Mascots have been an important part of sporting events for what seems like forever. An integral tool in the marketing of an event, a mascot personifies traditions and highlights positive attributes for a host nation at a World Cup for example, or local team, giving public identity to a community and bringing an element of fun into the proceedings.
These costumed characters also facilitate the creation of merchandise, enabling manufacturers of memorabilia to focus on a character when creating a plethora of products to sell on or around the event in question.
Bringing good luck
It’s true, mascots have been around for a very long time (not literally forever but not far off) and the term derives from 1880’s France. Initially, a mascot (or mascotte as it was known across the pond) was anything that was deemed to bring luck into your house or on board your ship and was usually an inanimate object. It could have been a locket of hair, a key or anything that the person felt would increase their luck with its presence. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that ‘good luck’ animals became a regular fixture at sporting events across the globe.
The first animal mascots were escorted to local events in order to entertain the crowd and in some cases, to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. These weren’t the cuddly characters you see today; these were the real deal. Lions, tigers, bears, dogs, pigs, horses and birds of prey were all used by sporting clubs and instantly became a popular feature with the audience, who would cackle and hoot at the escapades of the animal and its trainer as they were paraded around the stadium. There was however something missing. That something was a unique identity and a charismatic personality. OK, now I can already hear you all saying (and I agree) that animals do have personalities, but have you ever seen a cat, bear or any other animal react to the cheers of a crowd and respond by ramping up the excitement? The only reaction I have seen is that of shock and running away when my cat is confronted with any loud noise….
Willie is a winner
So fast forward to the 1960’s and to one of, if not the FIRST costumed character at a MAJOR sporting event; World Cup Willie. Designed by Reg Hoye (who illustrated some of Enid Blyton’s books) for the 1966 World Cup, Willie was the personification of the proud British spirit. The stocky little Lion, sporting a full Union Jack football kit and boots could be seen everywhere during the competition, invoking national pride into the people of England and cheering the lads on from the sidelines. A full range of merchandise was created to compliment the character and the notion of modern day sporting memorabilia was defined. Nowadays, memorabilia has grown to become one of the most important sources of income for a club or competition. The significance of World Cup Willie did not go unnoticed by other countries, who started to realise the potential of such a character and soon even West Germany and the Soviet Union were joining in with the fun. 1966 was the first and last year that England won the World Cup. Whether or not Willie had anything to do with it I’ll let you decide….
Mascots march on
It’s been 50 years, almost to the day since people flooded through the turnstiles to watch the first game of the competition and mascots have had a place at almost every major sporting event since. Every top flight football game, baseball game, athletics event, social gathering you name it, has some form of mascot character evoking the spirit of competition and ultimately maximising the revenue streams before, during and long after the celebration has died down. By this time, corporate businesses had already begun to embrace the idea and were designing characters to personify their core business ideals. This proved to be just as successful off the pitch and recognisable characters feature prominently in our day-to-day lives, sometimes even without you noticing them. Some great examples of company mascots that you are sure to know are Geoffrey the Giraffe (Toys R US) who has been around since the 60’s, Ronald MacDonald (arguably the most well-known character of all time), Tony the Tiger, Mickey Mouse and the Michelin Tyre Man to name a few but I digress…
Modern day magic
From their humble beginnings to the mascot of modern day, the complexity of sporting mascots has increased with the advancement of technology, allowing mascots to be more lifelike, or even more outrageous than was previously thought possible. Take for example London 2012’s very own Wenlock and Mandeville. Gone are the humanoid shapes that were once the staple mascot style, only to be exchanged with weird and wonderful body types as you see in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots. Although ultimately criticized for their wacky shapes, Wenlock and Mandeville were a large reason for the success of the London Olympics and brought in millions of pounds of revenue with their merchandise, only being surpassed by the sale of the GB team kit. One disadvantage of this body style is maneuverability and top flight sporting clubs prefer to stick to a humanoid body shape so that their characters can race around the pitch, egging on or poking fun at the crowd, coaches and players alike.
Fred and his Friends
Now, we know a thing or two about creating the perfect mascot. Be it for your club, event, corporation or whatever reason you decide, we work closely with some of the country’s biggest sporting clubs to provide them with the ultimate side-line entertainers. Take for example, Fred the Red – the official Manchester United mascot. I pick this example (without any club bias) because it fits in nicely with our article. Due to the success of World Cup Willie, Reg Hoye was asked to draw the original Manchester United Red Devil mascot, which can still be seen on the badge today. A far cry from the current Fred the Red character seen gracing the pitch at match days, United saw the importance of having a brand identity and became the Red Devils to coincide with their badge re-design. 1994 saw the first live version of Fred appear and he instantly became a firm favourite with the fans at Old Trafford and is just as popular today. We’ve been making Fred the Red for over 10 years and he joins the likes of Moonchester (Manchester City), Rover (Blackburn Rovers), Stamford (Chelsea), Deepdale (Preston NE) and many others in our Costumes with Character Sporting Hall of Fame.
All for a good cause
I think it’s also worth mentioning that sports mascots aren’t just for the entertainment of the crowd or for lining the pockets of their local club/governing body, they are also a great tool in raising money and awareness for local and national charities. Clubs up and down the country lend their mascots to good causes because they know the effect that these characters can have on the final fundraising total, with studies claiming a mascot can increase the total amount of money donated to a charity when out and about with a bucket. One thing can be sure, the introduction of Willie and mascots in general at major sporting events across the world has been a positive thing and even in this digital age of computer illustrations and virtual characters, the physical performer still very much has its place at the sporting table and will continue to do so for many years to come.
You can view our range of sporting mascots here