Ask a Philadelphian who best exemplifies the spirit of their city and most would likely say Ben Franklin.
Ask a Philadelphia baseball fan the same question and there’s no doubt many would answer the Phillie Phanatic.
Beloved mascots are an important part of fandom in the United States. Cuddly and cute, fierce and imposing, real or cartoonish, they have an intrinsic relationship with their team and therefore hold a special place in all of our hearts.
But there has always been something special about the Phanatic, that goofy tub of green fluff, who has been sticking out his tongue and rolling around his ample belly at fans and ballplayers since debuting on the city’s sports scene in 1978.
The Phanatic is no longer just the Phillies mascot, its perhaps the most famous professional sports ambassador in the United States, right up there with Mr. Met and the San Diego Chicken.
It’s hard to image what baseball in Philadelphia would be like without it scooting around creating havoc and joy.
Well, we hate to tell you this, but the Phillies are currently wrapped up in a legal battle with the company that help create the Phanatic that threatens to end its relationship with the team.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a federal lawsuit was filed in New York on Friday on behalf of the Phillies claiming the firm they hired over 40 years ago to give birth to the Phanatic is trying to back out of their deal with the club.
The bottom line: Harrison/Erickson Inc., wants to regain control of the rights to the Phanatic and turn it into baseball’s latest free agent.
The lawsuit accurately claims it was late Phillies executive Bill Giles who first imagined what the Phanatic would look and act like. And since he couldn’t do it himself, he engaged Harrison/Erickson to actually design and develop the mascot.
The Phillies claim in 1984 they paid Harrison/Erickson $215,000 for rights to the Phanatic costume and that the agreement would last eternally. But the Phillies are now saying that Harrison/Erickson is attempting to end the agreement, claiming it had created the copyrighted character.
The Phillies obviously are fighting this hard, and say Harrison/Erickson has threatened an injunction for use of the Phanatic unless the sides renegotiate their agreement and the Major League team pays it millions before June 2020.
“The Club therefore requests that this Court put an immediate end to H/E’s effort to hold up The Phillies with its threats of legal action and to make the Phanatic a free agent,” the lawsuit reads. “By issuing a declaratory judgment in The Phillies’ favor and an injunction against H/E’s threatened actions, the Court will ensure that Phillies fans will not be deprived of their beloved mascot of 41 years and that The Phillies’ investment of creativity, time, effort and money in The Phanatic will not be liquidated by H/E.”
In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, Bonnie Erickson said the Phillies contacted her firm in the 1970s because the team was concerned after their fans had booed the Easter bunny.
“It was a challenge to come up with something that was not going to talk down to their audience,” said Erickson.
Harrison/Erickson is a pretty famous firm. Erickson was the head of Muppet design for Jim Henson Associates and created Miss Piggy, among other characters.
Imagine if Harrison/Erickson was successful in its efforts and allowed to market the Phanatic to another team. Why would a team like the Kansas City Royals or Los Angeles Dodgers want to be associated with a mascot so allied with another team for 40 years?
Say the Phillies: “It would likely cause confusion, mistake, or deception…in that consumers are likely to believe that the Club is related to other sports teams or commercial entities, or that the Club is associated with or related to other sports teams or commercial entities using the Phillie Phanatic.”
The Washingtonian reminds us that it’s not unprecedented for mascots to find new homes. When the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, their mascot, Youppi! moved over to the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
The Phanatic had no comment about the dispute. But he has been known for getting himself into trouble.
In June 2018, a woman was hit in the face when The Phanatic fired a hot dog into the crowd with his cannon during a game at Citizens Bank Park.
“And then the next thing I know he shot it in our direction, and bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks. My glasses flew,” Kathy McVay, a Plymouth Meeting resident, originally told a Philadelphia television station.
McVay told the station she went to a hospital for a CAT scan to make sure that she wasn’t concussed.
“I have a small hematoma in my eye,” McVay said. “And mostly, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to go down the side of my face.”
When asked about the incident, the Phillies told the station the Phanatic “felt terrible about what had happened.”
And imagine how terrible Philadelphia would feel if some judge took their Phanatic away from them.