By JOHN MARSHALL
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s initial unveiling of its upgraded mascot was part news conference, part show, Sparky stalking around and pumping his fists in front of a honeycombed backdrop, surrounded by cheerleaders and a marching band.
Given a second shot at a first impression, the school went a more subdued route, revealing the newest new Sparky through social media outlets on Wednesday.
Yes, the decision to introduce the upgraded Sparky online was geared toward driving traffic toward Arizona State’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
It was, also, probably a wise choice considering the vitriol that followed the initial attempt.
“It’s been a learning experience,” said Terri Shafer, Arizona State’s associate vice president of public affairs. “It’s been a lot of work to have all the meetings and develop the options, but on the flip side it gives us something we can be proud of and the community can be proud of also.”
Changing Sparky’s appearance is nothing new. Arizona State has transformed its mascot — the one in the costume, not the logo — 12 times since former Disney artist Berk Anthony first drew him in 1946, including six since 2000.
They needed a mulligan to get the latest version right.
Unveiled on March 1, the previous Sparky was supposed to endear the 67-year-old mascot to a younger audience.
He inspired hostility instead.
With a rounded head, large insect-like eyes and bulging muscles, the new Sparky sparked outrage across the campus and the Internet.
The haters called him creepy, said he looked like a villain, likened him to a cross between the Honey Nut Cheerios bee, Buzz Lightyear and Jafar from Aladdin.
An online petition called for new Sparky’s ouster. ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government wanted the costume banned from sporting events. Two anti-new-Sparky Facebook pages went up and social media sites buzzed with negativity over the new design. A group of ASU students also created a YouTube video in protest.
The consensus? The school needed to put a fork in the new Sparky.
“Yes, he is a mascot, but I realized in talking to people who were upset about it, he’s really more than a mascot to them; he becomes a part of their identity,” Shafter said. “They embrace Sparky with a passion that is wonderful to observe.”
Realizing their mistake, not to mention the mascot’s importance to ASU’s students, alumni and fans, Arizona State’s brass pulled the plug on new Sparky and decided to choose his replacement through an online vote.
More than 17,000 people took part in the vote and picked the new Sparky from a lineup of four choices.
The winning version, picked by 55 percent of the voters, still has bigger eyes and a more rounded head than old Sparky, but doesn’t look like he should be walking around Disneyland posing for pictures with kids like the defunct one did. New Sparky also has the coming-out-of-the-nose mustache like the old version, though his goatee is smaller and has more of a spike to it.
The head, previously made with that’s-got-to-stink-in-there fleece, is now a smoother texture that looks more like skin and will be easier to clean. He also has gone back to a clenched-teeth smile instead of the upper-teeth-only look that helped inspire the creepy comments about his predecessor.
Perhaps the most important aspect is Sparky’s eyebrows.
Since Anthony’s initial drawing, Sparky has sported downward-turned eyebrows, giving him an almost evil, intimidating look.
The Sparky that caused all the indignity didn’t have the angry brows, but softer ones with barely-there arches that contributed to the Honey Nut Cheerios look.
The new Sparky is back to his devious look, appearing more devil than amusement park.
“People really felt like the mascot on the field should have the expression of the 1946 character,” Shafer said. “They clearly wanted the more fierce, competitive expression. That came through loud and clear.”
The new Sparky will debut during the fall semester in August.