Reporting from a public school playground in Sydney’s inner-west suburbs, The Public Apology senior editor Sam Perry looks at the rise of conceptual sports mascots and the impact that this marketing strategy is having on today’s generation.
Youth marketing gurus are leaving no stone unturned in the quest for the sporting dollar, with industry focus now turning sharply to mascot fights at primary school playgrounds.
Playground mascot arguments are heated conversations that have taken place on cemented playgrounds across Australian primary schools since the early 20th century. They typically involve kids aged 6-8 years old fighting over the relative merits of the emblem that represents a team.
While sporting organisations have traditionally chosen wild, violent animals as representative symbols, some have bucked the trend: NSW Rugby League’s Annandale ‘Dales’ (1910-1920) providing a case in point.
We have now undoubtedly entered a post-modern, meta era of mascots. Whereas two decades ago kids debated a fight between a Tiger and a Bear, kids in the 21st century now grapple with a ‘Heart’ versus a ‘Roar’ or a ‘Power’ versus a ‘Sun’.
Whilst parents and teachers remain aghast at the complexity of playground arguments over mascots, marketing experts have remained resolute. According to them, the facts are indisputable: research shows us that in the 21st (Asian) century, mascots should be based on body parts, extreme weather events or general concepts.
The criticality of capturing the youth market is well understood, and winning the playground mascot discussion is a huge part of that,” said Art Lindegaard from the new Gold Coast Suns franchise.
“Our thinking was: how can a Bear beat a Sun?” he said. “You come anywhere near a sun…you get burnt. Come even closer and you’re dead.
“When it comes to playground arguments, it’s going to be very difficult for kids to argue that a Geelong ‘Cat’ could beat a Gold Coast ‘Sun’. Ergo, we are seeing more kids get behind the suns – regardless of where they’re from.”
In a surprising development however, Principal Gerald Wilson praised the evolution of mascots. Known for his contrarian tilt, Wilson suggested that the broader mascot subject matter helped develop children’s deductive reasoning, thus preparing them for the Asian Century.
Wilson cited a recent A League encounter between the Perth and Melbourne.
“You had seven-year-old kids here violently objecting to the notion that a ‘Victory’ would beat a ‘Glory’,” he said. “We had kids proffering that while they couldn’t guarantee a win due to the mascot match up, that following the ‘glory’ would guarantee them a long-term, viable business model in a competitive market.
Lindegaard and his industry peers have been observing these developments for years, and Wilson’s comments confirm his data.
“Ultimately, each mascot carries a promise,” he said. “It’s not good enough any more for your team to carry the spirit of a wild, predatory species. It needs to be sustainable.”
Indeed, the race for the most undefeatable mascot continues in earnest, with their evolution leaning towards the somewhat abstract and intangible.
“Long may it continue,” Wilson said.”This is about education, and sport has a great role to play.
“Maybe one day we’ll see six-year-olds discussing whether they’d support Sydney ‘Science’ over Ipswich ‘Religion’. Now that would be a match!”
By Sam Perry