"I don't like it. But I don't hate it. Thing is, I just don't get it."
That was my response in the brief time I was allotted to answer a question about my thoughts on the D-backs new Luchador mascot. (See, it was posed by our attention-span-challenged KTAR-FM morning news folks, so I've learned to reply in monosyllabic fashion. Stick and move.)
Basically, I'm confused. What does a bare-chested wrestler dude, replete with cape and mask, have to do with the game of baseball exactly? Unless, that is, I somehow missed a note in the press release that he's serving as the muscle for the yellow jacket security types? ("Sir - you've had one too many beers and we're going to have to ask you to leave. No? Luuuchador!! Section 103. Somebody needs a little help finding the exit!")
I mean, just last month, we had a hockey game break out during a D-backs game at Dodger Stadium. Now, during home stands, are we going to see another Battle Royal break out? All of a sudden, the D-backs new mascot will be coming off the top corner of the dugout with a flying elbow? (Down goes Puig! Down goes Puig!)
All told, it'd probably be better if MLB teams concentrated their efforts on the fact that, at last check, baseball isn't a "contact sport" unless we're talking about hitting the baseball. (Preferably, with runners in scoring position, which has been sorely lacking as of late.)
But we get it. Sports equal entertainment. Hence, if it's entertaining, then it can be considered a valuable part of the sports experience. For instance, what does a Gorilla have to do with the Suns? Zero. But the Phoenix Suns Gorilla was one of the original inductees into the Mascot Hall of Fame, along with the San Diego Chicken and Phillie Phantatic (who also have nothing to do with their respective teams).
As a sports marketing expert tells the Sports Business Journal in a story released this week: "What's most important is not what it looks like. Branding is important: the colors and everything. But what it looks like is less important than who it is and why it's there."
Gotcha. So, as the SBJ cites, it's not a surprise that "all but 20 of the 122 teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball have at least one mascot character."
Indeed, we're aware of the old saying -- if it's too loud, you're too old. And, if nothing else, the mascot experience is intended for kids.
I mean, from the Racing Sausages (Brewers) we eventually got the D-backs Racing Legends. There is a plan behind the production. Not as much a game plan, but a business plan.
"When we started doing this, it was just a circus act to keep people occupied between innings," a longtime mascot costume company owner told SBJ. "Now, most teams have turned it into a profit center."
And, alas, the D-backs could certainly use a catalyst at Chase Field this season. Not just on the diamond, but in the stands. A quick check of the box scores reveals that ever since the memorable July 5 game that drew 45,000+ fans as the D-backs proudly paid tribute to the fallen firefighters in the Yarnell wildfire, attendance has waned.
The next two games (Sat & Sun) drew just over 22,000 fans apiece. The next three home games had attendance figures between 22,000 and 24,000+ fans. Then, the next two games (Thurs & Fri) had crowds below 20,000 for each game (17,531 & 19,681). Before the All-Star break, the official attendance for the Saturday game was listed at 33,566 with the Sunday game listed at 25,057.
In other words, in a highly competitive and saturated sports market, teams must always devise that next strategy to connect with the locals.
With that in mind, may we suggest that the D-backs think of the Luchador in terms of the ultimate closer. I mean, over the years, many of the best 9th inning relief men have also been some of the intimidating and flamboyant personalities on the planet, right?
Now, just imagine the bullpen door slowly opening and the Luchador bursting out with his cape blowing horizontal in the breeze as he sprints menacingly to the mound with a purpose. Three outs later, the Luchador has saved the game and the day.
Pitching and pitch men. You can never have enough of either.