When doll suits and mascots become a business, will you consume it?

After her wedding in Aloha, Oregon, bride Brianna Dial was posing for photos with her family when she spotted a guest she hadn’t noticed before and hadn’t even invited. She gasped in surprise, then ran straight into the arms of the guest – Oregon State University’s mascot, “Benny Beaver. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was more excited to meet Benny than I was to meet my husband for the first time,” Dial said.
In most people’s minds, mascots dress up in fancy costumes and dance around college stadiums, stirring up the crowd and energizing the atmosphere. But some sports fans love mascots so much that they invite them to participate in personal life events, paying them $300 an hour. Dial, 30, later learned that her mother-in-law had asked Benny to surprise the newlyweds by attending the reception, and both Dial and her husband attended Oregon State University. According to a 2021 report by market research firm Learfield, college sports fans are the largest group of sports fans in the U.S., and they are more fanatical than fans of any professional sport.

Mascots have become celebrities in their own right, with their own fan clubs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, attracting thousands of supporters.
The Mascot Hall of Fame, based in Whiting, Indiana, honors mascots in professional sports leagues and college sports. Previous mascot nominees include Goldy Gopher of the University of Minnesota and Buzz the Yellow Jacket of Georgia Tech, who is known for his bright yellow and black wasp shape and flips on the field. Joby Giacalone, chairman of the Mascot Hall of Fame Executive Selection Committee, said donning a mascot costume is no easy task. He noted that the selection process is highly competitive, with students at some universities vying for mascot positions for the accompanying scholarships.
After the Mascot Hall of Fame releases the list of nominees, the public votes within two weeks, Giacalone said, noting that a total of 95,000 votes were collected this year. He said the winning mascot celebrates the induction at the Hall of Fame, where they dance for pictures and show off their big, ornate rings.
Syracuse University’s mascot, Otto the Orange, became one of two inductees into the 2023 Mascot Hall of Fame, wearing a blue hat and a giant orange costume in cheerful colors. Julie Walas, Syracuse University mascot program coach, said Otto the Orange participated in a total of 800 on- and off-campus events during the 2022-23 academic year, 100 more than in 2019. “The Otto universe has gotten so big,” she said, and he’s often seen at people’s birthday parties and graduation parties.

Ethan Hartz recently graduated from the University of Miami, where he spent four years as the mascot for Sebastian the Ibis, known as “America’s favorite bird. On game days, he would dress up as Sebastian and physically spell out the letters C-A-N-E-S, short for the Miami Hurricanes, to the cheers of the crowd. His senior year, he said, the demand for mascot Sebastian was so great that he was booked for wedding events after almost every home football game.
On those days, Hartz spent maybe 12 hours a day in white feathers, a bright orange beak and giant sneakers. Once in that bird costume, he has to maintain a relentlessly positive image and can’t afford to slip up. He says, “I’m always walking around waving my big arms and taking brisk steps.” He also added that he often participates in one- to two-hour events in one sitting.Hartz also said that sometimes he takes out a water bottle and performs drinking from a beak, which energizes him as well as entertains the audience.
Oscar Dunkle is a senior at Bowling Green State University and was the school’s mascot. Last summer, he attended a local block party as mascot Frieda Falcon. The event featured a zip line, and to keep the party lively, Dunkle wore his mascot costume, strapped on his seatbelt, and then braved the zip line.Dunkle said, “It was kind of a leap of faith to slide on the zip line.” Some of the students who play mascots get paid for participating in off-campus activities, while others who are categorized as athletes or volunteers do not. Revenue from off-campus events can be used to maintain mascot costumes or send students to the All-American Spirits Competition. Universities typically require students playing mascots to remain anonymous, not speak while in their mascot costumes and not remove their costumes in public.
Bowling Green State University junior Sawyer Holbrook, who plays Frieda Falcon, said mascots attending off-campus events are more likely to reveal their identities, so extra precautions must be taken to remain anonymous. When attending events, she tries to take a break inside when the restrooms are empty, lock the door, remove the mascot’s head and take a drink of water. However, during one event, Holbrook and a classmate were taking a break when a guest burst in.Holbrook immediately rushed into the bathroom cubicle and hid there until the guest left. “We hid in the cubicle, showing only our Converse big feet and bird heads. We had to be able to improvise.” Holbrook said.
Brendan Healy, a senior at Texas Christian University, plays the role of SuperFrog, the mascot who has been known to leave the field during the seventh inning of a Texas Christian University baseball game and rush to the dance floor of an alumni wedding, never stopping to take off his frog costume in the process. “I only had a couple days like that as SuperFrog, but it was a day I’ll never forget.” Healy said.
Grace Payne and Paul DeHondt are alumni of Texas Christian University and Healy attended their wedding. They said SuperFrog’s presence surprised their guests, including many alumni. When news broke during the wedding that her alma mater had won the baseball game, Payne was ecstatic and celebrated the victory with her family and the SuperFrog. according to Payne, “It was definitely the highlight of the wedding and everyone was celebrating like crazy.” She said the guests were thrilled to meet SuperFrog, adding that the only exception might have been alumni from the two competing schools, the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.

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