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Team mascots more than a gimmick09/30/2011 10:37 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
Mascots may be unable to communicate verbally, but the men (and women) wearing the suits have a lot to say.
One of the most vocal is Brad Collins, a former Delmarva Shorebirds and Fresno Grizzlies mascot who just completed his first season as Slugerrr of the Kansas City Royals (yes, it's spelled with three R's). Prior to this high-profile position, Collins spent five years with the Fresno Grizzlies as "Director of Mascot Relations." During this time, he helped to develop Parker the Bear into one of the best known mascots in the Minors, earning industry accolades and a dedicated local following.
But though Collins may have left the world of Minor League Baseball, he remains very interested in the growth of his chosen profession. Collins gave a speech at the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Myrtle Beach on "Building Your Mascot Brand." He challenged teams to commit to their mascot programs and to reprioritize their entertainment spending, arguing that the mascot is just too crucial to leave in the hands of an untested and unsupported performer.
After the speech, Collins sat down with MiLB.com and elaborated on the differences between the Major and Minor Leagues, the future of his occupation and the strange sensation of dreaming as a mascot.
MiLB.com: This season was your first with the Kansas City Royals. From a mascot perspective, how does working in the Majors differ from working in the Minors?
Brad Collins: A Major League game is produced like a TV show. When the producer talks to me [via a headset] during the game, he gives me times and countdowns, like "Alright, high three in three, two, one." I didn't know what he was talking about at first. High three is the high third [base] camera. You have high one, high three, low one, low three, center field, the Sonic Slam camera, all kinds of stuff. I learned that, when I do promotions, I have to angle myself [to the camera]. We're always playing off of the videoboard, because it's the world's largest high-definition board -- we use it for basically everything.
You also have less time to perform during Major League games, so you have to make sure when you're performing that you're perfect. You need an intro in the beginning of the skit that's funny and grabs attention, a gag in middle that is something people remember and an ending that wraps it all up. ... We're taking fans for a ride -- from the videoboard promotions to the onfield stuff -- and they need to be combined together seamlessly.
MiLB.com: Now that you're no longer working in the Minors, is there anything you miss?
Collins: You can develop more of a show around the character in Minor League Baseball, because you have more time to do it, but in the Majors you have to pick your spots and be engaging in limited action.
But in the Minor Leagues, there's this notion -- and it's something that I fought for seven years -- this attitude of, "Oh, this is just the Minors -- don't you want to go to the Majors or work in the NHL?" But I would do more creative things in one or two years in the Minors than some performers might do in 10 or 15 years or even their entire careers.
Being in the Minors doesn't necessarily mean that you're not as good a performer as some of the Major League guys or some of the NFL or NBA guys. They're just guys -- and girls -- that work for a team that has more fans, but that doesn't mean that they're better mascots. Some of the best performers and best mascots are in Minor League sports, because they have the freedom to do what they want to do.
MiLB.com: But the Minor Leagues certainly have their own challenges, it seems.
Collins: A lot of it is budget-related. Minor League Baseball isn't a big-money business, and the profit margins are small for most teams. So it can be hard getting that initial conversation started with a lot of teams about utilizing the assets you have and making the mascot the best it can be. ... And a lot of times, the question becomes, "Why are you outsourcing so much of your entertainment when you can do it in-house?"
I've talked to so many performers from so many teams, and some of the frustrations are so common, like, "I can't get my team to invest in me." It's weird because Minor League teams are at the forefront of creativity with promotions and mascots and taking chances, but at the same time, they are way behind in offering opportunities to make a career out of it. For mascot performers, there's often no way to sustain yourself. ... I think more teams need to look at retaining their talent instead of letting it go elsewhere.
MiLB.com: How should teams go about doing this?
Collins: In Fresno, how we made Parker successful was I sat down with the [front office] and said, "Listen, why are we paying these [touring performers] however many thousand a night and I can't get a budget? Why not let me develop something that is worthy enough to be its own show every single night instead of wasting money on a one-night gig?"
I've seen so many of these [traveling] acts come and go. I have nothing against those guys -- I'm friends with a lot of them -- but from the standpoint of putting together an entertainment, it's a common notion that they don't sell tickets. Maybe the [Famous] Chicken sells tickets, but for 95 percent of the teams, they're added value, they're not a ticket driver.
But if you create a mascot that's going to be good for you 72 home games a year, then you're going to get parents who'll go to the games because their kids want to see that sweet mascot. That's what happened in Fresno. ... At the end of the day, it's about tickets sold, and that's what [mascot] performers need to understand. This is a business, and you have to create something that puts butts in seats, that's going to be driving sponsorships, driving promotions, driving merchandise sales, driving Kid's Clubs, all those sorts of things. A one-night traveling act isn't going to get you a lot of sponsorship dollars. But an awesome mascot who stands out in the community and does a good job, that's going to make you money in the long run.
MiLB.com: To those who are considering becoming a mascot, how would you suggest going about that?
Collins: A great example of the right way to do it is a kid I'm working with now in Kansas City. His name's Andrew Johnson, and he's part of the new wave of performers who are going to be coming up in the next three, four or five years. He was a high school mascot, has worked as a corporate mascot, he's got his own YouTube account. He's one of those kids who got in early on social media and has followed every single mascot that has been posting skits online, so he knows what works and what doesn't. There are people like him out there that see the potential to make this a career, who are utilizing so many of the resources that are out there today.
MiLB.com: It's a job that takes a lot of physical commitment as well, obviously. How do you stay in shape?
Collins: I actually get in worse shape during baseball season, because the physical work you do isn't good exercise activity. You're losing water weight, its hot, it's just not a good form of aerobic or anerobic exercise. So I use from now until February or March to get in good shape, because you're working so much in the summer that it can be hard to keep up with.
Baseball is definitely the hardest sport for a mascot. I meet the NFL guys and want to punch them in the face, because they have 10 home games a year. I have homestands longer than that!
MiLB.com: Finally, you mentioned during your [Promotional Seminar] speech that you sometimes dream as a mascot. What's that like?
Collins: Yeah, sometimes I'll dream as a mascot, and usually [in the dream] I'm dealing with fans. It's gotten worse since I've been in the Majors, because you get hounded so much. I don't know how many hundreds of thousands or millions of pictures have been taken of me, and how many millions of times I've heard each character's name yelled at me. That's something that's just ingrained in my head. Every now and then I'll be getting a good night's sleep, and I'll hear (whispers), "Sparty! Sherman! Parker! JJ! Slugerrr!" I've always said that, when I'm done performing, I'll want to sit down with a psychotherapist and be like, 'Please, let's dissect what happened over the last 15 or 20 years of my life.'