To Gritty, on his First Birthday
You awakened something in the city, and united us more than we knew was possible. It ALL of us, Gritty.
It’s hard to believe it has only been a year since that fateful day at the Please Touch Museum when you revealed yourself and changed Philadelphia sports (and all of us) forever. It feels like you have always been a part of us, and in a way you have. You are the dumpster fire that burns in our souls, and you are the best of us. And you are the worst of us.
Like the museum hall full of innocent toddlers at your debut, I admit I wasn’t quite sure what to think of you at first. But when my big, brown eyes met your deranged, googly eyes, I knew we had something special.
And then you took my daughter’s Gritty doll right out of her hands and stuffed it under your jersey. And sure, you gave it back…but you never gave back my heart.
We’ve been through so much together this year. I feel like I can say “we” because you and me are so much alike. From our obsession with Photo Pop to loving love to a Lizzo-fueled Hot Girl Summer—we even met up down the shore!—our relationship (yeah, I said it) is #goals (pun intended).
With just two words—“it me”—you awakened something in the city, and united us more than we knew was possible. It all of us, Gritty.
It all of us.
Happy National Gritty Day, you magnificent Broad Street Bully.
Let’s take a look back at Gritty’s meteoric rise in a little study I have titled “Profiles in Orange.” If you attended my talk at our Community Builders’ Luncheon last year, you already know that Gritty is not just a captivating misfit; he is a genius of audience engagement, and class was in session before we even realized what was happening.
In a city that bleeds green, the Flyers face an uphill battle to win hearts and minds. Hockey, in general, has the smallest revenue base of the four major sports nationally—and Philadelphia follows this trend, with the Flyers having a franchise value of $740 million versus the Eagles’ $2.75 billion, Phillies’ $1.7 billion, and 76ers’ $1.18 billion by comparison.
But on one day in late September, the whole city was suddenly talking about the Flyers, and within days the whole country was. It happened in the offseason, and it was certainly not due to any athletic achievement. This was bigger than sports. This was Gritty.
The Flyers’ marketing department clearly did their homework in understanding the robust and engaged Philly sports Twitter community, and they came ready to play.
Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird. pic.twitter.com/wLmGBa0Oyh
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 24, 2018
His first photos, with their ominous lighting and imposing angles, invited a mix of horror and amusement that set him up for virality. His backstory of having lived under the stadium for years only added to this. Gritty of course had his own Twitter account and was feeding into the mystique right away. He was ready with clever responses, and even retweeted jabs at himself.
When rival Pittsburgh Penguins mocked the new mascot on social media, Gritty replied, “Sleep with one eye open tonight.” Philly Twitter—with all of the passion, humor, and thoughtfulness that characterizes our fandom—began to embrace Gritty, one retweet at a time.
In the span of a week he was doing pratfalls at a preseason Flyers game, dancing with the Phillie Phanatic on the dugout, appearing on local and national media (including a trip to New York to visit everyone from Jimmy Fallon to John Oliver), and even returning to the Please Touch Museum to welcome the museum’s own new mascot. Bafflingly, the kids were not afraid, and embraced him as a furry, silly friend.
Most importantly, people who hadn’t given much thought to the Flyers in years were suddenly talking about them. His notoriety did not just energize Flyers fans, but Philadelphia at large. He was simultaneously a joke on Saturday Night Live, and a symbol of the resistance in political protest signs.
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One year later we have seen it all: Gritty tattoos, Gritty cupcakes, every kind of clothing and accessory imaginable, art, even craft beer called “Nightmare Fuel”. And we all know about these products because they also get passed along on social media. Just by being associated with Gritty, and joining the conversation, others get noticed, and the cycle continues. This is a masterclass in going viral.
Gritty debuted on September 24, 2018. According to Google Trends, searches for “Flyers” more than doubled as a result—up by 132 percent from the week of September 23—29 versus the week of September 16—22. This cannot be explained by heightened interest in hockey as the season neared—search for “NHL” remained constant week-over-week, and other teams in the league had similarly small changes in search interest; while the Flyers more than doubled searches in their name.
The difference? The Flyers succeeded spectacularly in activating a mascot and revitalizing the team’s profile, all before the season even began.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.