Camel. There’s the legendary Uga, the University of Georgia Bulldog, and Mike the Tiger at LSU.  But in the living creature category, my top prize goes to Colorado’s Ralphie, the buffalo who along with her very brave and athletic handlers has stormed Folsom field before football games for over 50 years. I know that my friends at Texas will argue on behalf of Bevo, but Ralphie gets my nod because it can get ridiculously cold during football season in Boulder.

Honorable Mentions

There are so many other worthy candidates.  A few memorable favorites:

MLB’s Racing mascots: Milwaukee’s sausages, Cleveland’s hot dogs and Washington’s presidents are all wonderful. But my MVP here is the Matt Williams racing Diamondbacks Legend, who in May of 2014 stopped in his tracks when he saw a reflection of himself managing the Washington Nationals, and lost the race.

Harvey the Hound: The NHL’s first mascot, this Calgary Flame supporter once had his long hanging tongue ripped out by the opposing Edmonton Oilers coach. Winnipeg’s Mick E Moose also gets props for the fact that he actually was “called up” from the AHL’s Manitoba team, when the Jets returned to the NHL.

Birdzerk: A San Diego Chicken disciple with his own amusing theme song, his crazy antics make their way throughout minor league baseball

Those in my Photos App: Mr. Met, Fredbird the Redbird (once playfully tried to bite my head off), Buffalo’s SabreTooth, Arizona State’s Sparky (who I “dunked on” in a photo promotion at the PAC 12 basketball tournament), U Miami’s Sebastian the Ibis, and NC State’s Mr. Wuf, who hysterically jumped out and blocked a field goal attempt from rival UNC’s Ramses during an ACC Fan Fest promotion.