Earlier this month, the Chicago Cubs introduced Clark the Cub, their first official mascot. The reaction was less than supportive from Cubs Nation making #ClarktheCub a globally trending topic on Twitter and Deadspin holding a contest to “do something horrible” to the mascot using Photoshop.

I believe in the importance of mascots and what they can do to bring fans closer to the sports brands. While the backlash against Clark is strong, it’s largely misguided. Fans are frustrated with 106 years without a championship and they are taking it out on Clark. They are wanting the team to concentrate on a big free-agent signing, not an anthropomorphic bear. What’s missed in all the noise surrounding the mascot is that the target audience for Clark is kids under the age of 12 and I haven’t seen any complaints from them.

It all begs the question, who are the best mascots in the sports world today?

I judged mascots my top five based on three factors:

  • Demand. Is there a demand for the mascot from their fanbase?
  • Fit. How closely does the mascot’s persona and costume align with the team’s brand values?
  • Uniqueness. Is the mascot one-of-a-kind? Is it unmistakably different than all others? Please, not another “Wildcat.”

(5) The Tree. The rest of the world hates it, but Stanford University and their fans embrace it. And really, isn’t that all that matters. It became the unofficial mascot of the university after a contest in which the other two options were “the French fry” and “the manhole cover.” Every February at Stanford, a student is selected to become the mascot during a competition for the position known as Tree Week. And unlike any other mascot in the world, the winner actually needs to design his or her own costume.

(4) The Philly Phanatic. It’s a fat, furry green creature that first appeared after the Philadelphia Phillies 1977 season. It has been called one of the sports world best mascots by Sports Illustrated and Forbes. However, it also seems to be the most sued mascot for unintentional injuries sustained by the targets of his antics. In the true spirit of the Philadelphia sports fan, the Phanatic has a long history of getting under the skin of opposing players, managers and even announcers.

(3) Gunnersaurus. Our only entry from outside of the U.S., Gunnersaurus is the mascot for Arsenal, the London-based soccer team, nicknamed the Gunners. Gunnersaurus is a feisty green dinosaur that conducts interviews, snubbing opposing players and has received significant attention for participating in moments of silence.

(2) Benny the Bull. Forbes recently named Benny the Bull of the Chicago Bulls “America’s Favorite Mascot” based on the criteria of photo-friendliness, interaction, fun, likability, awareness, and attention-getting.” Beyond displaying above average athleticism in his trampoline-aided dunks, Benny is the most in-demand mascot in the country doing 250 appearances throughout the year.

(1) The Leprechaun. Adored by fans, the living embodiment of the teams it supports, and one-of-a-kind. My #1 mascot is the Notre Dame Leprechaun. Unlike other mascots, there is no mask or facial covering to hide behind. This student-mascot’s only covering is a genuine beard, as part of the Leprechaun’s charm resides in his ability to speak, make eye contact, relate to and embody the fighting spirit of the Notre Dame teams he supports. Every year, students participate in rigorous tryouts that involve tumbling, public speaking and improvisation to have the right to serve as the official mascot. The only challenge is that because it’s a student, the “talent” usually changes every year or two.

In the video below, Emily Reeves and I talk about the Cubs new mascot and the fan reactions.

WFE Tom Lillig Cub Mascot from Stone Ward on Vimeo.