September 9, 2023 

How new Phoenix Mercury mascot Fuego heats up Footprint Center

'By the way, his eyes can fly off'

PHOENIX — Someone new is waddling his way around the Footprint Center in Phoenix this season.

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People who have attended Phoenix Mercury games for years have seen the team’s longtime mascot, Scorch, interacting with fans and maybe even throwing down a dunk off of a trampoline.

This season, the team added a second mascot, an inflatable creature named Fuego. He is purple with an oversized head, pointy ears and a black button nose, and he has an orange Mercury outfit and sneakers.

“Mat’s really serious about the fan experience,” Mercury president Vince Kozar said about new team owner Mat Ishbia. “So we have all offseason to talk about, how do we turn up the volume, literally and figuratively? And how do we bring things in that we haven’t had before for our fans? …

“We want to do things that are original, but we also want to always look at what are things that are standard in the NBA that [WNBA] teams just haven’t tended to do. Because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be closing that gap. So out of those discussions, among many other things, was the genesis of … an inflatable for the Merc.”

The team chose an inflatable mascot to complement Scorch because Kozar noticed that NBA and college fans seem to love inflatable mascots. The Mercury contacted a company called Signs & Shapes and eventually decided on Fuego in his current form, which includes eyes that come off his suit.

“We have a great live presentation team who had a vision for what he would look like,” Kozar said. “And we went through a couple rounds of that and got to a place that we really liked. And then, as you get into the design phase, those companies are full of just really fun people who were like, ‘Well, by the way, we can add this feature,’ or, ‘By the way, his eyes can fly off if you want them to.’ And so we said, ‘Why not?'”

The name Fuego — the Spanish word for fire — is a nod to Phoenix’s hot climate, and it also represents the diversity of the city, Kozar said.

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According to Kozar, fans have liked the new addition to the arena experience and have wanted more of Fuego. The Mercury are looking for more ways to incorporate the new inflatable on the court and are considering a future where Scorch dunks over Fuego.

Longtime season ticket holders Marilyn Cristiano and LynnAlison McGavack-Martin are huge Fuego fans. McGavack-Martin thinks he is “so cute” and “really funny.” She said she loves how he “bounces up and down.” Cristiano also enjoys the bounce factor Fuego brings and thinks he is “hilarious.”

When asked about Fuego, Mercury guard Sug Sutton had to be reminded of the new mascot. This gave way to a funny comment from interim head coach Nikki Blue, who said, “Hopefully [the players] did not watch the mascot and are watching the game.”

Guard-forward Sophie Cunningham appeared in a social media video with Fuego at the beginning of the season, as did some of her teammates. “Low key, he scared the crap out of me when I first met him because … his eyes popped out,” she said. “But I think he is so cute and he is a very good addition to our team.”

As for Fuego’s future beyond this season, Kozar said the inflatable is here to stay.

“Fuego’s not going anywhere,” Kozar said. “We’re going to keep adding to the show, not subtracting. So Fuego may get a friend. Fuego may be used more and in different ways. There are always new things on the horizon.”

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Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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