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The fans have spoken.
This morning, the 76ers announced they have retained Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Raymond Entertainment Group to develop the team's next mascot. Yup, that means the team's old mascot, Hip Hop, is out. The decision was taken out of the hands of the Sixers' new ownership because Hip Hop told them he has "fallen in love, married, and will relocate to a rural part of Pennsylvania to start a family." That's the official announcement; I kid you not. This allows Hip Hop to remain alive in the hearts and minds of Philadelphia's young Sixers fans!
I had a chance to talk to new Sixers' CEO Adam Aron about the decision to develop a new mascot. Here's what he had to say.
"It was an easy decision," Aron said. "Before we bought the team – in one of my first meetings in August with (managing owner) Josh Harris – we were comparing notes about our reactions to everything Philadelphia 76ers. Both of us, independently, came to the same conclusion: Hip Hop wasn’t the right image for the team we wanted to create and the product we wanted to offer 76ers fans."
Aron then explained that there was "no fan support for the Hip Hop mascot," and that the "interest in this issue was considerable." Aron appeared on WIP radio and the first question was basically when can Hip Hop go away? (Although asked in a more colorful manner, I'm told.) Then the Inquirer held an on-line poll asking fans if they wanted Hip Hop to remain as the team's mascot. Only 1 in 7 Philadelphia sports fans supported Hip Hop. Aron noticed. A few days later he Tweeted on his Twitter account (@SixersCEOAdam), asking fans why they didn't like the mascot. He said he received about 40 to 50 responses within an hour.
"I think the larger news of all is who we hired to (develop) a new mascot for the 76ers," Aron said. "They know a lot about creating popular mascots ... and that notion, of associating the Sixers with the best talent around, is something you’ll see repeatedly in the announcements we’re about to make over the next several weeks."
Added Aron: "We’re going to get the best talent around: the most creative, the most professional."
Jim Henson's Creature Shop created characters like "Elmo" and "Big Bird" and has won nine Emmy awards and two Oscars. Dave Raymond was the Phillie Phanatic for more than 15 years.
Aron said the new ownership is "well advanced" in its discussions with both Henson & Raymond and has "seen a number of drawings already of possible successors" to Hip Hop.
So what will the Sixers' next mascot look like?
"We’re definitely going to go with an animal of some kind," Aron said. "The business of creating mascots is a serious business. When you talk to firms like Henson or Raymond, they’ve done this hundreds and hundreds of times and there’s a lot of thought that goes into what kind of character will appeal to fans and especially families with younger children because that’s who the macot is for. There are two types: fantasy creature and an animal of some sort."
Aron continued: "There are pros and cons to each, but at the current time I think we’re in the animal camp. There are so many obvious mascots for teams … the mascot for the 76ers is not as obvious to detail other than it would be nice if there could be some colonial theming in some shape or fashion. Given the great historic heritage of Philadelphia."
Aron said that while there is "a lot of love for Ben Franklin in this city," the next mascot will not be Ben Franklin, per se.
"Ben Franklin is a human being and these mascots are usually more animals. I don’t think our pure mascot will be Ben Franklin walking around on the court. But if there’s a way to work in the founding fathers or the colonial era or even Ben Franklin, that would bea nice feather in the cap. But it is most likely going to be an animal of some kind."
Concluded Aron: "I think we’re going to put on our creative hats and see if we can come up with something better than Big Shot …"
(Big Shot was the team's previous mascot.)
If you're one of those Sixers fans who's more worried about the ongoing NBA lockout than the team's next mascot, you can find last night's lockout update here: Neither side will pick up the phone.
Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at email@example.com.