When the Flyers unveiled their new mascot, Gritty, on Monday morning, Philly's hockey team received some… strong responses. Gritty, whose Flyers orange-colored fur desperately needs a trim, made his first official appearance at the Please Touch Museum in front of hundreds of kids, where he reportedly was greeted with hugs and enthusiasm.
That's good, because Philly social media was much less kind.
David Raymond, a character branding expert who created the Phillie Phanatic, was brought on as a consultant by the Flyers when they began developing a new mascot. He said that Gritty's shaggy look and overactive eyeballs were partially inspired by the character of Sully from Disney's Monsters, Inc.
"The Flyers wanted something that was tough and soft at the same time," Raymond said. "Sully's underlying personality, even though he scared kids, was very caring and protective. Disney does a wonderful job of weaving all kinds of flaws into its characters, and something that's unique always has flaws. That's what set characters up for success, because those are the ones people respond to."
The Flyers haven't fleshed out Gritty's back story yet, but we know his father was a bully and he was recently forced out of his secret hideout by construction at the Wells Fargo Center.
Raymond said that when conceptualizing a mascot, the most important things to keep in mind are whether the character can be manipulated in a number of ways, like animation and graphic design, and whether it can be performed in a costume that's possible to create.
"If it's a great character but no one can bring it to life, then it's very hard for it to be successful," Raymond said.
And even though Philly is having fun dragging Gritty, the city's most famous mascot — the Phillie Phanatic — has already given the character his stamp of approval.
"I honestly can't remember a mascot introduced in the age of social media that didn't get some kind of backlash," Tom Burgoyne, who has been the Phanatic for the last three decades, said. "I actually think it's really cool-looking, and kids are going to think he's really cool. I particularly like that they've given him a beard, because so many Flyers players have beards."
Raymond said that when Gritty was conceptualized, everyone in the room knew that there was going to be plenty of criticism from the most passionate sports fans in the country. But snarky comments on Twitter didn't bother the Flyers too much — Gritty wasn't created for those people.
Instead, Gritty, who skates and does acrobatic tricks, is supposed to create new, younger Flyers fans.
"That's the main reason why Gritty is here," Raymond said. "He has a lot of authentic qualities that we see on the ice today, and the whole story is that he's going to embrace the little kids he's maybe not too sure about at first."
Both Burgoyne and Raymond said that if the Phanatic was rolled out today, people would tear him apart in the same way. Burgoyne said that while 99 percent of his interactions in the costume have been positive, he knows that introducing people to a green and furry bird would be extremely difficult today. However, he said that he believes Philadelphians will eventually come to love Gritty as much as they love the Phanatic.
"It's a matter of understanding that fans are going to boo, and the more you try to fight it, the worse it gets," Raymond said. "What you can do is show them you can take it. Let's just watch Gritty be Gritty and see what happens."