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Faces Behind The Fur
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I consider myself to be a pretty big sports fan and I definitely enjoy attending sporting events.  I enjoy planning, working and directing them as well.  There is something about sports that brings about a sense of competition, pride, entertainment and passion.  No matter the sport or the level at which it is being played, every outing provides a unique experience that will never be replicated in the same manner again.

When you attend a sporting event, there are a number of things that will create a fond memory.  It could be the great taste of a ballpark dog and a cold brew…or the experience of seeing your kids receive an autograph…or the video feature on your favorite player…or perhaps the season ticket holders you sit with at every game.

Personally, some of my favorite memories were spawned by mascots…I’m a huge fan of them.  Whether they are skinny and sleek or large and wobbly, I thoroughly enjoy watching mascot antics and the slapstick humor that follows everywhere they go.  There were countless times when I’d be directing a Seattle SuperSonics game and I’d let loose a chuckle on headset.  Someone would inquire what I was laughing about and the source was always Squatch.  Whether he was silly stringing an opposing fan or walking up the aisle on stilts, he always provided entertainment value over the course of the night.

Squatch Dunk

Since Pat Walker Productions was founded a couple years ago, I’ve worked with clients on a number of different mascot projects.  Some of them have been starting from scratch and wanted to create a character…some were in need of replacing a long-time performer that was retiring or taking a position with another team…and some were simply looking to enhance the character’s profile and role with their organization.

Barry in the CrowdWhile each of the projects requires a customized approach, one piece of advice I always give is that when it comes to mascots, you get what you pay for.  I don’t necessarily mean that in literal terms, but more in the manner that if you allocate focused resources towards the mascot character (and performer), the return on investment will be exponential.  After all, your players will change often over the years, but your mascot will be a consistent furry face of the franchise the entire time…especially when it comes to minor league and collegiate sports.

Many teams purchase a costume and assume that’s all that’s needed to have a successful mascot, but it goes so much deeper than that.  It’s truly the performers inside the costume that develop the character and create the entertainment.  The performers are the ones that create the “walk” (or waddle in some cases), seek out specific fans for their gameday ritual of a belly bump and bear hug, or know exactly how to use the t-shirt launcher without accidentally drilling someone in the front row.  Though they are never seen, the performers are the faces behind the fur…they are the ones that bring the character to life.

In addition, a team that puts resources into its mascot program is likely to create a new revenue stream.  Let’s face it, Game Operations is a service department that primarily spends money.  However, a successful and popular mascot will create demand in the market for appearances and with that comes revenue.  Whether it’s a an autograph signing at the local grocery store, a school assembly show or being the primary entertainment for lil’ Bobby’s birthday party…the appearances are likely to garner a revenue stream that will make every CFO happy.

The next time you’re evaluating your team’s mascot program, take some of these factors into mind:

  1. Set up the position for your team’s best fit…this may be full-time, part-time or seasonal full-time. Give it some thought and ensure that your compensation package and scope of work is in line with the organization’s expectations for the character.  Again…you get what you pay for.
  2. Make sure your mascot has an assistant at appearances and games.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be the only role that this individual performs (especially for a smaller organization), but having someone who can speak freely and have eyes on the surroundings provides risk management and a sense of security for all involved.
  3. Budget for props and costume repairs.  This will ensure that your mascot can plan skits around current events and always look good in the process…there’s nothing worse than a thumb popping out of a torn glove to tip off lil’ Bobby that his favorite character is just some human in a suit.
  4. Include your performer in brainstorm sessions about non-mascot elements…you’ll be amazed at how creative this group is as a whole.  Regardless of whether it’s a sales strategy, video concept or staff party.  Mascots can be effective contributors both in and out of the costume.
  5. Appreciate the face behind the fur.  While it may seem to be all fun and games, it’s a position that is physically and emotionally demanding.  For an added reality, try the suit on yourself and take a stroll around the office.  You’ll likely be worn out within minutes…that is, if you can handle the smell for that long.

Pat Walker

Patrick Walker is the President of Pat Walker Productions, a Seattle-based event production group. Pat shares over a decade of expertise in Game Entertainment and Operations in a monthly column called Walk & Talk and blog posts on Gameops.com.

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