AHL Bandits seek fuzzy family feel with logo


In Syracuse, it's a superhero on skates. In Albany, it's a stick-wielding rodent.

And in Baltimore, it will be a snarling raccoon who looks as if he'd be pretty tough in the corners.

Baltimore's new American Hockey League franchise, the Bandits, has revealed its logo, and it apparently will fit right in with some of the league's most successful teams.

Syracuse's Crunchman and Albany's Rowdy the River Rat were barely rough sketches in 1993, the last time the AHL's Baltimore Skipjacks played. Now, they epitomize marketing savvy in the AHL. To prosper in the AHL in the 1990s, teams need to put a quality product on the ice, keep fans entertained between periods and develop a logo and color scheme that spark souvenir sales.

"The league has changed tremendously since the last time we were in Baltimore," said Dave Andrews, president of the AHL. "We've broken our attendance records the last three straight years, and a lot of that is due to merchandising and how the game is packaged and sold to the fans."

The Leffler Agency handled advertising for the Skipjacks, and it is doing the same for the Bandits. Bob Leffler, president of the agency, said he knows just how vital a little raccoon can be to a team's success.

"He captures the spirit of the new professional hockey fan," said Leffler. "It has broad-based family appeal. He's a critter, and we know critters are popular. He is a little bit menacing, but he's also cute."

The logo and character were created by Disney Sports Enterprises. Disney owns the Bandits' NHL parent club, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and Disney knows critters. The Bandits mascot is based on Meeko, a character in "Pocahontas."

The Bandits plan to hold a name-the-mascot contest, and it will not be long before coonskin caps and other foresty items will be available at souvenir shops. The Bandits hope to unveil their new uniforms and mascot in late July.

Bandits majority owners Bob Teck and Alan Gertner canvassed the country the past year, checking out the mascots and the on- and off-ice presentations of most professional hockey teams. The goal in Baltimore is to provide a "complete family atmosphere," Teck said.

"The truth is that we will get the hockey purists to come out, but the challenge is to create an environment where we can make the game exciting for mom or grandmom or someone who is not a big hockey fan."

That starts with the mascot.

The Syracuse Crunch averaged near-capacity crowds at the Onondaga County War Memorial in its first season, aided by the appeal of its mascot and some zany between-period antics.

Crunch games featured an entire clan of mascots, including Crunchman, his "son," Jr. Crunch, and Ices, whom the Crunch touts as the first female mascot in professional sports history. The trio would skate before and after games and between periods, clad in superhero costumes, complete with capes.

The Crunch also presented pyrotechnic shows, bowling for turkeys, paper-airplane toss contests or golf ball driving. The Crunch spent $1 million to purchase the same laser light system used at Mighty Ducks games.

"It was such an enormous effort that we were still making adjustments up until the opening faceoff," said Crunch general manger David Gregory. "You have to create an image with mass appeal and make every game an event with no downtime."

Even Disney will be hard-pressed to duplicate the success of Rowdy the River Rat. He was voted the top minor-league logo by The Hockey News in 1994, and Albany's mail-order sales have gone nationwide since.

"There was a day when you could throw anything on a jersey and it would be all right. But not anymore," Teck said. "We want to create fan awareness and excitement. With the mascot, we've created a very exciting image for the fans."

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