Gritty emerged as the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot in September and quickly caught on with fans and social media. (Getty Images)
When the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers introduced their first mascot in September, they probably had no idea how many Internet memes they were about to unleash upon the world.
Less than a week after his introduction, the 7-foot, bug-eyed orange monster with the unabashed dad bod made his television debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” while shows like “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and “Saturday Night Live” spoofed his spooky, unmascot-like appearance, which prompted comparisons to creepy predators and killer clowns.
He looks like a relative of Toomgis, the raggedy bigfoot-like creature from convenience store chain AM/PM’s commercials who literally is made up of fast food items.
A local online blog referred to him as “part Animal from the Muppets, part Trump’s orange hairdo and part iodine poisoning victim.”
Like fellow mascots such as the San Diego Chicken, Mr. Met and colleague Phillie Phanatic — David Raymond, the man inside the Phanatic, consulted in his development — Gritty has become a character in his own right. Brian Allen of Flyland Designs in nearby Bellefonte, Pa., created the persona from scratch, playing off the team’s rowdy reputation as the one-time Broad Street Bullies.
Allen’s website says he sketched “over 20 different possible mascots, including bats, bulls, groundhogs, dragons, tough guys, Yetis and even a flying squirrel.” Flyers officials picked “the big dumpy monster I had drawn as the starting point.”
According to the team, media coverage of Gritty’s first 30 days reached nearly 70 million TV viewers, with a local audience of more than 16 million, in addition to nearly 5 billion online impressions, worth $151 million in earned media, according to Adweek.
Gritty has proved that his appeal reaches far beyond the ice. (Getty Images)
Gritty has been incorporated as a socialist in a radical anti-fascist meme, while he’s been edited into stock photos from “A Star Is Born” to spoofing Kim Kardashian’s famous martini glass Paper Magazine cover that “broke the Internet.” In October, the Philadelphia City Council passed a formal resolution in his honor, citing his identifying with the city’s “spirit and passion,” though not mentioning that he’s probably causing a generation of youngsters to sleep with one eye open at night.
Still, give credit to the Flyers’ marketing and social media department for bringing attention to the team, their newly renovated home, Wells Fargo Center, and ice hockey in general.
Gritty’s carefully constructed back story tells a tale of Gritty being disturbed in his secret hideout by construction at the Wells Fargo Center, revealing a few eccentricities, like eating snow straight from the Zamboni machine, a love of hot dogs and a disturbing tendency to aim his T-shirt gun at an unsuspecting customer.
Perhaps Gritty’s biggest footprint on popular culture took place on Election Day, where the big guy received 69,000 write-in votes for governor of Pennsylvania and 14 tallies for various positions in New Jersey, from the Cherry Hill Board of Education to Donald Norcross’ congressional seat and even a few votes for Camden County sheriff. Nationally, the Flyers announced that the “Orange Wave” collected 70,000 votes in 46 states across the country.
With Gritty fever taking off so quickly, the Flyers marketing team had little time to prepare for merchandising, but look for a bobblehead in the new year, according to Chief Operating Officer Shawn Tilger, Vice President of Marketing Joe Heller and Director of Marketing Sarah Schwab, the team behind the mascot’s viral rise.
Tilger told Adweek: “I love the number of non-hockey people who like him. It’s transcended just what goes on the ice. People can’t name players, but they can name Gritty.”
MORE FROM THE YEAR-END PACKAGE