Gritty's Early Success

On September 24th , 2018 the Philadelphia Flyers announced that they had a new mascot

for the upcoming season: Gritty - a seven-foot, hairy orange monster with a huge smile and wide

googly eyes.

While the 600 kids at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia for the unveiling of

Gritty cheered when he came out, there were plenty of negative reactions online and in the local

and national media. Many people were confused on what he was even supposed to be.

On twitter he was called “nightmare fuel,” a “deranged orange lunatic” and one of the

worst ideas in Philly sports history. He was the butt end of many late night tv jokes and skits.

Stephen Colbert on The Late Show said he “looked like Ed Sheeran exploded.” John Oliver on

Last Week Tonight described him as “the end result of the orange McDonald’s Fry Guy hooking

up with Grimace.” And, there have been lots of memes - lots and lots of memes.

But Gritty has also received plenty of love. While at first there was backlash from the

local media and people of Philadelphia, Philly sports fans and the city did eventually embrace

him. He was even welcomed at City Hall with a formal resolution from the City Council. Gritty

came into our lives when we most needed him, and while he may be a hideous monster, he is our

hideous monster,” said Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym in a press release.

Whether or not Gritty is mocked or supported in the media, one thing is for certain, he

has been one of most successful mascot unveilings in recent history - if not the most. He has

made national headlines and has continued to generate buzz long after his debut.

Only a month after his reveal, Gritty had more twitter followers than any other NHL mascot as

he currently sits at 236,000.

So why has Gritty been so successful?

The initial reaction was due simply to Gritty’s appearance. If it was something less crazy

and obvious, he wouldn’t have gained so much attention. But because he was so different and

crazy looking, people reacted strongly to it. Again, at first there was significant backlash, but

while initial responses were negative, attention is still attention. People were talking about Gritty

and therefore, the Flyers. What initially started out as hate turned into a prideful kind of

attachment.

Philadelphia sports fans are known to have an “us vs. everybody” attitude. So even

though they might not have been Gritty fans right away, after he was being roasted on the

national level, Philadelphia sports fans changed their attitudes toward him.

“Gritty’s storied arrival into Philadelphia was met with all the expected magnanimity

of a city with a reputation for colorful and ardent fans and a creative, if skeptical, media, but

as soon as Philadelphians realized non-Philadelphians were also mocking Gritty, we rose

immediately to his defense and irrevocably claimed him as our own,” wrote the City

Council’s resolution that officially welcomed Gritty to Philadelphia.

And this love for Gritty led to beers and sandwiches being named after him, to Gritty

Halloween costumes, and even Gritty tattoos. The Flyers also got a little lucky early on. On

Gritty’s debut at the Wells Fargo Center, he fell not once, but twice. Although leading to even

more ridicule on twitter, it nonetheless still generated sympathy and relatability especially among

Philly’s own.

While Gritty’s outlandish appearance was largely responsible for the initial media

buzz around him, he has remained relevant since the season started and continues to create

headlines. Much of this can be attributed to the Flyer’s use of Gritty and the person behind the

suit.

“They have to work hard creating a backstory to connect that new character to that fan

base and community at large. If people don’t care about your character, it’s not going to work

well. You weave in what’s great about your city, your community, and what’s great about

your organization,” says David Raymond in an article for the Sports Business Daily -

Raymond being the original Phillie Phanatic and a mascot consultant. “The organization must

support it. They have to embrace the character and they have to use it.”

The Flyers have done an excellent job promoting and using Gritty. In their

announcement, they expressed their plan to use him in community engagement activities

along with a colorful backstory that relates Gritty to the team as well as the fans.

The backstory on the Flyers’ website says: “His father was a bully,'“ so naturally he has

some of those tendencies - talented but feisty, a fierce competitor, known for his agility given his

size… He’s loyal but mischievous; the ultimate Flyers fan who loves the orange and black, but is

unwelcoming to anyone who opposes his team. Legend has it he earned the name 'Gritty’ for

possessing an attitude so similar to the team he follows… Recent construction at the Wells Fargo

Center disturbed his secret hideout forcing him to show his face publicly for the first time…

there’s no denying that he’s one of our own.”

That identity as a “bully” and a fierce competitor along with the name itself relates to

the style of play of the Flyers’, especially the old “Broad Street Bullies” teams of the

seventies. His loyalty but unwelcoming attitude towards other teams embodies the typical

Philly sports fan. That and the personality this story gives Gritty brings him to life and helps

fans identify with him. They even found a way to promote the renovations in the Wells Fargo

Center where the Flyers play their home games.

The Flyers have also created and managed a twitter account (@GrittyNHL) for Gritty

that has kept him relevant long after his arrival. As stated earlier, Gritty’s twitter page has

more followers than any other NHL mascot. Many of them were from his original

introduction, but it has only continued to grow as there are more tweets and fan engagement.

Not only has Gritty’s twitter follower count grown, but there has been significant content,

whether it be re-creating the Kim Kardashian break-the-internet photo, calling out the

Pittsburgh Penguins, or personal messages to Flyers fans.

Gritty’s success can also be greatly attributed to the performer in the suit. When looking

at mascot history, it really isn’t about what the suit looks like, it’s about what the mascot does

and how it performs. Two of the most famous mascots in history are the San Diego Chicken and

the Phillie Phanatic. The San Diego Padres have no connection to chickens, and no one has a

clue as to what the Phillie Phanatic is supposed to be. Nonetheless, they were successful because

of the performer’s antics and unique interactions with fans.

So far, the person in the Gritty suit - the Flyers have not released his/her name - has

done an excellent job interacting with fans, dancing at the stadium and getting into all sorts of

fan interactions. On his debut at the Wells Fargo Center, Gritty came down swinging from a

rope to Miley Cyrus’s song “Wrecking Ball.” He’s shot fans participating in an intermission

game with a t-shirt gun and has tackled them in intermission sumo wrestling matches.

“It just goes to show you that the suit is secondary. As long as the character gets

developed, and he’s great because of the performer, it doesn’t matter what it is,” said David

Raymond.

Gritty is also a valuable business tool for the Flyers as mascots can help with

marketing, fan engagement, and revenue generation. Having appeared in many

advertisements for the Flyers, Gritty has been an effective platform for attracting young fans.

Another key development is in-arena promotions involving Gritty, including a t-shirt give

away featuring the mascot. His antics and very presence alone brings in an authentic fan

experience to the arena that can’t be felt at home on a tv or computer. On top of all these

promotional and brand opportunities are also the paid appearances of Gritty at birthdays,

weddings, or any other events.

Since Gritty’s first month in the league, the hype around him has naturally died down

a bit. But that doesn’t mean the Flyers should stop using him. Tweeting from his account will

keep him in the minds of sports fans. This coming off-season will be a test for the

organization, as it will be the first full off-season for the Flyers with Gritty. Continuing

community engagement initiatives and public appearances, which also encourage more ticket

purchases, will be crucial for the Flyers to stay relevant.

The Flyers can also use Gritty as part of sales packages for partnerships with other

business. Adding him to the Flyer’s Fun Patrol and including him as a benefit to the Flyers’

Kid’s Club membership can help with fan engagement, especially among youth. As for their

online store, expanding the options of Gritty merchandise can help bring in more revenue

from retail sales.

Ultimately, the Flyers should continue to be creative with his performances at the

Wells Fargo Center, from intermission entertainment to personally interacting with the fans.

Obviously, the end-all goal is a unique experience to Flyer’s home games, which attract new

young fans and ensure that they keep coming back.

Noah Carey

USBC Journal Writer

Class of 2021