Wedding season gets busy — and lucrative — for mascots

Mascots from professional Philadelphia sports teams were among the first to cross over the repaired section of I-95 when the highway reopened on Friday, June 23, 2023. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Mascots from professional Philadelphia sports teams were among the first to cross over the repaired section of I-95 when the highway reopened on Friday, June 23, 2023. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA -- When Megan Fyke reflects on her wedding day, her mind flashes through several highlight moments.

Among them: She and her husband's favorite mascot, Swoop, crashing the party.

"We were just dancing, having a great time. All of a sudden they started playing 'Fly Eagles Fly,' and I turn around and he comes out," said Fyke, 30, of Pennsauken, Pa. "It was so amazing."

The giant bird's appearance was a surprise to the couple and their guests -- aside from the relatives and maid of honor who coordinated the appearance -- and made the day even more special for the newlyweds, diehard Eagles fans who met at St. Timothy's grade school in Mayfair, Pa.

The couple of New York Giants fans in attendance seemed OK with it -- and, even if they weren't, any mumbled complaints were drowned out by 45 minutes of Eagles chants that filled the Philadelphia Ballroom. For Philly fans, it didn't matter that there was no game that weekend. The passion was still there in July.

"It was a good reminder everyone still loves the Eagles, no matter what time of year," she said.

It was a reminder, too, of the outsized role that these giant costumed creatures have come to play in the personal lives of fans.

A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS

If a sports team or university is important to a couple, it may be worthwhile to add a few hundred dollars to their wedding budget, which last year averaged $33,000 in Pennsylvania and $55,000 in New Jersey.

Relatives or friends can also pay for the appearance as a gift, something often coordinated as a mid-reception surprise. In exchange, the newlyweds and their loved ones can bond over their team loyalty and memorialize their fandom in photos they'll have forever. It can also make a reception stand out to guests and social media followers.

While professional and college players come and go from a team, "the mascot is enduring," said Lawrence Cohen, an associate clinical professor of sport business at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business. "The loyalty is always to the school or the team and the mascot is the emblem."

"The evolution of mascots has been tremendous," he added. "They're not just on the field where they're doing antics for a couple minutes. ... They're their own entity that's helping the university or team enhance their brand."

PACKED SOCIAL CALENDARS

No, this is not just a Philly thing: Weddings nationwide are featuring mascot appearances for a fee of up to $300 an hour. Over the past few years, some college mascots, such as Syracuse University's Otto the Orange, have become an increasingly popular guest at events from weddings and birthdays to graduation parties, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Temple University has also noted a recent increase in requests for its mascot, Hooter The Owl, to appear at off-campus events, especially weddings.

"Photos of Hooter at weddings have made their way onto social media so inquiries have been higher," spokesperson Stephen Orbanek said. "We hear from couples who either met on campus, played a sport at Temple, or have a lot of Temple alumni in attendance."

Hooter attended 42 off-campus events in the 2022-2023 school year, more than the Villanova Wildcat -- who has also seen a slight increase in requests -- and the St. Joe's Hawk. The Hawk and the Wildcat were each a guest at some 25 parties, including weddings, school visits and charity events, according to the universities' spokespeople.

Hooter's party-crashing schedule is about as packed as the social calendar of the Penn State Nittany Lion, who attended about 40 off-campus events last school year.

Universities prioritize mascot attendance at games and other on-campus or university-affiliated events, spokespeople said, so they have to turn down many fan requests due to conflicts.

PAYING THE PRICE

Over time, many universities have made their mascots more available for off-campus, non-university-affiliated events, a move that has benefited them financially, Cohen said.

"It's not a huge profit center," he said, "but it's something you weren't making money on before."

The cost of having a mascot at a private event varies.

The price tag on the the Nittany Lion's time can range from $50 to $3,500 an hour, depending on the type of event, while Villanova fans have to pay $300 an hour, plus about 50 cents per mile of travel, to have mascot Will D. Cat show up at their party, according to the universities' officials. The Hawk's hourly rate is $200, and Hooter will show up to Temple fan's weddings for $300 an hour, $100 more than his rate for other off-campus events.

The fees go toward mascot upkeep, cheerleading competition costs and other athletics expenses; student mascots are not typically compensated, as they already receive stipends or scholarships from the university.

COST EVEN MORE

If you want a pro team's mascot at your wedding, it'll likely cost even more.

Spokespeople for several of Philadelphia's professional teams did not return requests for comment for this article, but online request forms indicate it'd cost $400 an hour to have Swoop fly into your wedding, and $250 an hour for the Union's Phang to slither into your party (yes, he's definitely a snake).

The Phillies, who declined to comment for this article, told the Philly Voice in 2018 that the Phanatic's going rate at the time was $600 for 40 minutes, a dollar figure also reported by ESPN in 2015. The same Philly Voice article reported that then-newcomer Gritty's going rate started at $3,000 an hour and Sixers mascot Franklin would show up for $450 to $650 an hour at the time.

Universities and sports teams charge less for charity and nonprofit events.

CONTINUING TRADITIONS

For Moira and Ian Klinger, there wasn't much discussion about whether to invite one special guest.

"When we decided to get married, we knew we needed to have the Hawk there," said Moira Klinger, 32, of Ardmore, Pa. Her husband had attended a couple dozen weddings when he was the Hawk nearly a decade ago.

The Hawk flew into the Klingers' reception at the Ballroom at the Ben, posing for a group picture with all the St. Joe's alumni and prompting a singing of the university fight song, "Oh When the Hawks Go Flying In!"

While this wedding appearance may not have been a complete surprise to guests, given Ian's Hawk history, "it was definitely a memory that stands out to us," she said. "It's a great tradition."

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