If you heard about his impending design update, you might have assumed Philadelphia Phillies mascot/undersea king the Phillie Phanatic would look completely new, a fresh look for a sports world full of electrifying neon monsters like Gritty. Instead, when the 42-year-old mascot revealed his new “evolution” this weekend, fans were relieved and/or confused to see the Phanatic looking pretty much the same. Sure, there are a number of important differences: star-shaped eyelashes, paler hair, a noticeably slimmer profile and a sort of dragon-style ridge of scales on each arm, to name a few. But why did Philadelphia send their beloved Phanatic on a trip to some kind of cryptic med spa for a few tweaks to begin with? The answer, as it turns out, has nothing to do with mascot aesthetics, and everything to do with the law of man.
Reports ESPN, the Phanatic’s new look arrives ahead of a June 15 deadline ending a 35-year-old copyright agreement. The mascot’s designers Bonnie Erickson, one-time head of Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop and creator of Miss Piggy and Statler and Waldorf, and Wayde Harrison originated the Phanatic, which debuted in 1978. According to a lawsuit the Phillies filed in August, Erickson and Harrison have allegedly “threatened to obtain an injunction against the Phillies’ use of the Phanatic and to ‘make the Phanatic a free agent’” if the team won’t renegotiate the terms of a 1984 licensing agreement about the mascot’s use. According to the Phillies, they have over four decades invested in the Phanatic and, as such, are “co-author” of the costume and character. Only time will tell how the lawsuit shakes out, but one thing’s for sure: the Phillie Phanatic is, and always has been, looking hot as hell.