In the six weeks since he was introduced, Gritty has become more popular than just about any other member of Philly’s professional hockey team.
The maniacal mascot has 158,000 followers on Twitter and growing — enough to best all players except Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmons and James Van Riemsdyk. No other NHL mascot comes close; Gritty beats them all by at least 100k. He’s not just a social media phenomenon, of course, as proven by popular cameos on national TV shows from Good Morning America to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
So with all this attention for Gritty, the Flyers organization must be flying high, right? Maybe.
Because despite the outsize response to the new mascot, the heathen-esque muppet’s popularity has not translated to an attendance boost. At least not yet.
So far this season, the average Flyers game has filled slightly more than 19,100 seats, according to stats published by ESPN. That’s good enough for fifth in the league — but still the lowest per game attendance for Philly’s NHL team since at least 2000.
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Granted, after making the playoffs last year, the Flyers are off to a slow start this season, as they are 8-7-1 through their first 16 games. And the official response from Flyers’ marketing department is that it’s too early to read much into the attendance numbers. Capacity at the Wells Fargo Center when it’s set up for hockey is 19,600.
Boosting attendance is one of a mascot’s main intended purposes, said Andrew Perry, a sports analytics professor at Springfield College. He believes that mascots — especially those that are gender-fluid like Gritty — are what sell tickets.
“Research has shown that having mascots of both genders improves team ticket sales and especially it brings families to games,” Perry told Billy Penn.
What kind of mascot will bring in the most sales? Simple, Perry said: “Anything that’s lovable [and] that’s going to appeal to a lot to kids and families.”
Whether or not the wide-eyed, hopped-up, ready-to-freak orange personality the Flyers designed fits the bill is up in the air. But Flyers definitely could use the attention. The team just doesn’t generate the buzz of the other pro sports teams in Philly. The Flyers aren’t a bad team — at least they made it to the playoffs last season — but they don’t have that face of the franchise that really embodies the city and sells tickets.
For the Eagles, there’s a long list of players fans gravitate to, from Carson Wentz to Jason Kelce. For the Sixers it’s Joel Embiid, with others creeping up the ladder. For the Phillies, despite a rough season, everyone loves the Phanatic. The closest thing the Flyers had is Claude Giroux. He was second in the NHL in points last season, but you don’t often hear his name mentioned in the same breath as other local sports stars.
Now, the face of the Flyers is Gritty — or at least it’s supposed to be. Whether the mascot’s popularity will turn into higher attendance remains to be seen.