Chad Spencer doesn’t know what the prize is for winning the Favorite Mascot of the Year competition, and he doesn’t really care.
For Spencer - the man behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Tux, it’s all about the honor.
The contest, which is being held by the website MascotInsider.com, is based on two rounds of poll results. The first round pitted mascots against their counterparts in separate divisions, such as the four major sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB), minor league teams, colleges and a non-sports division. The winner of each category moves on to the finals, and that’s where Tux finds himself pitted in a voting battle against the likes of Penn State’s Nittany Lion, the Phillie Phanatic and Bailey of the Los Angeles Kings.
Despite the high-profile competition, Tux is faring surprisingly well with voting set to end this Sunday at midnight. As of Wednesday, Tux was firmly entrenched in third place with just over 5,000 votes, trailing Jaxson de Ville of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars (19,824 votes) and the NHL’s Bailey (15,765 votes). Tux has a large lead over the Nittany Lion, Phanatic, Stuff the Magin Dragon from the NBA’s Orlando Magic and Red from Red Robbin restaurants.
“I’m just honored to be part of it,” said Spencer, who has brought Tux to life since 2006. “It’s a pretty big deal, for me, to be in the running with these pro mascots from huge markets.”
Spencer attributed Tux’s large Facebook following for his success in the competition. He’s hoping to get Pittsburgh Penguin fans more active in the voting this week so he can at least beat out Bailey.
“It could be along the lines of a Pittsburgh-Kings rivalry all in good fun,” Spencer said.
Spencer’s path to mascot stardom began in his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he regularly attended junior hockey games. When the job opened up for Medicine Hat’s mascot, Rory the Tiger, Spencer applied and got the gig. He earned $50 per game for the next three years and knew he had found a career.
When another mascot position opened for the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League, Spencer applied for and got that job too. He split the year working games for Medicine Hat and making the three-hour drive to Calgary to be the mascot for the Roughnecks.
His role as Tux for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came a bit unexpectedly.
“After I applied for Tux the team flew me down for an audition and I worked a game against Bridgeport. A couple of months later they called said asked if I could get back down there in a week,” Spencer said. “I tied up all my loose ends at home, got to Wilkes-Barre in time to do one home game against Hershey in the 2006 playoffs. We went on to lose the next two games in Hershey and got eliminated, and I was done.”
Still, Spencer had all summer to plan what he wanted to do with Tux for the 2007 season - his first full year with the Penguins. Ever since then, Spencer and Tux have flourished.
“As Tux, I’ve become a better mascot overall and in specific areas such as interacting with people, reading the crowd and learning which antics works and what ones don’t,” Spencer said. “It takes passion to bring the character alive, and you’re basically a puppeteer. The fans can’t see your facial expression behind the mask, but you want them to feel the emotion of the character.”
Like players and coaches in the AHL, Spencer hopes to one day land a job as a mascot for an NHL team. He said the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh are his dream jobs, but he would take any opportunity that came along. In the meantime, Spencer is happy being with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and is set on making Tux the 2014 Favorite Mascot of the Year.
Despite the disparity in votes separating Tux from the top two mascots in the contest, Spencer isn’t giving up.
“When the finals started, I posted the poll on Facebook and got 700 votes right away and took the lead. The other mascots saw this posted on their Facebook pages and they took the lead, and that went back and forth for a bit,” Spencer said. “It might be like a Davey and Goliath battle, but I know we can sneak up on them again. Tux’s fans are loyal and they’ll vote every day.”