This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Baxter, the bobcat mascot of the Arizona Diamondbacks, owes a good measure of its popularity to a small Murray costume company.
So do Squatch, the NBA Seattle Supersonics' mascot, and Fin the whale, who entertains the audience whenever the Vancouver Canucks play hockey in British Columbia.
Alinco Costumes is one of the biggest suppliers of mascot costumes to Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League. And with a market share of more than 70 percent, it has the National Basketball Association sewn up.
"It's a silly business. Most people just don't think about where mascots come from," said Terry Allen, the company's chief executive officer.
Allen has been creating mascot costumes for professional sports teams since 1977, when he bought the Alinco division of Salt Lake Costume, a costumer for theatrical productions that had been in business almost a century.
Thirty years later through trade shows and other marketing, Alinco's clients are a Who's Who of professional sports - the Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, are just a few.
The company also makes mascot costumes for college and high school sports teams. It has several high-profile commercial customers, including Ask.com, whose mascot is Jeeves, the fictional valet created by P.G. Wodehouse; and Petco, the pet products chain that hired Alinco to build costumes resembling the cat and dog in its corporate logo. It also makes walkaround characters for amusements parks.
The work is done by about 20 employees, who design the costumes and put them together in a small factory near 5300 South and Woodrow Street (just east of I-15). Heads are fabricated in latex from molds made from busts of sculpted clay. Brightly colored fabrics become outlandish beaver skins, devil costumes or dinosaurs. Noses are made of foam. Feet have industrial-grade neoprene soles. Black pads on the paws of animals are created from a nonslip fabric that allows the mascot to hold on to objects. Eyes have a luminous shine that Allen contends are unmatched by any of his rivals.
"The designs are ours. We own the copyrights," he said.
The rewards of the business run in several directions. First are the serendipitous sightings of Alinco creations There was a time when Allen was sitting in a Paris hotel, watching a television broadcast about something going on in Tokyo. On the screen was a Frank N. Stein monster that Allen immediately recognized as one of his costume productions.
Then there is the sense that his life has gone according to plan. In 1963, at the age of 16, Allen created his first mascot head. At 30, with only two sewing machines and an assortment of face molds, he and wife Lowla bought Alinco. Today, Allen's employees pump out about 1,400 costumes a year, and business is brisk, much of it through repeat customers.
"He's a happy man. He likes to come to work," said Lowla, who oversees customer relations and quality control.
Finally, there is the financial payoff. The least-expensive costumes - lions, tigers, eagles and bulldogs that typically are bought by high schools with limited budgets - run from $600 to $700. Custom-made mascot suits that professional sports teams buy bring $10,000 or more.
The design and construction of professional costumes reflect the shift in the role that mascots play. Gone are the days when mascots were simple icons. Today's mascots are athletes whose high-performance costumes must permit them to walk on stilts, ride motorcycles, dunk basketballs or do back-flips.
"[Teams] want their mascots to be extremely visible and mobile," said Kevin Wasden, Alinco's vice president of creative services and chief designer.
The key challenges Alinco designers face are building mascot costumes that allow wearers to see and to suck plenty of oxygen into their lungs. Oversized heads must lock tightly to the body of the costume and be well balanced. Tails should bend so that they don't sweep fans off their feet.
Sometimes, though, costumes are deliberately designed to be clumsy. Last year, ESPN hired Alinco to build costumes whose outsized heads were caricatures of the sportscasters who wore them while running the length of a football field during halftime. Visibility was limited to make it hard to see where they were going.
Joe Theismann, the former Washington Redskins quarterback who appears on ESPN as a commentator, "liked his so much he wanted to replace his bust at the [football] Hall of Fame with it," Allen said.