Creative Grit: The Origin of the Philadelphia Flyers Mascot

When Brian Allen kicked his creative mind into gear for the Flyers’ mascot, ideas were hard to come by.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot, Gritty, captured our attention – and that of millions of other sports fans. Curious about Gritty’s creative journey, we got in touch with the mascot’s designer, Brian Allen, and interviewed him about his process, client collaboration and subsequent launch of the now beloved symbol.

Here’s His Story

When the Philadelphia Flyers commissioned Brian Allen to create their new mascot, they didn’t give him specific instructions. They just told him to come up with a mascot. In other words, make it lovable, but still sporting that famous Philly ‘grit’.

That’s not much to go on, but it didn’t faze the unflappable Allen, who runs his own graphic design firm, Flyland Designs. He’s totally at ease with the odd, unusual and absurd. His signature style is inspired by eccentric skateboard art of the ’80s and ’90s, and old-school ‘gross-out’ characters such as Madballs and Garbage Pail Kids.

Given Allen’s artistic tastes, it’s no surprise that contrarian, odd and absurd are spot-on descriptors for our hometown Flyers’ popular Gritty. Allen’s versatile portfolio shows that he dabbles in everything from the dark, gruesome and undead to lush cartoon beaches, exaggerated caricatures of celebrities and whimsical characters. Whatever the subject matter, it’s obvious that he pours himself into his art.

When Allen kicked his creative mind into gear to brainstorm ideas for the mascot, however, he came up empty. “Everything had been done already,” he said. “The Flyers were the second to last team [in the National Hockey League] to have a mascot − there wasn’t a lot left to choose from.”

After narrowing down a long list of creatures that might work, he examined pictures of every NHL mascot – paying close attention to how the costumes were constructed, how the characters emoted and the physical limitations of the costumes – and turned to the works of creative minds such as Jim Henson and movies like the 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” for inspiration.

He sketched more than 20 possible mascots including bats, bulls, groundhogs, dragons, tough guys, yetis and even a flying squirrel. “I absorb myself in the line artwork and the whole process of drawing,” Allen says.

The deadline for submitting sketches to the Flyers marketing team was demanding – perhaps for the better. “The bigger and more important something is, the less time people seem to give me,” Allen said with a laugh, “But that’s not a bad thing. Usually, the more time you put into things, they can get ‘committeed’ to death.”

Brian Allen, Creator of Beautiful Monsters

Through all the trial and error, a common theme stuck with him – Gritty is happy with who he is. Allen continued to search his fertile mind for the right image, and after countless prototypes, iterations and revisions, he presented his concepts to the Flyers’ marketers. “Once the client saw the sketches, they picked the big dumpy monster I had drawn as the starting point, originally known as Benny,” he said.

With some refinement, Benny became Gritty, who is now a national favorite despite his flaws. Yes, he’s overbearing and overweight, and his googly eyes make him look a little crazy. He needs a spa day big time to smooth out his gnarly orange fur and trim his unruly beard. But he’s an original and, like many human Flyers fans, he lives and dies with the team.

Social media is key to Gritty’s widespread popularity. “Gritty is the first sports mascot to be released when social media is what it is right now,” says Allen.

As the most recognizable hockey mascot around, it makes us wonder: where will Gritty be in five years’ time? Allen can’t answer that question, but he gives a hint at the crazy orange mascot’s potential: “Gritty goes beyond hockey. Being a sports mascot is his day job.”

Thanks to Allen, and all the other no-holds-barred creative minds in our world, we get to enjoy experiences that add humor, joy, color, absurdity and magnificence to every day.

A Team of Creative Minds

Since GillespieHall’s inception, we’ve always regarded creativity as oxygen. It’s the lifeblood of our agency – no idea is ever too small or too ludicrous, no concept too bizarre, no visual too outrageous. Together as a team, we curate and finesse our raw intellectual creativity into a weapon of positive exposure for our clients.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve conceptualized and designed work that is striking, inventive and wildly unique – like carnival games for children, athletic ads for teens and corporate logos. Through this creative process we have developed a deep understanding and respect for those who breathe life into what started out as line artwork on a napkin.

Authors: Bridget Paverd is the founding partner and Austin Griffith is the lead digital strategist at the PR and Marketing firm GillespieHall.

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