Should the Phanatic Be a ‘Free Agent'? Lawsuit Says Original Designer Has Threatened Just That

The designer of the popular, goofball mascot has told the Phillies to sign a new licensing agreement, or stopping using by June 15, 2020. A lawsuit provides a vivid look at one of sports' most popular beings.

UPDATE: The creators of the Phanatic, Harrison/Erickson, provided a statement about the lawsuit: "At the Phillies request more than 40 years ago, we created the Phanatic, giving him a story and a life. Over the decades since, we have taken care of him, even patching him back together when he needed it, and have had a good, professional relationship with the Phillies. We feel like he is part of our family and certainly a huge part of the fabric of Philadelphia. His value has grown with his popularity, and we felt that the Phillies franchise never offered a reasonable payment to extend the Phanatic’s license. Instead, we were sued by the franchise, which was incredibly disappointing. While we very much want the Phanatic to remain the Phillies mascot, we will not yield to this lawsuit tactic. We intend to respond to it and win."

Whether you're a Philadelphia Phillies fan or not, you have seen the baseball team's mascot: the Phanatic.

The belly-pumping, nose-throttling green creature known for stomping on opposing teams' dugouts could potentially be a "free agent" on June 15, 2020, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The Phillies have sued the firm that designed the mascot back in the March 1978, asking a federal court to rule that a license agreement struck in 1984 should give the team ownership in perpetuity.

The firm Harrison/Erickson, based in New York City and co-founded by a designer who helped Jim Henson create the Muppets, has threatened to seek an injunction against the baseball franchise that would bar the use of the Phanatic, according to the lawsuit. A copy was provided by the law firm Duane Morris, which filed on behalf of the Phillies.

The baseball organization declined to comment on the pending litigation. 

In the meantime, the court filing gives much history to the storied sideline cheerleader.

"In the late 1970s, then Phillies Executive Vice President Bill Giles developed a vision for a new Phillies mascot: He would be green, fat, furry, big-nosed, and instantly accessible to children," the suit states. "The Phanatic would engage in audacious slapstick routines, playfully teasing anyone within range of the field or the stands—players, umpires, sportscasters, managers, and fans."

The mascot was born in March 1978 after two weeks and $2,000 worth of work by Harrison/Erickson. The Phanatic debuted April 25, 1978, with a Phillies marketing intern, Dave Raymond, inside.

The lawsuit argues that the Phillies staff, including Giles, contributed to the initial creation by providing Harrison/Erickson conceptual guidance.

Harrison/Erickson in two initial license agreements in 1978 and 1979 was paid more than $200,000, the suit states.

In 1984, the firm negotiated a new license agreement with the ball club for $215,000, which the lawsuit claims transferred Harrison/Erickson's rights to the Phillies "forever."

The firm, however, wants a new agreement, and the lawsuit claims the Phillies have filed the complaint in response to a letter threatening to put an end to the Phanatic's career in Philadelphia.

Phillies fans also get a shoutout.

"The Club therefore requests that this Court put an immediate end to H/E’s effort to hold up The Phillies with its threats of legal action and to make the Phanatic a free agent," the lawsuit states. "By issuing a declaratory judgment in The Phillies’ favor and an injunction against H/E’s threatened actions, the Court will ensure that Phillies fans will not be deprived of their beloved mascot of 41 years."

Correction (Aug. 8, 2019 at 6:22 a.m.): The Phanatic was born in March 1978.

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