Taking Off

How do you propel your school mascot into its own brand? The keys are institutional support, consistency, and creative storylines.

By Dr. Matthew Robinson & David Raymond

Matthew Robinson, EdD, is Assistant Professor of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of Delaware. David Raymond is Emperor for Fun Games for the Raymond Entertainment Group in Newark, Del., a company specializing in mascot development and training. He served as the Phillie Phanatic, mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, for 15 years.

Athletic Management, 15.4, June/July 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1504/gptakingoff.htm

Every high school and college athletic program has one, but many don’t use it to its fullest potential. What are talking about? A school mascot.

Obviously, a mascot can add value to the fan experience by entertaining and interacting with the crowd, but it has the potential to do much more. A mascot can enhance the marketing and publicity efforts of an athletic department. It can strengthen the athletic department brand and ultimately become its own brand. And it can even serve as a potential revenue stream.

Three Key Components
Before branding, publicity, and revenue streams can be realized, the mascot must have three key components behind it: organizational commitment, the right costume, and a great performer. The commitment comes when a school believes in the benefits and allocates the necessary financial and human resources.

Once the commitment is made, the institution needs to invest in an effective costume. It must be performer-friendly—the person inside must be comfortable, able to see and move easily, and free to perform stunts and activities (e.g., dancing, communicating non-verbally, dunking a basketball). The costume needs to be identifiable and entertaining for children and adults, but can’t be frightening or intimidating.

Lastly, the school needs a talented performer inside the costume. Those talents include communicating non-verbally, spontaneously interacting with the crowd, and performing on the field of play. Therefore it’s important to compensate the performer properly and possibly even provide him or her with additional training.

Creating the Brand
A mascot can play an important role in strengthening the athletic department brand through brand association. When the mascot entertains fans at games and has a strong presence at community events, people associate it with the athletic department, thus strengthening the department’s image. At its best, the mascot merges entertainment, marketing, and branding into one powerful tool.

While the mascot is strengthening the brand of its athletic department, his or her activities can also lead to the creation of a mascot brand. For this to occur there are a few guidelines to follow. First, there should be a consistent image that can be used on apparel, in printed materials, or in the form of stuffed animals. For example, if the Tiger always wears a certain shirt or cap on the field, his or her image should always include this shirt or cap.

Next, the image should be used wherever possible. It should appear on promotional media, such as electronic and print commercials for ticket and sponsorship sales. You might also consider making the mascot’s image into a stuffed animal or bobble head that can be given away as a promotional item.

The mascot’s actual performances are also crucial to the creation of its brand. It works well for the mascot to have a few routines and antics that define its personality and that fans look forward to seeing every game. The mascot should also try to interact one-to-one with as many fans as possible.

Furthering the brand also means having the mascot step outside of the athletic arena. For example, it can appear at campus events such as receptions and alumni functions or at community events like parades, grand openings, and fairs. These appearances create public awareness for both the athletic department and the mascot.

As a Revenue Source
A mascot can generate revenue for an athletic department in several ways. First, it can indirectly lead to ticket sales by being present at community events. It can also help sell tickets to families whose kids enjoy watching the mascot at games.

More direct revenue comes from special appearances. If your mascot becomes popular enough, you can sell its visits at local businesses. Along the same lines, appearances by the mascot at a sponsor’s event can be incorporated into a sponsorship deal.

Another potential revenue source is having businesses sponsor aspects of the mascot. It is not a wise idea to place sponsor signage on the mascot, since that creates confusion over whether the mascot represents the institution or the sponsor. But a corporation can sponsor a vehicle the mascot drives on the playing field, a site the mascot calls home within the stadium, or an activity or contest that involves the mascot on a regular basis.
Finally, if the mascot develops its own brand, licensed products with the mascot’s image can be sold. They can range from stuffed animals to license plate holders to T-shirts.

Expanding the Mascot Brand
Once the mascot is established, there are a lot of fun ways to further its image. One is to create a written personality profile and bio for the character, then introduce story lines, or even create spin-off characters. For example the University of Delaware’s YoUDee character has “Baby Blue,” a side kick who is promoted as his sibling.

Another great example is found on the fields minor league baseball’s New Orleans Zephyrs. The team first created a male “river rat” character named Boudreaux as its primary mascot. During his second year, Boudreaux found a female friend named Clotile whom he courted that year, and, of course, they were engaged the next year. That engagement was followed by a grand wedding promotion, and little river rats soon followed. This type of story line and creative fun can capitalize on the loyalty of the alumni and fan base and develop characters that are treated as real live personalities and ambassadors for the university.

A relatively new area within mascot entertainment is the creation of cyber-characters. Through computer technology, an image of the mascot can perform on video boards. The cyber-character and his actions are created in a computer program and controlled in real time by an operator/performer armed with a joystick and keyboard. Since they reside in the cyber-world, these cyber-characters are much more flexible than real mascots. Consider them live real-time cartoons or puppets. Sponsorship of a cyber-character can be a revenue source.

A mascot has the potential to enhance the branding efforts of both large university athletic departments as well as small college and high school athletic departments. Chances are, your school already has a mascot, so why not use it to its fullest potential?