North American sports leagues have a particular love for mascots. Though mascots have since become a staple for multiple sports leagues around the world, from Korea’s KBO league to England’s Rugby Union league, they’ve been a longtime favorite in leagues like the MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA.
In the past, mascots were a kitschy way to engage with fans. Today, they’re still used to build team identity and entertain fans during pauses in live play. For many, they’re an ingrained part of the experience. However, high-flying mascots with a huge repertoire of tricks are relatively new.
For example, Benny the Bull arrived in 1969, but not too many fans were paying attention until the early 2000s. Instead, many have followed the careers and escapades of eccentric pro sports athletes—Dennis Rodman, for example, received a lot more attention than Benny the Bull in the 90s.
Today, however, some mascots invariably steal the show. Sometimes, this is in a bad way, like the terrifying aberration that is Steely McBeam (NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers) or even Philadelphia’s former Hip Hop mascot (NBA, Philadelphia 76ers). Others are unexpected hits, like the racing sausages of the Brewers team (MLB, Milwaukee).
But many have made their name copying successful examples. This is particularly relevant in Philadelphia, which created one of the world’s most iconic mascots: the Phillie Phanatic of the MLB’s Phillies team. A mascot ranking from Business Insider lists the Phanatic behind only Gritty (NHL, Philadelphia Flyers).
Rankings from Bleacher Report, Forbes, and Sports Illustrated also put the Phillie Phanatic first, while a fan poll from Play USA lists the Phanatic as the MLB’s most-beloved mascot. There are more than few copycats, including The Pirate Parrot (MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates) and Wally the Green monster (MLB, Boston Red Sox).
So what makes Philadelphia’s mascots so much better than the rest? Let’s take a look at two case studies in the Phillie Phanatic and Gritty.
Phillie Phanatic (MLB)
The Phillie Phanatic is a legend for a variety of reasons. Not only was the fuzzy green monster a huge hit since its start in 1984, but the mascot has a life and personality of its own. Fans can even ‘rent’ the Phanatic for parties, which has proved popular… and controversial.
The Phanatic doesn’t just stand out for being huge, green, and more than a little goofy-looking. The Phanatic is notorious for its sassy antics, which have earned the mascot acclaim and legal trouble alike. The Phanatic has openly mocked players and coaches, spraying Silly String on broadcasters, and approaching bald fans at games to buff their heads.
Most absolutely adore Phanatic’s routines, but not all. The Phanatic has been tried in court on multiple occasions and is known as the most-sued mascot in North America. Even so, the Phillies are happy to settle out of court to keep their iconic mascot. Despite ongoing legal battles for private claims and ownership disputes, local fans wouldn’t change a thing about their most beloved mascot.
Across all sports leagues, the Phanatic is hailed as one of the greatest mascots. However, Gritty, a relatively new addition to the NHL via the Philadelphia Flyers, has quickly become a fan favorite in the world of hockey. In fact, he was voted league favorite by an official NHL poll back in 2019… and then again in 2020.
The Phanatic stands out for his hilarious antics and fearlessness, but Gritty has earned popularity for other reasons. First, he’s ridiculous, from his appearance to his clumsiness. Second, he’s started his own unique trends inside the stadium and on social media, where he’s amassed over 300,000 Instagram followers.
Many tune in to see what Gritty will wear next, from gold chains to rainbow flags for pride. While the Phanatic entertains crowds with goofy pranks, Gritty is the star of his own weird show, which focuses on local events. He’s led parades, worn outfits to highlight national and regional holidays, and goes above and beyond to engage with fans and remember them afterward.