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News » Quite the characters

Quite the characters

Quite the characters
To avid fans, a mascot is merely an entertaining diversion during timeouts.

To pro sports franchises, a mascot is a high-profile icon that's one of the most important members of the organization.

Tonight at halftime, the Thunder will unveil its mascot, a bison. When the character's name is announced, it won't be long before it's synonymous with Oklahoma City's NBA team.

"It's an entity, a living, breathing extension of your brand," Dave Raymond said. "Your fans grow to know them like a best friend or a family member. Because of that relationship, they associate that brand with your product."

Fans best knew Raymond as the person inside the Phillie Phanatic costume for 16 years at baseball games in Philadelphia. He now runs his own mascot company and developed the Mascot Hall of Fame.

That's how far mascots have come.

Mascots have been around for decades on college campuses, but it was Raymond and Ted Giannoulas, the Famous Chicken, who turned mascots into a staple at pro sporting events.

If you include the Celtics and Warriors, who had mascots earlier this season, 81 of the 92 Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA teams have a mascot - usually funny, athletic entertainers that perform jaw-dropping stunts.

Choosing a mascot goes beyond developing a huggable character for photo ops with kids. The Phillie Phanatic generates approximately $500,000 a year in merchandising, which is about 8 percent of the Phillies in-park sales.

The Phoenix Suns' Gorilla changed the role of mascots forever, bringing an acrobatic approach to game entertainment.

Bob Woolf, a gymnastics coach living in Arizona, wore the gorilla suit in 1988. He used a trampoline to dunk, jumped through a ring of fire, rode motorcycles and once catapulted himself 25 feet for a dunk at the 1995 All-Star Game.

"Everybody is like lemmings," Raymond said. "That evolution has been a great success. The NBA is the best at valuing its characters. That's why I train people to be acrobatic performers."

Mascots also are part of the community. They attend 300 to 400 functions a year, including parties, school functions, community events and visits to children in hospitals.

"The number of children I've seen die from a terminal illness is tough," mascot Rob Wicall told the Baltimore Sun. Wicall currently wears the Spurs' Coyote costume and spent two seasons as the Wizards' G-Wiz.

"But that kind of stuff is amazing. When you make someone in that situation smile or laugh, you realize what's so cool about the job."

Giannoulas got his start as a publicity stunt for a San Diego radio station, handing out Easter eggs at the zoo in 1974. He volunteered to attend San Diego Padres games in costume. He met three U.S. Presidents and was included on Sporting News' list of 100 most powerful people in sports of the 20th century.

Nowadays, developing a mascot is more complicated than choosing a costume.

The Thunder's new mascot makes its long-awaited debut tonight, but in upcoming years it could be in the public eye as much as Kevin Durant.

"I applaud them for what they've done," Raymond said. "There's plenty of mascots but not many characters. They understand the importance of putting in the time and effort do it right. It's not just checking off a box, we have a mascot."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: February 19, 2009


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