"There are only 125 positions available in the U.S.," said Erin Blank, a professional mascot who has worked for teams like the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team. "You have a better chance of making an NFL team, an NBA team, a Major League Baseball team or an NHL team than being the mascot."
That isn't stopping people from trying. For every Famous Chicken or Phillie Phanatic who hits the big time, there are hundreds of other hopefuls happy to be the mascot for their local high school or college team or a minor league team, or even to just put on a wacky cow costume for the Chick-fil-A chain.
And Blank is happy to help them.
She runs Keystone Mascots, a company that helps wannabe mascots with everything from costume design to performance tips. There's even a school where students learn the finer points of marketing the mascot.
It's something that comes naturally to her.
"I think mascots are born, not made," she said. "I was 10 when I first put on a costume. My mom worked at a department store, and I got to dress up as a Smurf and roam around the store making customers happy."
In the process, she learned that a lot of a mascot's work comes when the costume is off.
"You have to know how to work with coaches and advisers," she said. "For instance, some coaches don't want you dancing on the dugout during the ninth inning of a baseball game, but some do, so you have to understand the politics.
"Also, you have to take care of the costume. Luckily, today's costumes are not only lighter -- around 10 pounds each, even the head -- but they are machine washable. That's an improvement. I know one university mascot who left his costume in the locker for the summer and it ended up infested with fleas. It was dry-clean only, so when they put chemicals on it to kill the fleas, all the fur fell off."
As Blank sees it, this is a good time to be a mascot -- and not just because the costumes are lighter and machine-washable.
"There's better compensation these days as businesses recognize the value that a mascot can mean to their business," she said. "For instance, a man I was training recently got a $10,000 raise from a minor league hockey team because he'd had a better offer and the local boosters found out he might leave and told the team management how valuable he was."
Even better, she says, is the support that mascots get from the crowd.
"There's not as much mascot kicking these days," she said gleefully. "And when it happens, people in the stands defend me."
Although Blank has had her share of drunken fans, foreign tourists who want lots and lots and lots of photos, and skirmishes with referees who don't like antics, she admits she still gets surprised every day on the job.
"I was at Comerica Park [in Detroit] in my costume and saw a pimp coming by with his entourage," she said. "One of the women came up to me and unbuttoned her blouse in front of me. Then she asked, 'Like what you see?'"
Blank was so taken aback that she broke the mascot's code and spoke while in the costume.
"I told her, 'Not particularly,' and she got slightly embarrassed and walked away," she said.
Being a mascot isn't easy, but the costume stays with you -- even years after you take it off, according to former mascot-turned-veterinarian Karen O'Connor, who hasn't been a mascot since the U.S. World Cup in 1994.
"If I still had the stamina, I would put on a suit again!" said O'Connor, who met her former husband while working as Diamond Duck for a minor league baseball team in Richmond, Va.
"He liked to tell people that the reason he got interested in me was because I was the mascot," she said with a laugh.
O'Connor got into "mascotting" -- as it is called in the community -- because her friends were cheerleaders but she wasn't coordinated enough to join them. A self-proclaimed introvert, she says the job allowed her to express other sides of her personality.
"When I was Rhonda Ram at Virginia Commonwealth University, I would flirt with all the guys and even pinch them on the butt," she said. "They loved it. I would also squirt people with shaving cream and water guns."
Still, she had to deal with her share of abuse as well.
"My name was 'Rhonda Ram,' but I should've been a ewe. That was pointed out to me many times," she said.
O'Connor doesn't know if her affinity for dressing up as animal mascots affected her decision to become a vet after she hung up her mascot masks, but she admits, "I've always loved animals."
She also loves mascots, and just as former waitresses often give the biggest tips in restaurants, O'Connor tries to show her support.
"I recently drove by Chick-fil-A and saw a guy in a cow costume and I waved at him," she said.
Former college mascot Elizabeth Hilliard understands that sense of shared community. From 1986 to 1988, she was "Mrs. Wolf" at North Carolina State and was voted the No. 1 female mascot and 10th overall at the United Cheer Association's National Mascot Championship.
However, she says that while she appreciates a good mascot, as a former instructor, her standards are high.
"It's frustrating to go to a game and see the mascot is not doing the most to be the best of their ability," she said.
Hilliard is hoping that the renewed appreciation of mascots that pleases Blank goes even further.
"I'd like to see [mascotting] become more recognized," she said. "I lettered in it in college and it's definitely a sport, and it deserves more recognition and rewards."