When the two major pro sports leagues playing in March (NBA and NHL) made the decision to suspend their seasons, fans were understandably upset. But as the country quickly learned more about the spread of COVID-19, issues bigger than sport took over and American life was altered in big and sudden ways. Experts warned against large gatherings and we all became familiar with term “social distancing.” Attending live events, such as concerts or conventions, became memories.
It has now been almost a year since that time and everyday life has still not returned to pre-2020. Double-masking or stronger multiple layers of a single mask is being encouraged by many experts. Self-isolation or quarantine is still encouraged as a means to reduce virus transmission. And we are still told to keep a physical distance away from those not in our “bubble.”
Where does that leave mascots? How do the loveable characters that make live events so memorable fit into the current picture?
Like so many other performing artists, the mascot performers have been left without safe ways to perform their craft. The myriad of safety protocols required to even have live sporting events reduces the opportunities for mascots to be visible to fans. The same is true for mascots in other venues too.
For example, Disney has instituted drastic changes to their characters appearances in their theme parks. There are no meet and greets for those up close family pictures. Guests may only see certain characters from afar while on certain rides. And character parades are now called “cavalcades,” with no scheduled times so guests do not crowd together in anticipation.
The safety of performers and fans alike is our top focus here at the National Mascot Association. We applaud when organizations recognize and reduce the risk of illness, though they may not have much of a choice right now. Local and state emergency ordinances across the country vary greatly, but almost without exception it is mandated that attendees maintain social distancing at all times. And “all times” includes those fun, up-close interactions with the mascot.
Here in Indiana, where the NMA is based, the language of the Governor’s Executive Order for sporting events is as follows (partial language):
¶ 7.f.iv) Professional sport games and tournaments may continue and, notwithstanding the event attendance caps outlined above in 7.d., are subject to the following restrictions:
3) social distancing as described in ¶ 3.d. above is achieved and face coverings are worn by any one not actively participating in the sport as set forth in ¶ 3e-g above.
Note: ¶ 3.d. Social Distancing – Every individual within the State of Indiana shall engage in social distancing with all other individuals, unless they are all members of a single household. The phrase “social distancing” means maintaining at least six (6) feet of distance from other individuals or, in the event six (6) feet of distance is not possible, use of a barrier to separate individuals or members of a single household from others.
While mascots are an integral part of the live game experience, they are not “actively participating in the sport.” And Indianapolis is hosting the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the ENTIRE NCAA men’s basketball tournaments. So, if the mascots are coming to Indianapolis with their teams, they will need to stay 6 feet away from everyone else.
This current reality leaves mascots and organizations that use them to get creative. Mascots are still part of your team, your park, or your company’s public image. The NMA wants nothing more than to see mascots still bringing smiles to faces. But we encourage performers and organizations to include the mascots in your Covid-19 safety planning.
Here are some suggestions:
- Social Media – Now, more than ever before, is the time to make your mascot a social media star. Find the platforms that work best for your characters and engage your fans with photos and videos.
- Virtual Interactions – Almost all mascots do not speak, but many could drop into a Zoom meeting, Facebook live, or other live virtual meeting. And some mascots may even use the chat features available.
- Extra Safety Protocols for In-Person Events – Fans, especially younger ones, may be too eager for a photo with the mascot to remember Covid-19 safety rules. If your organization has not been using a Mascot Handler, now is the time! The Handler should be trained on how to remind fans of appropriate and safe interactions. Remember—the Mascot Handler is the voice for the mascot performer. Let them help keep your performer(s) safe!
And “covid fatigue” may start to settle in with your staff and fans, where they start to become lax in their safety regiment. The NMA encourages you to remind everyone of the need to remain vigilant about safety! Remaining safety minded will help us all come out of this sooner.