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.