Sixers Finally Introduce New Mascot, Franklin the Dog
It looked like he was going to miss.
Franklin, the new Sixers mascot, had shown off his dance moves, and now he was preparing for his big moment. The Sixers’ Flight Squad, a team of dunkers/cheerleaders for the team, had already dunked on a hoop set up in the Franklin Institute. Now it was Franklin’s turn. He grabbed a ball, sprinted toward the basket and bounced off a trampoline.
And he almost missed. He seemed to hang in the air forever. Fortunately, Franklin was able to stretch and put the ball into the net with a last gasp effort, avoiding a complete embarrassment. He was more successful on a second dunk attempt, though he kind of collided with the rim.
The dog-and-dunking show at the Franklin Institute was the first appearance of the Sixers’ new mascot, a dog named Franklin. The dog was first teased at the January 30th game and had its name and species revealed yesterday by Grantland’s Zach Lowe. Sam Hinkie may be tight-lipped, but the Sixers do have information about anthropomorphic dogs to leak.
To add legitimacy, the Phillie Phanatic made an appearance at this debut, which saw Franklin rappel from the ceiling of the room containing the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial and dance for an audience of schoolchildren on field trips to the museum. Franklin’s first appearance in Philadelphia was accompanied by a dance remix of “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega. Hopefully, this is his theme song.
As many mascots do, Franklin even has a cheeky backstory. His ancestors have lived here since the revolution and traveled with Washington across the Delaware, “dragged Ben Franklin to safety after he was struck by lightning and discovered electricity” and ran up the Art Museum steps with Rocky Balboa. (This is Philadelphia, where it does not matter that Rocky is a fictional boxer.) Franklin’s family was even present for the exploits of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Allen Iverson.
A new Sixers mascot has been in the works since the fall of 2011. When a team of owners led by leveraged buyout specialist Josh Harris bought the team in 2011, fans deluged the Sixers with comments telling the Sixers to ditch rabbit mascot Hip-Hop. The ’roided up, do-rag wearing bunny was called “slightly racist” by some and a “thug” by others. He was essentially Rabbit Iverson — and, by 2011, Iverson wasn’t in the league any more.
Then-Sixers CEO Adam Aron said it plainly at the time: “Hip Hop wasn’t the right image for the team we wanted to create and the product we wanted to offer 76ers fans.” However you feel about it, the early-’00s NBA hip-hop era was on the wane. The Sixers killed Rabbit Iverson not long after.
Aron said the team’s new mascot would be an animal with a colonial theme. “Ben Franklin was a human being and these mascots are usually more animals,” he told the Inquirer. “I don’t think our pure mascot will be Ben Franklin walking around on the court. But if there’s a way to work in the Founding Fathers or the colonial era or even Ben Franklin, that would be a nice feather in the cap.” A few weeks later, the team unveiled a contest to pick the new mascot. Voters could choose B. Franklin Dogg, exactly what Aron said the mascot would be, or two obvious joke candidates: Ben Franklin himself and Phil E. Moose.
People laughed. The vote was quickly forgotten. Everyone online seemed to like the moose the best. B. Franklin Dogg (essentially Poochie from The Simpsons) would never see the light of day.
This time, the Sixers have made their mascot rollout a bit more mistake-proof. A team of designers interviewed more than 1,000 Philadelphia children during an eight-month process. The Sixers went through 40 different mascot possibilities, showing children everything from a variety of Ben Franklins, made-up creatures, patriotic symbols, lightning bolts and “everything in between,” according to Sixers chief marketing and innovation officer Tim McDermott. He says the entire process was directed by the kids’ focus groups, and the kids were not in favor of bringing back Hip-Hop or Big Shot.
“We had to see it through the lens of children,” McDermott said. “The kids told us what they wanted: how big; how small; does it have fur; how long should the fur be; should it be a dunker, a dancer, a basketball player. All the different attributes — that’s what they wanted.” Still, more than three years ago the head of the Sixers said the team would have a Ben Franklin-themed dog mascot. After a long search, we have a blue Ben Franklin-themed dog mascot. The focus on children is a nice way to deflect from the hilarity of it all. Oddly enough, the tale of the creative team is even woven into the origin story. From a Sixers release:
They took a break from their research to play some basketball at the arena…and found tiny blue scratch marks on the court…then bits of blue fur…and then, peeking around the corner of the Sixers’ locker room, the Chief Designers saw eyes looking up at them from a blue furry creature.
They’d found it! The descendant of these great blue creatures had come to live at the Center!
The Chief Designers showed the creature to the team, and everyone loved it. The Sixers decided to adopt it as their new mascot, and gave it a special jersey to wear with its new name: FRANKLIN.
Using children to help design the mascot is also, obviously, a marketing tool.”We know that fans become fans at a very early age,” McDermott said. “Fans become fans between 6 and 10 years of age. We wanted to make sure that we had something for them to really engage with us.”
The kids at the Franklin Institute seemed to connect with Franklin quite a bit at his debut. He’ll make his game debut the next time the team plays at home, February 20th against Indiana; the first 5,000 fans under 12 get a free Franklin jersey with his number (a paw) on the back. The Sixers also announced fans buying one adult ticket to the March 6th game against Utah could get up to five free kids’ tickets (use promo code FRANKLIN76).
Who knows if the Philadelphia crowd will welcome Franklin with excited tails wagging — or by pooping all over him. But maybe it’ll work out. The Sixers are hanging with every team in the NBA, the team’s young players are getting better and, after a long wait, the team finally has a mascot again. Things are looking up — literally.
“He wants to skydive, he wants to rappel,” McDermott said. “He’s a high-adventure mascot. We’ll have to figure out how we can reel him in a little bit.”
Follow @dhm on Twitter.