Over the last couple of decades, mascots have become an integral part of the entertainment aspect within professional sports leagues. Whether it be greeting basketball fans and dancing to entertain the live crowd during timeouts, or even performing dangerous stunts and funny pranks to make people at home laugh, the job of an NBA mascot appears to be an absolute dream gig.
And when you consider how much fun those under the costumes get to have, and how lucrative it can potentially be, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to it. But as with any job in the entertainment industry, the journey to reach the top is a long and difficult road, with no guarantees that you’ll make it to the big leagues.
Today, we’ll take a look at how much money NBA mascots make, what they have to, why their training is as intense as that of many professional athletes, why they’re the highest-paid mascots in professional sports, and more!
NBA Mascot Salaries
While becoming a mascot for a major league like the NBA puts you in a much better position than other mascots, there’s still a lot of variation in pay within the NBA.
According to Dave Raymond from Raymond Entertainment, a mascot training company, the average NBA mascot salary is around $60,000. More experienced and in-demand mascots can earn well over six figures — but this comes from a combination of their fixed salary (from their NBA team) and additional in-costume appearances at various events.
There are several factors that affect a mascot’s salary. The most important are:
- Experience, or how long the man has been under the mascot suit
- Qualifications and abilities, which is what the performer is physically and creatively able to do
- Workload and side-gigs, which varies a lot between mascots — most will make additional appearances besides supporting their team in each of the 41 NBA games they play at home.
- Which team they represent
With all of this said, working as a mascot with an average salary that’s comfortably in line with the average salary in the United States must be pretty cool, right?
How hard could it be? You just have to learn some dance moves and wear the suit while you cheer on your favorite team! Well, there’s a lot that goes into working as a mascot, and it’s way not quite as fun or glamorous as many people believe.
So, what exactly does an NBA mascot do, and what does one have to do to become a professional mascot? Before diving deeper into these questions, let’s take a look at some of the most popular and highest-paid mascots around the Association.
Top Mascot Earners in the NBA
Harry the Hawk (Atlanta Hawks)
The charismatic Atlanta Hawks mascot is one of the most popular and highly-requested stuffed characters in the NBA. Besides working all 41 home games, Harry makes anywhere between 200 and 300 public appearances every year. And according to the official Hawks talent request form, a 30-minute appearance by Harry costs $250. His exact salary isn’t known, but a rough estimate will land somewhere close, if not somewhere across the 100 thousand-dollar mark.
Benny the Bull (Chicago Bulls)
The Chicago Bulls’ Benny is the most popular mascot in professional sports. With over 400,000 Instagram followers and a whopping 4.8 million Tik Tok followers, Benny is the undeniable king of sports mascots. He has become so popular due to his viral stunts, dance moves, and pranks he pulls on opposing teams’ fans – especially his patented popcorn rain.
Benny also has the distinct honor of being the first mascot in NBA history, as the Bulls introduced him in 1969, naming him after Ben Bentley, who was the team’s first PR Manager and stadium announcer.
Benny’s paycheck reflects his popularity and status, as it is estimated he earns about $200,000 every year. It’s an absurd amount of money for a mascot gig, and it’s actually the second-highest mascot salary in the league. But the man under the suit also carries a huge responsibility and an enormous legacy on his shoulders.
Rumble the Bison (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder play in one of the smallest markets in the league, they have an immensely popular mascot. As such, Rumble the Bison’s pay is estimated to be somewhere between the $80,000 and $100,000. According to the Thunder’s website, a one-hour appearance by Rumble costs $650. He is also available for 30-minute visits and 30 to 45-minute rallies for $400. And you best believe these add up to a six-figure salary.
Hugo the Hornet (Charlotte Hornets)
Another small-market mascot that is extremely popular is Charlotte Hornets mascot Hugo the Hornet; there’s just something about him that is both funny and loveable at the same time. But whoever wants to have Hugo at their event or wants a featured appearance by him will have to pay as much as $1,500, depending on the performer’s level of experience. All things considered, Hugo is most definitely taking over $100,000 home on a yearly basis.
Rocky the Mountain Lion (Denver Nuggets)
Rocky, the Denver Nuggets mascot, is by far and away the highest-paid performer in the NBA. This is because he often performs some of the most entertaining yet dangerous stunts and can always be spotted entertaining fans at Ball Arena in the Mile-High City during games.
As the highest-paid mascot in the NBA, Rocky’s check is worth an astounding $625,000 dollars. That’s right, Rocky earns more than 10 times as much as the average pay for professional NBA mascots. He was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006 and is still going strong to this day.
Being A Mascot Is Harder Than It Sounds
Now that you have an idea of how much some of the top-paid mascots earn in the NBA, you must be wondering what they do that gets them such a bag.
Let’s start with a quick disclaimer: being a professional mascot is not an easy job. As with every profession, there’s a big difference between amateur, high school mascots and true professionals like the ones you watch bring your favorite mascots to life in the NBA.
Here are some reasons why it’s so difficult to become an NBA mascot:
1. Physically and Mentally Demanding
For starters, you must be in top athletic shape. Not only to withstand the heavy and hot suit, but also to perform crazy stunts and be part of dance routines with the cheerleading team. While not a requirement in the job description, many mascots went to gymnastics school from an early age. It should also go without saying that high energy is a must.
Many mascots are also asked to come up with their own skits and spots for games, so the performer must also possess creative abilities. He needs to have a way with people and be able to engage the crowd without saying a single word; everything he communicates, he must do so with his body.
2. Risk of Injury
A big part of the reason why mascots are paid so well is that many of them literally put their bodies on the line while performing some stunts or acts. We’ve seen multiple instances where mascots suffer injuries severe enough to sideline them for multiple games, or even as long as several months.
For instance, the Toronto Raptors’ mascot – The Raptor – tore his Achilles tendon in a pre-season event before the 2013-14 regular season while performing a backflip. As a result, he was sidelined for the entire campaign.
Also, during the 2016 NBA playoffs, Harry the Hawk suffered a serious injury while attempting to jump between rails, slipping and falling with his legs wide-open on the rail. The hit was serious enough for Harry to be taken to the hospital.
3. Lots of Training and Practice
By this point, you can probably guess that being a legendary class clown isn’t what qualifies you for the job. NBA mascots need physical training, choreography training, and a little bit of comedy and body expression practice, in order to be able to convey their emotions through their movements and know how to entertain fans in multiple ways.
You may have also noticed that throughout this article we’ve often referred to NBA mascots as a “he”. That is because out of the 26 leading performers as NBA mascots, only one of them is a woman.
And while there is a case to be made for equality and higher opportunity for women in this role, the physical toll it takes on the performer’s body – male or female – is quite high, and the position requires a lot of physicality and athletic capabilities. Maybe not as much as it did in the past, as mascots have been doing fewer physical activities in recent years and instead work a bit more on skits and comedy routines to entertain the fans.
4. Limited Opportunities
With just 30 NBA teams making up the league, and with some teams choosing not to employ any mascot, becoming a mascot is statistically more difficult than becoming an NBA player. Currently, there are 26 active mascots.
Fun fact: the New York Knicks is the only team in the NBA that has never had an official mascot.
Why are NBA Mascots Paid Better Than Those In Other Pro Sports?
As discussed by a current NBA mascot performer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there’s no better place for a mascot to work than in the NBA.
“Hockey, baseball, and football do a decent job of compensating mascots in the $30,000-to-$50,000 range,” the mascot said. “But the NBA is this whole other world.” And it truly is. But why?
Rob Wicall, who played the San Antonio Spurs’ Coyote for almost two decades before retiring in 2016, says it’s all about the way the league and its teams push mascots to the spotlight. “The NFL has way more money,” said Wicall, “but it’s the NBA that invests and has them center stage. They have mascots commanding the crowd.”
As such, teams allow mascots to create a deeper connection with the fanbase. It’s moments like Wicall chasing a bat inside AT&T center while wearing the coyote suit and a batman outfit that fans remember fondly years after.
All of this helps teams sell more merchandise and market their team better for home fans. And so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the NBA is more invested in mascots than any other pro leagues in American sports such as the NFL, NHL, or MLB.
In conclusion, most NBA mascots get paid really well – about one-third of the league’s stuffed performers earn over $100,000 every year. The reason why they’re paid so well is that they are elite athletes that are able to perform stunts and dance moves, and also create and execute skits and comedy spots to entertain crowds and make them have fun while attending NBA games.
Mascots help teams bring in extra revenue with the exposure and attention they’re given, which in turn also helps them create a pretty nice income for themselves with additional public appearances and work beside their home games performances. It isn’t an easy job, but it sure has to be fun and enjoyable!