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January 05, 2016

Creator of the Phillie Phanatic explains mascot's inspiration

Mastermind, also behind Ms. Piggy, dishes on inspiration to sports magazine

The Phillie Phanatic is widely considered to be the best mascot in sports. But have you ever wondered how the team came up with the bizarre, green fuzzball that transcends the traditional "cougar," "knight," or other generic characters seen in sports?

The mastermind behind the Phanatic is Bonnie Erickson, who's also responsible for a number of Jim Henson's Muppets, most famously Miss Piggy.

She spoke to the Victory Journal for a piece that ran in the publication's most recent issue. In it, she recalls how she got the gig in the 1970s to create the Phillies' new mascot.

Erickson told the Journal she wasn't really familiar with baseball when the team approached Henson, who referred the Phillies to her. The team gave her free range, and she took advantage of it. More from the Journal:

The Phillies gave Erickson carte blanche, and she drew on her experience developing toys for Henson to design a mascot with product licensing in mind. Building on the notion that a sports fanatic would need a megaphone, Erickson gave the creature a long snout with a protruding tongue, as well as a backstory that the Phanatic hailed from the Galapagos Islands. “I love doing the abstract characters where you couldn’t identify it as a particular animal,” says Erickson. “I just like thinking of something more fantasy.”

The best part for Erickson? She, along with her husband and business partner Wayde Harrison, kept the rights to the Phanatic after then-owner Bill Giles turned down paying an extra $1,300 to purchase them, instead paying for just the costume.

This led to $2 million in merchandise sales that went to Erickson and Wade in the first year of the Phanatic's 1978 debut. Giles was left kicking himself:

They had offered Phillies executive Bill Giles the choice between paying $5,200 for both the Phanatic costume and the character’s copyright, or purchasing just the costume alone for $3,900. Giles opted for only the costume, a move he would describe in his auto-biography as “the worst decision of my career.” Five years later he paid $250,000 for the Phanatic’s copyright.

The duo of Erickson and Harrison were behind a number of other successful mascots, and some unsuccessful ones as well (the Sixers' defunct Big Shot is an example). The entire Victory Journal piece about her inspiration in the field of sports mascots is worth a read, and can be viewed here.