The sports industry is flocking to TikTok, aiming to leverage their brands on the fast-growing social media platform.
While teams with a global footprint like FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC, Real Madrid and the Golden State Warriors have all quickly found success – they are the four most followed sports accounts in the world – one perhaps unlikely account sits in that fifth most-followed spot.
Meet Benny The Bull, the mascot for the Chicago Bulls that reached one million TikTok followers on Thanksgiving Day and who has had one-third of his posts hit at least 500,000 views.
Bulls Digital Content Coordinator Kamil Strycharz is always doing his research on the next big social media venture. In his role, Strycharz is responsible for brainstorming and delivering online content on behalf of the Bulls to their fanbase.
After TikTok, the music element to it particularly stood out to Strycharz. Unlike the mostly static nature of Facebook and Instagram posts, TikTok clips – which can last as long as one minute – often have relevant music in the background.
On July 3, the Bulls became the latest sports organization to join TikTok – courtesy of Benny, said Strycharz. At the time, Benny’s TikTok account was more so to showcase his outgoing personality and less to chase a trend.
“We’re not comparing ourselves to mascots,” Strycharz said. “We’re really doing this because it’s very fitting for the platform and what we can do through Benny’s presence is connect him with Bulls fandom. It’s much easier to relate to a character like Benny versus an iconic team in general.”
With Benny’s TikTok profile, Strycharz wants it to be reflective of a fun, amusing character that appeals to a younger audience.
Of Benny’s most successful posts, the majority involve him dancing to the tune of relevant pop-culture music. On October 8, there was a TikTok video of him walking in and out of a door with the lyrics to Drake and Lil Baby’s “Yes Indeed” playing in the background.
That video has quickly become Benny’s most-engaged TikTok post, racking up more than 8.3 million views, 1.2 million likes and 4,600 comments.
Another clip on Benny’s TikTok page even spawned a reaction from rival mascots, said Strycharz. On September 30, he and Benny decided to create a dance based on the “Dip and Lean Challenge.” It not only became Benny’s second-most successful TikTok post with more than 8.2 million views and nearly one million likes, but it also started chatter between some of his competitors.
“It was so viral that literally other mascots started creating accounts just to do a video based off of this,” Strycharz said. “It’s just cool to see. Not only are our fans recreating the dance or using the audio, but also literally other teams are now doing this. I don’t want to say it’s fully because of Benny, but it is cool that there’s some inspiration from Benny’s account.”
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Because of Benny’s growth, more teams are willing to experiment with making mascots the focal point of their TikTok presence.
While they have been able to garner nearly 58,000 followers on the team’s official TikTok page, the San Francisco 49ers are – like the Bulls – leaning on their mascot Sourdough Sam for content purposes, said 49ers Director of Digital and Social Marketing Meghan Ryan.
Similar to Benny, Ryan wants fans to see the entertainment that Sourdough Sam can bring on TikTok. Even though his follower count pales in comparison to Benny’s – currently Sourdough Sam has approximately 2,900 – she sees him as a great way to connect with fans, partially inspired by what has happened in Chicago.
“When we were talking to TikTok, [Benny the Bull] was one of the main accounts that they referenced,” Ryan said. “That’s an iconic brand and mascot. I think those teams that do have mascots and have the bandwidth to pull it off – it’s certainly something that they can leverage, but Benny the Bull is a great source of inspiration for us.”
Outside of the 49ers and Bulls, clubs like the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks have also created mascot-focused TikTok accounts.
Even Brigham Young University has carved out a noteworthy mascot account – with Cosmo the Cougar amassing the second-biggest following in this category with more than 750,000 total followers.
According to Tyson Hutchins, BYU’s new media and digital content specialist, he and his colleagues had often discussed how to expand Cosmo’s social-media reach. After watching Benny’s growing TikTok popularity, it made him envious that Cosmo wasn’t already leveraging his persona on there.
“It was something that we wanted to do and just hadn’t gotten to it yet,” Hutchins said. “Benny kind of gave us a jolt in the right direction to make sure that we were doing some of those things. Benny’s been sort of like the original mascot on TikTok, which is awesome and has led to so many more mascots taking advantage of the platform.”
Heading into 2020, Bulls Director of Content Luka Dukich was – in his own astonishment – thinking about how to get Benny to one million TikTok followers. Now that he’s hit that mark before December, his plans have shifted to making sure Benny reaches even more people.
He sees more videos with skits between Benny and other Bulls players. He also wants Benny to get involved with other TikTok influencers who also have vast followings.
Although Benny has already surpassed one million TikTok followers, Dukich knows that the content needs to remain diverse. As TikTok continues to grow, so will the Bulls’ approach to it. In a year, he hopes that Benny’s posts will be markedly different from what’s online right now. Whatever his presence looks like in 2020, Dukich knows that Benny isn’t going anywhere – especially on TikTok.
“You have to constantly be evolving and producing what people are talking about – I think that’s true of any platform,” Dukich said to Front Office Sports before Benny’s accomplishment. “But I’m excited about the future of Benny. He’s still like a pretty new account – and to be approaching a million followers for a mascot account right now is unheard of on any platform.”