I was reading over the sports news on the internet, as I am wont to do, when I came across an article about the Tampa Bay Rays’ new mascot. Its name is DJ Kitty. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Bullshit!’ But it is no lie. There he was; a costumed cat with a backwards baseball cap, gold chain and a team jersey. Ray, the incumbent mascot, is an undeterminable Muppet-like beast with silver blue hair all over its head and face. It makes sense that the team might want to update its image, but he will only relinquish part of his duties to DJ Kitty. Now if this was a one off occurrence it would be forgivable, but the world is literally littered with ridiculous, retired mascots.
Why mascots? The fatal flaw of the mascot in pro sports is that they are not designed for fans at all. They are designed to have crossover appeal and are targeted to a different audience than the fans of the game. This is what gives the world the likes of DJ Kitty or Hip Hop, the muscled rabbit who wears a doo rag and sunglasses and slam-dunks about the Philadelphia 76ers games. These same people give us Cher as the half time entertainment at the Super Bowl, or, in the case of the last AFL Grand Final, Meatloaf failing to hit any kind of note during a horrendous medley that nobody of the 100,000 in attendance bothered to clap for. Cold Chisel, Australia’s second favourite rock band had been touring and their singer was even at the game, but the Chisel’s crowd is already tuned in to the game and that’s the problem. The leagues instead, focus on attracting other audiences and try to extend their reach by marrying the big moments in their sport with pop culture. Boxing and the UFC are the contrary. This is what happens when a league, without having any hope of attracting a non-man demographic base, decides to go all in and have women walk around in underpants in place of mascots.
College sport provides a contrary. Their mascots are generally designed to get rowdy drunken college kids amped up, which, in my experience, doesn’t appear to be too hard. The market for most teams is in their own state, region or side of the city. They don’t have the need to aim for random crowds of people that would otherwise have nothing to do with the team. They are made up of and made for the students of the universities themselves and, therefore, seem to serve a bit of a purpose.
The winners, by a mile, in the derby for the most moronic mascot are special event sports. The Olympics and World Cup are the usual repeat offenders. The largest audiences in the world are watching these events. No need to attract any one to them as everyone knows they are happening. I don’t have any interest in the Olympic games but can probably tell you were the last 10 games have been located and give you a few headlines from the proceedings. Their mascots are then designed for 4-8 year olds. Izzy, the mascot for 1996 Atlanta Olympics is without a doubt one of the five dumbest things I’ve ever seen. The other 4 were acts of self-harm committed by the three stooges (when Mo’s holding the stake and tells Curly, ‘when I nod my head, you hit it,’ and Mo nods and Curly hits his head with the hammer…gold!)
What the hell was Izzy? We do not know. What we do know is that he is blue, wears sneakers, and his eyebrows are lightning bolts. When he first appeared before the masses at the 1992 Barcelona Olympiad the public reaction to him was so fierce that the Atlanta games committee decided to change him and found that only small children had any sort of affinity to it. He was dumbed down to his new crowds level leaving the sporting world to go WTF? He had his own video game on Super Nintendo and a TV special on cable television leading up to the games to try to increase his profile but nothing worked. He is generally regarded as the worst mascot ever. Other horrible mascots in the Special Event category include the 2006 World Cup lion Goleo and his talking football sidekick Pillie, or the upcoming 2012 London Summer Olympics’ humanoid magnifying glass faced Cyclops twins.
Every so often there is a popular mascot. I don’t mean popular in the ‘has a lot of friends’ way. I mean popular in the sense that it is ‘of the people’. Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat is one such mascot. Created by a cartoonist as a parody of the three official mascots it became more popular than the originals. He was alleged to have been a protest against the commercialization of Olympic mascots and featured on a news parody program while they covered the games. He even appeared on the winner’s platform with some Australian Olympians causing a flap with the Australian Olympic Committee who felt that it was upstaging the official mascots. The resulting public outcry forced the games officials to distance themselves from the official mascots. A statue of Fatso was featured outside of the Sydney Olympic Stadium until it was stolen in late 2010.
As you can see, mascots can go either way. Even at their best, mascots are silly and unnecessary. At their worst, when they share absolutely nothing with the fans of their sport, we are left with some of the most ridiculous marketing goofs in pop culture. Costumed toys hugging small children don’t really have a place in the sports world, yet they are there, in every sports venue. Techno music, cheerleaders, ‘fan zones’ and other gimmicks are now found throughout the sporting universe. You have to watch your local 12 year olds to escape marketing in sports, even if most of the marketing is aimed at them. In hindsight, K-Mart, the Sheriffs Association, and a local paint store sponsored my Little League baseball teams. Is nothing sacred? Get your hands off our sports!