The Philadelphia Phillies recently used an exhibition game to unveil their “new” mascot. Their re-designed version of the Phillie Phanatic appeared to significant fanfare from the team, part of the launch of the 2020 season during spring training.
But Philadelphia sports fans—or “phans,” to use the local vernacular—shouldn’t cheer the latest iteration of their famous mascot. Rather, they should use some of the other, more colorful ways Philadelphia sports fans have used over the years to express themselves about the Phillies’ sorry attempt to clone the Phanatic.
Minor But Important Changes
To compare the “old” and “new” mascot outfits, a layman could scarcely differentiate between the two.
The “new” Phanatic features new shoes, new socks, a slightly different tail, a slightly more svelte (or less obese) figure, bushier eyebrows, and…that’s about it. A casual fan who didn’t hear word of the changes might not even know the Phanatic had changed at all. One fan said on Twitter that “I don’t hate the new Phanatic. He’s basically the same as the old one anyway.”
— Chris Johnson (@JohnsonC89) February 23, 2020
That’s the point—and the problem. The Phillies unveiled their “new” Phanatic in large part to avoid paying royalties to its initial creators. In 2018, Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who created the character in the late 1970s, told the team they planned to seek royalties when the 35-year license on the Phanatic character expires later this year. (The team bought the rights to the Phanatic in 1984, but federal law allows for renegotiation of such rights after 35 years.)
Instead, the Phillies filed a lawsuit against Erickson and Harrison last summer that seeks to keep the Phanatic in the team’s hands, and “re-launched” their mascot as part of that strategy. In other words, the Phillies created a “new” Phillie Phanatic designed to look enough like the old one to attract the same recognition and acclaim, but different enough that they could stiff its creators of royalty fees.
The question of whether the “new” Phanatic represents an original creation, or a knock-off that infringes on Erickson and Harrison, may end up in court regardless. Either way, it looks miserly and self-serving for the Phillies to try and take the cheap way out rather than pay the creators of a famous mascot that has entertained generations of fans. This same team gave free agent outfielder Bryce Harper a $330 million, 10-year contract during the last offseason; did they really not have any money to spend on Erickson and Harrison?
More importantly, Bill Giles, who owned the Phillies when the Phanatic became its mascot, said that one decision about the Phanatic represented “the worst decision of his life.” At the time of its creation, Erickson and Harrison offered the team $5,200 for the costume and ownership of the copyright, or $3,900 for the costume alone. Giles selected the latter option, and when the Phillie Phanatic became one of the most beloved mascots in all of sports, ended up regretting it.
The idea that the Phillies should go through all this trouble—re-inventing their mascot, and dragging the matter into federal court—because of the stupidity of a prior owner makes the dispute doubly ludicrous. A franchise valued at an estimated $2 billion should swallow its pride and pay Erickson and Harrison their royalties.
Philly Fans: Give the Bronx Cheer!
To say Philadelphia fans take their sports seriously—and express themselves in colorful ways—would put it mildly. The Phillies’ former home, Veterans Stadium, had its own jail and court for unruly football fans to face justice during Philadelphia Eagles home games. In 1968, those same Eagles fans notoriously threw snowballs at Santa Claus, an incident that has developed a mythology of its own. And when the Eagles won Super Bowl LII two years ago, Philly fans celebrated their team’s march through the NFL playoffs in some, shall we say, interesting ways.
Baseball’s Phillies have their own illustrious history of unruly behavior—most notably “J.D. Drew Battery Night.” In that 1999 incident, fans threw batteries at the outfielder, who refused to sign with the Phillies after the team drafted him the prior year, when his new team, the St. Louis Cardinals, came to Philadelphia. Duracell famously recalled the incident in a tweet following the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, noting that “batteries hold a sacred place in the history of Philly fans.”
I wouldn’t dare to suggest that Phillies fans throw such detritus at the Phillie Phanatic (and not only because his ample blubber would easily deflect projectiles). But a town eager to shout “Dallas Sucks” at any reference to the hated Cowboys football franchise (even in Green Bay, Wisconsin) could easily give the “new” Phillie Phanatic the “boo-bird” treatment.
Perhaps, if the new Phanatic gets subjected to enough boos from fans, the Phillies will stop their miserly behavior, and strike a royalty agreement with Erickson and Harrison. If and when they do, then all Philadelphia sports fans could give a hearty—and heartfelt—cheer.