Mascots, Mythical Beasts & Media Convergence

STUFF Studios: The Orlando Magic's Mascot and Content Creator

Dragons, Yetis, Unicorns, Centaurs, Winged Horses. Mythical beasts exist in virtually every civilization on Earth.

The ancient — and constantly retold — stories of these creatures are much more than just folklore however. They are the “connective tissue” that explains, educates, engages and entertains countless generations of people. In many ways, the stories of mythical beasts constitute the earliest and purest examples of what we call “popular culture” today.

Team mascots are the mythical beasts of our modern world.

Amar Shah, Creative Strategist at Orlando Magic

Team mascots are the mythical beasts of our modern world. Here at the Orlando Magic, we believe our mascot, STUFF, can be used in much the same way to build and expand our fan base, create robust fan engagement and enhance the value of our brand among our fans around the world and in our community.

That’s why we’re proud to announce that our creative team at the Orlando Magic is launching STUFF Studios — an original in-house creative content “agency” whose mission is to integrate STUFF into popular culture by telling scripted, character-driven stories.

But before I tell you where we’re going, I think it’s important that I tell you where I’ve been so that you have a full grasp of this project’s genesis.

My specialty is tapping into the intersection of sports and popular culture. I was Neil Everett’s go-to guy at ESPN, and spent a few years on SportsCenter making magic by mixing mythical creatures from Harry Potter with jersey-wearing Wizards and turning Neil himself into a Jedi Knight.

In 2006, I headed for the West Coast where I worked as a producer on The Best Damn Sports Show Period and then in 2012 NFL Media came calling. In that role I was able to turn Russell Wilson into a Hobbit, create a DC Comics Mock Draft, tell the Oral History of Varsity Blues and finally serve as creator and Lead Producer on a Rod Tidwell ‘documentary’ celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire.

For that project we teamed up with Sony Pictures and it was my first true test of how to integrate sponsors organically into entertainment-driven sports content in the digital era.

Learning how to Californicate content taught me a ton, but I was ready to do something new and disruptive. So when the opportunity arose, I decided to go back home to Orlando.

I’m kind of like LeBron in that sense — and maybe this is my Coming Home essay.

STUFF Studios is the byproduct of stuff (no pun intended) that both the Magic and I have been doing for a while.

STUFF is what we call “evergreen awesome.” As one of the stars of the 2016 NBA Dunk Contest, he appeals across genders, demos and generations. This allows us to tell team and brand stories to the broadest possible audience without requiring player involvement.

When we do get players — such as Terrence Ross who appears in our first release, The Fast and the Furriest — it’s gravy, and it makes our content that much more compelling.

We have a talented team of broadcast and digital producers, and our immediate goal is to tell between four and six stories about STUFF during the coming year. We’re drawing inspiration from the never-ending pipeline of influences including (but certainly not limited to) summer movie releases, television (think Game of Thrones and its dragons), the NBA Draft and training camp, music, fashion and whatever else catches our attention and permeates the cultural conversation.

We want to be timely, original and fun in all of the stories we tell. We also want to do it in ways that are attractive to brands and make sponsor integration organic and easy without stamping logos across the narrative.

We know that it’s not enough to make great content…you have to promote it, and that’s really what the “studio” part is all about.

Our game plan is to promote upcoming features with teasers, GIFs, trailers and “posters” across multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, in addition to our web and mobile-based owned media channels. Features will premiere on Facebook and then platform out to all the other channels after a few days.

Of course, we are not alone in an endeavor of this type. Our friends at the Chicago Bulls and Bleacher Report deserve all the credit in the world for helping set the tone as we begin what we believe is a “renaissance” of digital storytelling.

One of my favorite quotations is from Gary Vaynerchuk — a highly successful entrepreneur and social media influencer (as well as a personal hero of mine). He once said: “Storytelling is the game. It’s what we all do.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

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Amar Shah is an Emmy-winning producer who got a Cameron Crowe-esque start when he covered the NBA for Slam Magazine and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids with Shaquille O’Neal at the age of 15.

He has worked as a producer at ESPN and Fox Sports, and later led the Digital Features and Sponsored Content editorial team at NFL Media. Amar recently joined the Orlando Magic as its Creative Strategist.

Much like Game of Thrones and its Winter, Hashtag Sports 2019 is coming. Hear the stories of other digital experts and innovators June 24–26.