February 5, 2023

The current stage of the Phillie Phanatic lawsuit

Photo via mlb.com

The Philadelphia Phillies were in some financial troubles when they opened up Veterans Stadium in 1971. They were having some trouble getting “butts in seats”, as former president Bill Giles would say, because the Phillies were absolutely horrible. The Phillies mascots at the time were pilgrims. Their names were Phil and Phillis. Mike Schmidt said they were the “mascots at that time, I guess” in a Sports Illustrated documentary on the Phillie Phanantic.

Giles was trying everything he could to get butts in seats. He had kite man, cow chip throwing contests, Benny Koske the Human Bomb, etc. Nothing was working.

“He did it right, and he got Jim Henson on the phone,” said the original Phillie Phanatic Dave Raymond.

“I said get hold of the people that made Big Bird on Sesame Street, and let me talk to them,” Giles said when he was on the phone with Henson, “and let me talk to them.”

Giles said he talked Bonnie Erickson and her husband Wayde Harrison, who created Big Bird, Miss Piggy, and others. Giles in the Sports Illustrated documentary on the Phillie Phanantic said he said this to Bonnie and Wayde, “I want something big and fat, green and fuzzy, undefinable.”

“I didn’t think the mascot was gonna work,” said Giles. “I liked the art work [Harrison and Erickson] had done. I asked them how much it would cost, the costume. They said $3,900 and [Harrison and Erickson] keep the copyright. Or they said $5,200 and [the Phillies] have the copyright. That’s when I said I don’t think this’ll be any good, so I’ll save the money.” This would become a huge mistake in the future, but we’ll talk about that later.

Harrison and Erickson were in full control of the costume, because they had the copyright. They could do anything they wanted to it.

The Phanatic was formally introduced to the public on the locally produced children’s show “Captain Noah and His Magical Ark” by then-Phillies player Tim McCarver, who was doing promotional work for the team.

Then on April 25, 1978, the Phanatic walked out onto the field of the Vet. He didn’t have a very big introduction. And the initial reaction’s were what everyone thought, confused.

It would then overtime become successful.

“[Phanatic] is making the fans continuously laughing in-between innings, and intermingles with the fans throughout the game,” said former Phils shortstop and manager Larry Bowa.

The Phillies paid $215,000 to Harrison/Erickson in 1984 for the rights to use the Phillie Phanatic as the team’s mascot “forever.” The firm claims it can renegotiate those terms, as the Phanatic is worth much more now. A section of the Copyright Act allows creators of copyrighted works to renegotiate or terminate a licensing agreement 35 years after the initial agreement date, via bizjournals.com. This contract would be up on June 15, 2020.

Now we fast forward to August of 2019, where the federal law stipulates copyright of the deal made in 1984 can be renegotiated after a 35-year period, and in 2018, the Phillies received notice of termination from Harrison and Erickson. Harrison and Erickson have the right to terminate the contract if an agreement with the Phillies isn’t reached by June 15 and have threatened to make Phanatic a “free agent” because they have the copyright.

If Giles payed that extra money back in 1978 to own the copyright, this whole situation would’ve never happened.

In June of 2019, the Phillies responded by filing a lawsuit of their own, arguing the mascot owns its fame to the franchise as much as it does to its creators, and insisting the deal signed in 1984 transferred the rights to Phanatic “forever”.

The Phillies did not want to pay money for the Phanatic.

So, on Feb 23, 2020, the first game of Spring Training, the Phillies revealed a brand new Phillie Phanatic.

Photo via inquirer.com

Here are the changes:

  1. Lighter Green
  2. Hands free from fur
  3. Blue around eyes, lighter and more of it
  4. Stars outline eyes
  5. Blue socks
  6. Red shoes
  7. Laces drawn on shoes
  8. Scale-like trim under the arms
  9. Solid blue tail not green & blue
  10. Hat is fake
  11. Lost a couple lbs
  12. Snout shorter and rounder

While the look may have subtly changed, the character remains as crazy as ever.

“He’s still the same old Phanatic, just with a little more sashay in him,” Tom Burgoyne, the man behind the mascot, said in an with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The species that survives is the one that adapts to change, and, [Charles] Darwin was right, who knew?”

Harrison and Erickson were not satisfied with the changes.

“The Phillies and Harrison and Erickson show they do not care about the Phanatic anymore,” said Jaxson Webster from Fansided’s Broad Street Buzz, “If they did, the original creation would be back. No one wants the scale armed star face guy. We want the conical shaped nose back. Every change to the Phanatic made prior was for the guy inside the costume, you know, to make it easier for them. Now it’s an affront to all Phillies fans and the Phanatic.”

The Phillies would say if they lost the lawsuit, they want all their money back. If you remember, the Phillies the paid $215,000 to Harrison/Erickson in 1984 for the rights to use the Phillie Phanatic as the team’s mascot “forever. The Phillies’ legal representation now says the team will seek a percentage of the money paid to Harrison and Erickson over the last several decades because the team did not get what the agreement that was first made: “forever” rights.

Harrison and Erickson claims the Phillies only redesigned the Phanatic costume to undercut the firm’s notice to terminate the licensing agreement. The Phillies’ lawyers countered by saying Harrison/Erickson would only have the right to terminate the agreement for the original costume, not the version the team unveiled in February 2020. So, it was a mess.

If the Phillies win the lawsuit, the Business Journal reports, they will be able to use either the original Phanatic design or the new design. If they lose the lawsuit, the court will have to determine if the new design is derivative of the original design.

The lawsuit has continued to go on, but updates have been rare. No one really know what’s happening, as the last update we got was in October. This is all likely because of COVID. It seems they’ve pushed everything back due to the pandemic.

It’s almost been a year of the new Phanatic, and as Jaxson said, it’s time to fix that.

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