LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers hatched a new mascot Monday, and the reception to "Chuck the Condor" couldn't have been much worse if they had just trotted out a caricature version of Michael Olowokandi.
A Los Angeles Times headline read, "The Clippers' championship drive just got hijacked by a stupid bird."
The first sentence of a New York Daily News article got right to the point: "Chuck is a schmuck."
"I'm positive if the Phanatic was launched today as the brand new mascot of the Phillies, we would have gotten slaughtered for that." David Raymond, mascot trainer and the original Phillie Phanatic
Even Rolling Stone couldn't resist with its story titled, "Everyone Hates the Clippers' New Mascot, Chuck the Condor."
The public outcry was loud, swift and sealed with the crying Jordan meme stamp of disapproval.
There is only one problem. Chuck wasn't created for anyone lamenting his birth. In fact, a portion of Chuck's target audience can't even read yet.
"I honestly expected the negativity on Twitter," said David Raymond, who originated the popular Phillie Phanatic mascot at Philadelphia Phillies games in 1978 and helped the Clippers select and train the performer who plays Chuck. "Frankly, from the very beginning I told them no matter what they did and no matter how good it was, they were going to get a negative backlash at the beginning. They were prepared for some of that.
"This isn't for the die-hard NBA basketball fan where there's nothing other than what's happening on the court. It's about developing new fans. The Clippers want to develop young NBA fans."
Raymond, who now runs Raymond Entertainment, a character-branding and mascot-training company which has helped create or train more than 100 mascots over the past 20 years, understands the negative reaction from traditionalists who don't see the value of a mascot. That value, however, is clear to him and to the hundreds of teams that employ mascots. In the short term, it's a new revenue stream coming from appearances, merchandise and sponsorships. Chuck, for example, already has a shoe deal with Converse and wears Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers. In the long term, it's a way to attract and cultivate a young fan base that may be more interested in cartoons and toys at the moment.
"People see a mascot, and they think, 'You don't want to win, you're fooling around and you're not serious,' but it's quite the contrary," Raymond said. "It's serious business to develop new NBA fans and new fans of your brand. You're not just driving your brand by appeasing the people who are only concerned with the play on the court. The business of sports is bigger than that. It's about entertainment. I have four children, and all four of them became fans of the Phillies because of the Phanatic."
After the Clippers came back from 22 points down Wednesday night to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-98, there was a line of young fans waiting to take their picture with Chuck or get his autograph. Those are the fans -- from the toddlers in their parents' arms petting Chuck's beak to the teenagers trying to snap a selfie with him -- for whom the mascot was created.
Chuck the Condor was developed by Jason Klein and Casey White at Brandiose, a branding firm focused on designing official logos, uniforms and mascots for teams ranging from MLB's Cincinnati Reds to the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. Klein and White were approached in July with the idea, and over the next few months the character was born. Raymond was then brought in to conduct a national search for the performer who would play the mascot, paring down a list of 50 candidates to four before the team chose one prior to the NBA All-Star break. Klein and White, who are based in San Diego, were on Twitter when Chuck was introduced Monday.
"People ask us, 'Isn't it the worst when people hate something you've come up with?' and we say, 'No, the worst thing is when they're apathetic about it,'" said Klein, who served as "Big Al," Alabama's mascot, from 2000 to 2001 while he was in school. "That's the worst. Name the last mascot that was unveiled and broke the Internet. ... We create mascots that can't be ignored.
"There are over 100 mascots in professional sports, and most of them are forgettable. Nobody's talking about them and nobody cares about them, so from the very beginning we said we wanted to develop a mascot people wanted to talk about."
That certainly hasn't been a problem for the Clippers' mascot since it came down from the rafters Monday during halftime of the Clippers-Brooklyn Nets game. Chuck's debut was one of the top trending topics on Twitter, along with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who dunked off a trampoline. But why do the Clippers have a Condor for a mascot? It's the same question you could ask for most of the mascots in sports, ranging from the Phoenix Suns Gorilla to the San Antonio Spurs Coyote.
"I'm positive if the Phanatic was launched today as the brand new mascot of the Phillies, we would have gotten slaughtered for that," Raymond said. "Your mascot is not your brand ambassador. A mascot is a flawed character that is drawn to your brand for the same reason your fans are. They're proud and loyal. A mascot could be a wet paper bag and it could be one of the best mascots in the world if there was a story behind that paper bag and why it loved the team."
That kind of story that might not mean much to older fans, but it's one the Clippers and other teams believe will resonate with their next generation of fans.
"This is just the beginning," Klein said. "There is a lot planned for Chuck this season and in the coming years."