Mascot gives WKU national recognition

Big Red pauses for a moment of silence before WKU’s football game against Navy on Sept. 10. Big Red has been part of the Capital One Mascot Challenge eight out of the last 10 years, even if its unknown what exactly Big Red is.

Emily Patton

Big Red has been called many things.

To some, the WKU mascot may be a blob, a rolled up red towel or the perfect profile picture companion. Others say it’s the “spirit of Western” or simply a Hilltopper, like the teams it represents.

But whatever “it” actually is, the mystery of Big Red has become a sports marketing dream by earning WKU national recognition in the Capital One Mascot Challenge eight out of the last 10 years.

“Big Red is the only national mascot that you can’t tell what it is – it is a mystery,” said Paula Davids, athletic marketing assistant for WKU. “You’ve got raccoons, dogs, terrapins, but Big Red is just Big Red. There is no one definition. The mystery is the appeal.”

Davids, who also claims the title of “Big Red’s Mom,” completes the detailed portfolio required to enter the Capital One Mascot Challenge, highlighting all community events, sporting events, a letter from President Gary Ransdell and a picture of him and Big Red.

She also helps run and organize the day-to-day functions of the mascot program, including keeping a watchful eye on the eight students, who must remain anonymous, that take turns playing the role.

Each nomination to the mascot challenge earns the university $5,000, which helps pay for the cost of a $6,100 new suit. A victory in the contest means an additional $15,000 is awarded.

Although the prize money is beneficial, it’s the national recognition from Capital One that is most valuable to WKU.

Lindsay Thomas, assistant athletic director for Marketing and Ticket Sales, said she has goals to increase ticket sales, attendance, awareness and make the game day experience better for all fans at all of the Tops’ athletic venues.

“Having a mascot like Big Red definitely helps accomplish those goals,” she said. “Big Red is a nationally recognized mascot. Big Red is a fan favorite for not only WKU fans, but college sports fans nationally.

“Every away game we travel to with football or basketball, Big Red is immediately sought after for pictures and autographs.”

A student who serves as one of the three elite Big Reds traveled to Los Angeles for the shooting of the mascot challenge promotional commercial.

Although it can be daunting to face much larger schools and their mascots in the challenge, he said the other student mascots are “in awe” of Big Red.

“They are really big schools. They can engulf us in a sense,” said the student, whose identity must be kept anonymous. “It is really cool to see. While their mascots may be more recognized and maybe bigger on a school level, they are in awe of ours. They all are like, ‘Let me put it on. Let me see how you eat people.'”

The student said while performing at games as Big Red, “You will get more pictures with other fans than you do with your own. It is really beloved by all.”

Thomas said Big Red’s appeal creates free advertising and awareness of the university to a national audience.

The contest also allows the marketing department to continue branding “WKU,” because Big Red has the three letters embroidered across his chest.

“Small things like pictures of Big Red on Facebook, Twitter or videos of Big Red on You Tube just help spread the brand of WKU,” Thomas said. “Many people know WKU specifically because of Big Red. Big Red really helps brand WKU nationally. That type of exposure money really can’t buy.”

The student said Big Red’s lovable personality toward fans is what makes it so unique compared to other mascots.

“Everybody wants to be close to Big Red,” he said. “They can’t hate it. The only thing they hate about it is they can’t figure out what it is. The mystery is the greatest thing.”