Cleatus walks among us.
In advance of the August 17 launch of Fox Sports 1, the network’s marketing and promotions team has brought the animated Fox NFL Sunday robot to life for the first time, ordering up a 6’ 9” fiberglass and Kevlar suit which, at this very moment, is being worn by an overheated actor somewhere in East Texas.
Midway through a 3,800-mile barnstorming tour of 11 Major League Baseball markets (the itinerary includes a day trip to the U.S. Army installation at Fort Campbell, Ky.), Cleatus and a group of female representatives from the Fox Sports Networks RSNs are presently making their way toward Houston on Interstate 10.
The road trip is something of a relay from RSN to RSN, starting off in Southern California (where Fox Sports San Diego arranged for Cleatus to help throw out the first pitch before the August 4 Yankees-Padres game), before heading north into Los Angeles for a quick stroll around downtown and the Santa Monica Pier. Fox Sports Arizona picked up the baton on Wednesday, as Cleatus and a support staff of about a dozen human boosters made the rounds at Phoenix’s Chase Stadium.
“Because you see him and immediately think, ‘Oh, hey: Fox Sports,’ we wanted Cleatus to be at the center of this campaign from the beginning,” said Chris Hannan, svp, Fox Sports Media Group. “And because baseball is our biggest summer platform, it just makes sense to have him appear at the ballparks and be integrated into our regional sports networks’ coverage.”
A typical day on the tour will find the fauxbot and his female cohorts parked in front of that day’s venue—the garishly painted “Fox Sports 1 Fan Express” is pretty hard to miss, even in a packed parking lot—where they’ll sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. From there, they make their way into the stadium for on-field appearances and the occasional visit to the owner’s box.
Of course, there are those who don’t necessarily appreciate Cleatus’ brand of cyborg joie de vivre. Despite the extreme reaction the two-dimensional version often excites in die-hard fans who can’t figure out what a dancing cartoon robot has to do with football, Hannan said the big fella has been well received in the flesh (as it were).
“We’re well aware that there is a love/hate relationship between the fans and Cleatus,” Hannan said. “He’s got a certain kind of notoriety. It goes without saying that kids love him—that’s a given—but the adult reaction has been great. When you see him in person, no one says, ‘oh, I hate that thing, get him away from me.’ Most everybody wants a picture with Cleatus.”
The suit itself is no hacky Comic-Con costume. Designed by Legacy Effects, the shop that constructed Robert Downey, Jr.’s, Iron Man rig and the Jaeger robots in the film Pacific Rim, Cleatus is like some kind of gladiator-android hybrid with a somewhat inexplicable enthusiasm for sporting events.
“This isn’t like a little teddy bear mascot,” Hannan said. “This is a huge robot. The eyes light up. He’s imposing.”
Developed by Gary Hartley, who is now Fox Sports’ evp of graphics, Cleatus wears No. 34 as a tribute to the late Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.
The tour ends up with a two-day trip to New York City and Boston. After the FS1 launch, Cleatus is expected to appear in a number of on-site activations around pro and college football.
“We are in the process of making some duplicates,” Hannan said, which suggests that a virtual army of turquoise sports-bots will be on the march in time for football season. “Cleatus will be in New York for Week 1 of our NFL schedule, and he’ll also be part of a college football tour we’re doing in the fall.”
With just eight days left before FS1 goes live from coast to coast, the network still must close out three major carriage deals if it’s to launch to its target footprint of 90 million subscribers. Fox Sports said that it is negotiating with the operators—outside sources identify them as Time Warner Cable and the satellite providers DirecTV and DISH Network—and that it is confident that it will have optimal carriage by the time August 17 rolls around.
All told, the three operators serve around 46.4 million video subscribers.
FS1 is said to be asking for a base rate of 80 cents per sub per month, a hike nearly four times the rate charged for legacy service Speed (22 cents), but well shy of the $5.26 per head collected by ESPN.