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How Gritty went from local NHL mascot to lucrative phenomenon overnight

Lindsay Christinee Jan 24, 2019
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Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty drops into the arena before the game against the New York Rangers at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 23, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Drew Hallowell / Getty Images

There are few people in the world who can say that three days after their birth they were invited to the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Yet, that was the case with Gritty, the googly-eyed neon-orange Muppet mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. He danced on “Good Morning America” the next morning. Twenty-four hours after his unveiling, he was in the top 10 most searched terms on Google. According to Joe Heller, the vice president of marketing for the Flyers, all of those appearances added up to Gritty reaching 69 million viewers on national television.

Gritty’s fame has been surprising, especially to the people who created him. The Flyers reached out to concept artist Brian Allen of FlyLand Designs, when they were looking for a new mascot who could appeal to the next generation of hockey fans. They sought “something that you’d high-five, but not hug.”

Allen sent the Flyers 25 different sketches of dragons, animals, and of course the “dumpy-looking monster nicknamed Benny” to see what would stick. In the end he was renamed Gritty and was immediately met with a mix of shock and horror. He was labeled as “pure nightmare fuel.” The Guardian ran a headline calling him a “new acid trip of a mascot.” The marketing team for the Flyers admitted that part of the initial reaction was connected to the first image of Gritty standing in front of a black backdrop that looked less than friendly.

Concept art for Gritty. 

Yet, after his first day on the ice where he had a severe fall, threw shirts at staff, and threatened the Pittsburgh Penguins mascot later in the evening on Twitter, Gritty’s character blossomed into “the anti-mascot … [with] an attitude against authority,” according to Allen. Gritty’s antics were mocked on “SNL,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” and dozens of online publications. In November, his face appeared on signs against an alt-right rally in Philadelphia. Gritty-mania had hit with a look and personality that was larger than life. According to the Philadelphia based PR firm, Devine + Partners, Gritty reached 4.77 billion people online and generated $151 million in online news publicity within 30 days of his debut.

It was his personality, or rather the man behind the mask, who was able to turn initial negative criticism of the new mascot into 202,000 fans on Twitter and 123,000 fans on Instagram within three months. That immediately catapulted Gritty into the elite group of Instagram users who typically charge $500 to $2,000 for a sponsored post, according Tribe, a PR agency. “His personality came after he was developed by the man in the costume and the marketing team … and that gave birth to some of his greatest moments,” Allen explained of Gritty’s sudden rise to fame.

When official Gritty merchandise (aside from T-shirts) wasn’t available within the first two months on the NHL website, other outlets such as Etsy saw crafty individuals quickly put his image on everything from coffee mugs to throw pillows, and even Christmas ornaments just in time for the holidays. Despite not having any connection to Philadelphia, the Arizona-based shop YourDezignOrMine sold Gritty ornaments for $10 on Etsy along with Gritty coffee mugs, garden flags, and metal signs. Out of the 178 custom made items available through their shop; nearly half had the Flyers’ mascot image painted on them. For this year’s Valentine’s Day there are, “Be My Gritty Valentine 2019,” gifts available. Considering that Arizona has its own NHL team, it’s surprising that the Philly’s mascot would wholeheartedly be embraced by fans outside the city. Even so, there are 234 results for “Gritty flyers mascot” products on Etsy alone. Google has dozens of pages of Gritty plush toys ($42), leggings ($40), and baseball caps ($20) available to fans eager to get Gritty.

In his hometown of Philadelphia, an art shop in the Rittenhouse area put digital prints of Gritty wearing a “Make Philadelphia Gritty Again” hat for $275 in their window display. Philly’s 13th Street Bakery sold cupcakes hand-decorated with icing that looked like the mascot’s face for $5 each. The demand was higher than expected and the shop sold out in October, forcing it to request that all orders for Gritty cupcakes be made in advance.

Official merchandise eventually hit the NHL shop with shirts and hoodies ranging from $20-$60. Five hundred limited edition Bobble heads were available for pre-order by September for $30. Plush dolls are expected to come out in January and children’s books, along with other merchandise of the now infamous mascot, will be available at the Wells Fargo Center and NHL merchandise shop towards the end of 2019.

The Flyers are the 7th biggest franchise within the NHL valued at $800 million. As the team’s mascot who broke the internet within 24-hours of his debut, he could land lucrative television and sponsorship deals. The NHL has $559.5 million in sponsorship deals just from the last year alone with brands such as Adidas, Apple, Hulu, and PepsiCo. Vincent LeCavalier, one of the Flyers top players, pockets $250,000 in endorsements each year. As a mascot who has already seen people ink his image onto their arms, knit homemade Halloween costumes, and sell his merchandise nationally, Gritty has proven that he has a loyal following that makes him valuable to brands seeking a “new face of the next generation.”   

Not only has Gritty proved his worth in merchandise, within three months, the new mascot has outshone and out-ranked the city’s other famous and unusual looking mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. An hour with Gritty begins at $3,000. Forty minutes with the Phanatic will put a $600 dent in your pocket. If you want Gritty to crash your wedding grooving to Bruno Mars, as he did for one local Philly bride, it’ll be a Gritty-sized dent that’ll hit your pocket.

For someone that the Flyers website described as “talented, but feisty, a fierce competitor … [with] some oddities that are both humorous and strange,” it almost makes sense that Gritty would become an internet phenomenon. He was named as one of the “Good Men of 2018” in The New Yorker, earned an “Internet of the Person of the Year Award,” appeared on national talk shows, made headlines in England, and landed at No. 5 on ESPN’s list of the NHL’s best mascots. For a four-month old, who will turn one on Sep. 24, the Flyers mascot has already proven to be a fierce (and lucrative) internet phenomenon.

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