While athletes are largely inaccessible for the common fan outside of games during the season, there is one part of a team that is often front and center – the mascot.
Blue, the Indianapolis Colts mascot, typically makes 450 to 500 appearances a year, including upwards of 170 at local schools, according to Trey Mock, who plays the character.
In March 2020 alone, Blue had 40 booked appearances. But, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the industry, the Colts were forced to not only postpone those events, but cancel all of Blue’s appearances in 2020.
However, the Colts and Blue have pivoted their approach so that Blue is still engaging fans at home, something numerous other mascots across sports are doing.
“In my opinion, a mascot’s job is to be that extension of the organization into the community,” Mock said. “That’s how we’ve approached our mascot program with the Indianapolis Colts. Because everybody needs to stay at home and have social distancing, we still need to find a way to pivot and to continue to have that type of connection with our fan base.”
While Mock cannot physically be there for his community, he is using technology to stay connected with Colts fans. He and his wife, Indiana school teacher Alison Mock, have taken it upon themselves to launch “The House of Blue,” a video series featuring themselves, their two kids, and other celebrities and mascots both locally and nationally.
To make “The House of Blue” happen, the Mocks planned ahead by purchasing items like backdrops, cameras, lights, and tripods from Amazon. They then repainted their walls and converted their garage into an at-home studio.
Premiering on March 30, Mock used his mascot connections to land a special guest on the series opener: Coyote, the San Antonio Spurs’ mascot.
When Mock reached out to Coyote about appearing on the show, the Spurs mascot had been working on “Do The Five,” a song detailing five ways for listeners to avoid contracting the coronavirus. To promote “Do The Five” and its subsequent video, Coyote came onto “The House of Blue,” continuing the growing relationship between mascots of different sports clubs.
“All teams right now are looking for creative ways not just to engage fans, but to help support health organizations in spreading the right message,” Becky Kimbro, the Spurs’ vice president of strategic brand engagement, said. “It’s pretty common for us and for all teams to have their mascots crossover. Our teams compete on the court, but when it comes to engaging fans, I think it’s one of the ways that we can cross over.”
The Mocks have already released seven new episodes of “The House of Blue,” with each episode bringing both a fun and educational approach to the content. Segments on the show include “Did You Know?”, a teaching moment; “Kids’ Table,” featuring Blue’s children, Gunnar and Tegan; “Cooking with Carol,” which stars Colts mascot program coordinator Caroline Cooke; and “Mascot Minute,” which features another mascot.
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Through seven episodes, the show has generated more than 129,500 views across Blue’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Mock plans to produce three episodes a week every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Already building the foundation to “House of Blues,” Mock began noticing the show’s impact when Colts owner and chief executive officer Jim Irsay began promoting it across his social media channels.
“The fact that our owner is taking time to say, ‘hey, this is great stuff,’ more people need to see this,” Mock said. “I’ve always said this with our school shows – if we can just impact one kid, then all 1000 shows were worth it to find that kid. And the same thing rings true with this show. If we can help one person get through what everybody’s going through right now, it’s worth producing all the shows just to find that person.”
TORO, the Houston Texans’ mascot, is also trying to keep local students motivated at home. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit Houston, Andrew Johnson, the Texans’ mascot program manager, was scrolling through social media looking for ways to engage with the community.
His first idea came on Instagram from a sixth-grade school teacher in Dickinson, Tx., a small city in the Houston region. The area had been decimated in recent years by Hurricane Harvey, floods, and now, the coronavirus pandemic.
As the teacher began teaching her students from home, she reached out to Johnson to see if he would be interested in surprising them during their weekly Zoom meetings.
“I thought that is brilliant – that’s something that I can do from the comfort of my home – and hopefully create a positive memory for these kids through this really challenging situation,” Johnson said.
Not wanting it to be a one-time opportunity, Johnson encouraged local school teachers to email him and have him appear during a class’s Zoom call. Since tweeting about it on March 30, more than 350 teachers have reached out to him about the opportunity.
One of the best classroom experiences that Johnson has had thus far? Helping students balance a budget.
“We want to do this for as many teachers as possible,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t even have to be in the city of Houston. Obviously, we want to touch as many teachers here, but anybody throughout the state where it’s not like we have to hop in the car and drive eight hours to go visit a school. I can hop on this call – sometimes they’re five minutes, 35 minutes, but I can communicate with these guys, and it’s really quick and easy and hopefully makes a big impact in their lives.”
While mascots like Blue, Coyote, and TORO have been able to cultivate their own individual followings on social media, the Minnesota Timberwolves have instead chosen to lean heavily on TikTok using their mascot, Crunch.
Even during this sports-less period, Crunch has maintained the Timberwolves’ TikTok reputation of being more outgoing and light-hearted, Parker Handley, the team’s social media associate, said.
“We like to do what people are looking to see, and that’s a lot of where our content is driven,” he added.
One video that has highlighted the Timberwolves’ recent TikTok success came from a relatively simple concept. In selfie mode, Crunch is making a thinking face with the caption, “Every NBA team has a mascot except…” Entering 2020, only four teams did not have a mascot: the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Knicks.
Shahbaz Khan, the Timberwolves’ director of digital content, credits the video for accomplishing two goals. It first made the viewer pause and wonder which teams did not employ a mascot. It then led them to comment on which teams they think appeared in the video and what their thoughts were.
“Whenever we’re producing videos, we want to ensure that we’re keeping the platform in mind,” Khan said. “We also want to keep in mind the desire to have people pause at a certain point to download and comment. That really helps drive engagement, and I think it bumps up viewership because people are replaying and replaying and looping to be able to see that exact moment.”
Handley and Khan are still seeing growth from that specific post. Within 24 hours of its debut on March 24, the Timberwolves surpassed 100,000 TikTok followers – increasing by roughly 8,000 from a video that took less than 30 seconds to create. It also largely fueled Minnesota’s TikTok ascension – even with basketball on pause, the team’s TikTok account added 40,000 followers between March 16 and April 13.
“People know that we have a wide array of entertainment when they come to our TikTok, and it’s still thoroughly enjoyable,” Handley said. “It’s relatable for not only sports or Timberwolves fans, but people in general.”