The 76ers New Mascot: You Are Not Reading This

It’s the day after Christmas, so the chances that you are reading this have never been lower, even considering that I once wrote a post about letter spacing. So given that you are off doing meaningful things with your family instead of reading this, I’m going to take this opportunity to write about the new mascot of the Philadelphia 76ers. (That’s a basketball team, in case you were wondering.) (Basketball is the one with the bouncing orange ball, in case you were wondering that, too.)

The 76ers, named for the number of fans they have in attendance during each home game, have never been known for their sophisticated design sensibilities. In the early 1990s, Sixers player Charles Barkley said this about his team’s new uniforms: “They look like my daughter got ahold of some crayons and designed them.”

Recently, the team asked fans to vote on a new mascot to replace their old mascot, Hip Hop. Hip Hop, pictured above, is notable for being unbearably stupid, possibly the worst mascot in all of sports, and that’s saying something because there are a lot of bad sports mascots (all of them but two, by my count). Anyway, the three new choices the 76ers presented were not much better than Hip Hop. According to a story on ESPN, “A poll by the local ABC affiliate found more than half of voters opting for ‘None of the above.'”

The first choice is “Big Ben,” modeled after Philadelphia hero Ben Franklin, if Ben Franklin were played by a drunken Nick Nolte in a sleeveless undershirt.

Choice number two is B. Franklin Dogg (“The extra G is for ‘Gah, what is that thing?'”). B. Dogg is basically what you’d get if McGruff the Crime Dog and Poochy from the Simpsons got together and had a puppy.

The final choice is “Phil E. Moose,” who, if he is selected as the new mascot, will be the first moose within 300 miles of the city.

We talk a lot on this site about the importance of design decisions being meaningful. I’d argue that the three mascot options the Sixers presented failed precisely because they were not meaningful. The moose and the dog(g) really have nothing to do with anything related to basketball or the 76ers. And while Benjamin Franklin is iconic of the city, I don’t think anyone wants to see him belittled in a tank top or a circus costume.

Personally, I think it would be fine with most fans if the 76ers did not have a mascot at all, because, as I mentioned above, most mascots are terrible. The only two who are not unbearably annoying are the Phillie Phanatic (by far the best) and the San Diego Chicken (a distant second). Also, mascots in NBA basketball are a bit superfluous because any break in the action is filled with fans taking half-court shots for a lifetime supply of turtle wax, short guys doing weird acrobatic routines with trampolines and basketballs, and “dance” teams performing routines that make parents shield their children’s eyes

But if the Sixers are determined to have a mascot, I hope they’ll listen the growing legion of fans calling for the return of Muppet-ish guy Big Shot, pictured here, who was retired by the team in 1996. I’m not sure why he appeals to me. Must be that we have the same physique and hair color.

Now get back to your families. Happy holidays!

Add this bird to your life list

Shea and I share many interests, which we call The Six Bs*: baseball, blogging, buffets, baseball, being married to people way out of our respective leagues, and baseball. One interest that we do not share, but which also begins with a B, is birding.

When we’re at NAI National Workshops every November, Shea usually says to me something like, “A couple of us are going to get up at 4:00 in the morning and go sit in a freezing-cold puddle in the middle of a big field for a few hours. Wanna come?” For a long time, I thought this was Shea’s way of telling me he didn’t want to hang out, but I learned recently that this group of people was actually doing the thing he said. They take binoculars and birding books and sit in freezing-cold puddles. Then they look for birds and check “lifers” off their lists.

I have a healthy respect for life lists and collections in general. I keep a running list of Major League Baseball stadiums I have visited (19, including seven that are no longer in use) and I am dangerously close to becoming obsessed with my ice cream sundae mini-helmet collection. However, the extent of my interest in birds boils down to a three-tiered classification system that I learned from an NAI friend: Big, Pretty, Other. (It used to be a four-tiered system, until Shea told me that I cannot count “Buffalo Chicken” on my life list.)

I don’t actually object to birds (though there have been a few incidents when it seemed birds thought I had a target on my head). In fact, when I’m in a place where there are interesting birds (in the “Big” or “Pretty” categories) or birds that I used to sing about as a child, I have been known to actually take photos of them, as with this actual kookaburra sitting on an actual old gum tree that I saw in southern Australia in 2010. (Note that this photo was taken from the deck of a house while I was drinking coffee in the late morning, rather than from a frozen puddle while it was still dark.)

Given my interest in branding and identity, especially where they cross over into sports, and my relative lack of interest in birds, I was intrigued to learn the back story of the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies and the best mascot in all of sports, objectively speaking. The Phanatic was introduced in 1978 as the last survivor of a flightless bird species from the Galapagos islands.

Just recently, the Phanatic returned to his native land on a tour offered by Lindblad Expeditions—the same Lindblad Expeditions that interpretation superstar Sam Ham has collaborated with since 1988 to promote conservation of the Galapagos. Worlds are colliding! There’s an article about that collaboration in the September/October 2008 issue of Legacy magazine. (You can see a photo album of the Phanatic’s visit, including the above photo by Celso Montalvo, on the Phillies website.)

I, for one, am glad to see the Phanatic involved with Lindblad. In the 2008 Legacy article, titled “Using Interpretation to Promote Conservation in the Galapagos,” Sam Ham says, “The conservation community is watching the Galapagos example…. If conservation can’t work there, where can it work?” To date, according to the Lindblad website, interpretive techniques—making people care about the place—have helped them raise $4.5 million, “more than any other organization in Galapagos.”

And while all of this has piqued my interest in birds, it’s funny that Sam didn’t mention the Phanatic once in that article. Probably because he’s a Mariners fan.

All of that said, I still don’t see myself getting up at 4:00 in the morning to go look for birds at next November’s NAI Workshop in Virginia. I prefer my favorite birds to show up at coordinated holiday events in downtown Ocean City, New Jersey, and be willing to pose for pictures.

Notes
*Not really.

Why Blog: The Interpretive Sourcebook Entry

We’re in Saint Paul, Minnesota, this week for the NAI National Workshop. We’ll be presenting a session on blogging Wednesday, which means we had to prepare actual content (something we’ve done only rarely in three years of blogging). Since writing this blog has inspired the content for the session, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share our paper (written by both of us) with you. Here goes:

Why Blog?
You should blog if there is an audience. As a blogger, it’s important to know your purpose and message, along with where your blog is going to fit in (a common problem for us anyway, and also anyone who identifies themselves as a blogger). We started the Interpretation By Design blog (which we now call simply “The IBD Blog”) in March 2009, about five months after our book by the same name was published. We were aware that there was an audience because multiple presentations at NAI workshops were filled with interest revolving around the subject matter (graphic design and interpretation). Post-presentation conversations (face to face, in emails, on Facebook) led us to create a forum for further discussion. The blog also offered an opportunity for discussion with those not able to attend a presentation or conversation.

Knowing your audience is a tenant of the interpretive profession that can be applied to blogging as well. On the internet, your blog has a potentially large, anonymous audience. IBD is a specialized subsection of two professions (graphic design and interpretation), and it occasionally crosses into other areas of interest (baseball). Just as interpretive sites have streakers, browsers, and students, your blog will have readers who will read every word, while most will pass through from time to time to catch up or see if there is anything of interest to them.

Getting Started
The nature of a blog, where someone has to purposefully come to your page on a regular basis, requires the interest mentioned above as well as knowledge of how a blog differs from a newspaper or book. This less-traditional form of media has room for more opinions, fewer facts, and lots of personality. Where a book is typically focused on one subject or topic, blogs can cover a much wider spectrum within that topic. These positive elements can also be negatives if the blog becomes too much of a personal platform that alienates portions of the audience or is inconsistent in topics.

Before you start a blog, ask yourself why you are doing it. Do you want to create awareness of a site, increase visitation, gain public support for political reasons, or sell a really awesome book that sometimes cracks the top million on Amazon’s rankings? The starting point for setting goals for your blog—as with any other media—is that it should support the mission of your site or organization.

If clear goals are established, you will see your audience grow. A portion of that commitment should be introspective towards building a voice through your writing. Just as front-line interpreters represent their sites to visitors, as the author of a blog, you represent your site to a potentially much larger audience. It’s important that you set an appropriate, engaging tone, and that your writing is interpretive (not just informational).

Nurturing and Maintaining Your Blog
Maintaining a blog is a lot like keeping a pet. It requires constant, consistent nurturing and left unchecked, it might make a mess on your carpet. Just as you can’t keep a pet alive by feeding it a lot for three days then ignoring it for a month, your blog can’t survive without regular attention.

Put another way: Blogs are also like romantic relationships. It’s easy to be enthusiastic when a relationship is new. There’s lots to talk about, it’s new and fun, and it’s your primary point of interest. Then months or years down the road, when you have a cold and other work-related deadlines and the kids are screaming for you to take them to Dairy Queen, the blog might not seem like the most important thing in the world. But without constant attention, the blog suffers and possibly goes away altogether.

Here’s how to keep your blog (or pet or relationship) healthy and vibrant:

  • Give it constant attention. Update your blog, at an absolute minimum, once a week, preferably more often. On our blog, we publish without fail (even on holidays and while we’re on vacation) every Monday (Paul) and Thursday (Shea). If you anticipate a busy schedule, write several posts in advance and use your blogging software (we use WordPress) to schedule them to go live at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t write a Russian novel. You’re more likely to get feedback on shorter posts that ask readers to participate. Our experience has been that posts more than 500 words or so are too long. (This does not stop us from writing long posts. We’re just aware that they’re too long.)
  • Mix it up. Sometimes you need to spice things up (the pet metaphor may break down a little here). In addition to regular posts that occur on a schedule, throw in a quick question, observation, or photo now and again. Commemorate a special event (such as a trip or conference) with a week of “Live from [wherever…]” posts.
  • Communicate. Some readers will simply read your blog and move on. Others will comment regularly. And a select few will comment on nearly every single post. Your commenters are there to engage in a conversation that you started, so be sure to participate. We appreciate all of the comments on Interpretation By Design, and try to show that by responding quickly, giving nicknames to commenters, mentioning them in subsequent posts, and taking suggestions. Even the people who just read and move on are also likely to read the comments.
  • Keep tabs on your blog’s health. You can track statistics on your blog through built-in software (we use a WordPress plugin called StatPress) or an online service like Google Analytics. A healthy blog will get higher and higher hit counts the longer it’s around. Some of these hits will come from random internet users (we get a lot of hits from Googlers searching the term “Phillies font”), but you’ll see consistent growth in numbers as your core readership expands. If you maintain a consistent schedule, your numbers will spike on the days of new posts.
  • Communicate some more. Blogging falls under the umbrella of social media, but it is altogether different from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Maintaining a presence on social media outlets is a great way to alert readers when a new post comes along, or to further the conversations you have on your blog.

Going Viral
Once you have established a routine and a regular readership, you never know what might explode on the internet and garner a lot of attention. For instance, our biggest viral event was caused by, of all things, a flowchart. What started as essentially an inside joke—an example of information design intended to help newcomers to baseball choose a team—was picked up by several national websites, shared extensively on the social networks (including being Tweeted by Katie Couric), and even translated into foreign languages and reposted. Ultimately, it crashed our website.

Obviously, your main focus should be on your core readership, but when that unpredictable viral event occurs, it’s a great way to make a huge number of people aware of your organization and its important mission.

Conclusion
Maintaining a blog is an opportunity for outreach that costs little in terms of finances, but requires great energy and commitment. It should have stated goals, a comfortable tone, regular content, and most importantly, reflect the passion and commitment of the interpreters at your site or organization.

Ten Reasons to Join Us in Minnesota

The NAI National Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is fast approaching (November 8–12), and online registration closes this week. So go to the Workshop website and register now. Do it now!

Every October, I write a post about why you should join us at the NAI National Workshop. The actual reason is that it’s an inspirational and worthwhile professional development opportunity. And not only that, you just never know what sort of fun you’re going to have there. You may end up sharing a meal with a leader in the field, coming up with great ideas for new programs at your site, or witnessing two tubby knuckleheads getting their heads shaved against their wives’ wishes.

With that, ten reasons to join us at NAI 2011 next month!

  1. Saint Paul was established by the first-century apostle Saint Kirby Puckett, patron saint of Twinkies and dingers. (I may have to stop doing all of my research on Wikipedia.)
  2. Shea and I will present a concurrent session about blogging (Wednesday, November 9, at 1:00, for those of you marking your calendars). If you like reading Shea’s 150-word sentences with no punctuation on this blog, imagine hearing them in person! (If that doesn’t interest you, you can see the full list of other sessions here.)
  3. In the course of researching Minnesota culture and customs over the last year, I came across this thing called a Tater Tot Hotdish. If that doesn’t make you want to go to Minnesota, then we don’t want you there. (Photo by SEWilco.)
  4. Shea and I will be auctioneers at the scholarship auction. The event supports up-and-coming leaders in the field, and offers great deals on all sorts of goodies. Bring your own rotten fruit and vegetables to throw at us, free of charge!
  5. The largest ball of twine ever made by one person is located in Darwin, Minnesota, just under 70 miles away. You’d better believe Shea and I will be road-tripping there, and we’ll be singing Weird Al Yankovic’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” all the way there.
  6. The Minnesota Timberwolves have two games scheduled while we’re in town. If the NBA’s not on strike, we may try to win the T-wolves’ “Lucky Fan Gets to Be the Starting Point Guard” contest.* I will take my Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey** to see if it brings me luck.
  7. Friday at the Workshop, we’ll celebrate 11:11 on 11/11 twice (though the second time will be after Shea’s 9:30 bedtime). Can you imagine celebrating that event with anyone but the IBD Nerd Herd?
  8. If it’s warm enough, we’ll go for a dip in the Mississippi River. We haven’t checked the weather forecast, but we’re going to be optimistic and take our bathing suits.
  9. Saint Paul is responsible for 14 of the epistles in the New Testament. (Sorry, that’s the actual saint, not the city in Minnesota.)
  10. You just never know who’s going to get their head shaved.

See you in Minnesota!

*Our first NBA joke on IBD!
**I actually do own a Christian Laettner Timberwolves jersey.

Saint Paul photo by Alexius Horatius.

Oops, Shea’s Writing on Another Blog

If you came to IBD today with high hopes (who am I kidding) of a post that would rock your world, its not here. You’ll have to got to the Taylor Studios blog page to read it. I have to say it was an honor to be asked to write a post for their blog. I say it was an honor since I know I won’t be asked back after writing about me trying to get dates in high school.

If clicking through is too much for you today, here’s a picture sent in from Don Simons taken at Little Big Horn National Monument in Montana on a recent trip.

This picture may inspire an entire post on hyphenation, widows, and ____. I know you can’t wait for that one. After reading this monument I can’t get Britney’s Spears’ Oops, I Did It Again out of my head. I’m not sure what that says about me.

Check out my full post on Taylor Studio’s blog.