The Origin of Gritty: The Story Behind the NHL’s Newest Mascot

With the Washington Capitals taking on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena, FiCP takes a look at the fascination behind the NHL’s newest furry friend. Ever since the Flyers have introduced their new mascot Gritty to the entire hockey world in late September, hockey fans worldwide have became obsessed with the big eyed, orange furred phenomenon. Here is the story behind Gritty’s origin. 

Back in 2017, the son of Flyers chief operating officer Shawn Tilger attended the NHL All-Star Game and was watching the antics of the NHL mascots taking part in a pickup game of hockey as part of the intermission entertainment. Afterward he asked his father why his team didn’t have a mascot. At the time, the Flyers were one of just three teams without a mascot, the other two: the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.

In a sports town with a football team that won the Super Bowl a year ago, a fun to watch basketball team with a bright future, and a baseball team featuring the Philly Phanatic, there was one thing common between those three teams (Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies) that the hockey team didn’t have: a mascot.

Philadelphia sports fans always loved their Flyers but they needed an identity, a fresh face and they got it just before the puck dropped on the 2018 season. The Flyers introduced their new furry friend of terror at a private media event before unleashing him at an event that was attended by 600 kids(!).

Gritty introduction was met by mixed reviews but Philly fans ultimately got behind him as one of their own thanks after the Pittsburgh Penguins went after him on Twitter, tweeting “lol ok”.

Gritty fired right back tweeting, “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.” The rest was history.

“Dave (Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic) talked to us about being committed because odds are at the beginning, there was going to be a negative reception because it’s so new and different. He told us we needed to be ready to weather the first two weeks to two months. Little did we know it was going to be under 24 hours,” said Flyers VP of marketing Joe Heller. “Just like any icon in the city, he had to earn his stripes.”

The Flyers said that the first 30 days of Gritty generated a massive audience including 70 million people on TV (local audience 16 million). Additionally, Gritty went viral across the internet with five billion impressions worth $151 million.

Gritty’s unique design was in part of the Flyers marketing team’s goal to start fresh in making a mascot and trying not to resemble any of the sports mascots that are already in existence. Tilger, Heller and Sarah Schwab, the Flyers director of marketing, brainstormed 100 different designs. After several weeks, they settled on a design by Brian Allen of Flyland Designs but also touched on every little attention to detail. There were several features of Gritty that didn’t make the final cut: eyebrows, a tail and… wings. Imagine if Gritty could fly!

All memes and jokes aside, there was one feature of Gritty the team considered the most important: his size.

“We wanted monster-like features,” said Heller. “When you look at the animation, he has some pretty built arms compared to his body. He has a dad-bod thing going on.”

Other unique features include blowing smoke out of his eyes and squeakers in his hands and belly button. The rendering was made and the costume was delivered just days before he made his debut. The team soon realized that the mystery man they hired to don the costume was taller than they thought so they added one last touch to the costume: hockey trousers!

Coming up with the mascot’s name of Gritty was almost a no-brainer. During one of the sessions in designing the mascot, team president Paul Holmgren brainstormed some names that describe the Flyers. He suggested Gritty as a joke and Tilger approved saying, “That’s the word!”. Gritty is the word the Flyers try to brand their organization around, using it to describe Philadelphia as a gritty city.

The team has had their creative juices flowing by getting their mascot to pose for photos based on popular trends. One instance was a spoof on Kim Kardashian’s Paper magazine cover where Gritty is balancing a Martini glass on his butt while squeezing water from a gatorade bottle. It’s still viral.

Other moments included Gritty at a local aquarium before the Flyers took on the San Jose Sharks. Inside a gift shop, Gritty rips the stuffed sharks off the shelf and body slams them.

There have only been a few minor errors that weren’t planned in the social media marketing of Gritty. The mascot slipped a few times during his first appearance on the ice. In his first-ever photoshoot, the team quickly learned that a black background isn’t quite the best idea.

Photo: Ben Soloman/Philadelphia Flyers

Whether you like him or he lives inside your nightmares, Gritty is the new face of the Flyers and a big part of the city of Philadelphia. There’s no telling whether or not he will be lurking at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night (probably not, since the Flyers are the visting team) but those Caps fans that travel will get their first glimpse of Gritty when the Caps head to Philly on March 6.

Top photo: @GrittyNHL



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