A New Phillie Phanatic Is Unveiled Amid Fight Over Rights to Mascot

His bushy eyebrows are now bushier. His arms — green and fuzzy like the rest of his pear-shaped figure — have sprouted what appear to be dangling, scale-like feathers. And his posterior, already formidable, has grown even larger.

At a spring training game on Sunday, the Philadelphia Phillies unveiled a new look for the Phillie Phanatic, the snout-nosed mascot whose untamed antics have captivated baseball fans for more than 40 years.

Phillies officials have repeatedly emphasized that the modifications represented the creature’s natural “evolution” — it is said that the Phanatic was born in the Galápagos Islands. But they also seem to have been prompted, at least in part, by a legal battle over the mascot.

Tom Burgoyne, who wears the Phanatic costume, said in an interview on Monday with the Philadelphia sports radio station WIP that the litigation “kick-started” the discussion on the new costume.

“We really did think this could be a great opportunity, you know, have a little fun, get creative,” he said.

The mascot’s new look — and familiar behavior — was well received at the game, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. But at least some fans protested the changes on social media, rallying around the hashtag #NotMyPhanatic.

The Phillies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Phanatic made its debut in the spring of 1978. The Phillies had recently won two division titles and a team executive wanted to attract more young fans. A designer who used to work on the Muppets was hired on a contract basis to come up with the Phanatic’s costume.

Before Mr. Burgoyne, the costume was worn for 16 years by Dave Raymond, who began playing the Phanatic as an intern. Mr. Burgoyne and Mr. Raymond engaged in slapstick comedic routines with fans and players, helping to turn the Phanatic into a Philadelphia icon.

The mascot also made an impact across the country, as it pushed marketers to realize that similar characters could be much more than a distraction during the lulls of a game.

Over the years, the team said in court documents that it had “developed dozens of new costumes for the Phanatic and creatively modified his appearance in numerous ways.”

In court papers filed in August, the Phillies said that Harrison/Erickson, the New York-based design and marketing firm that worked on the mascot’s design in 1978, improperly wanted to terminate an agreement over the Phanatic’s copyright.

The team said the firm was threatening to “obtain an injunction against the Phillies’ use of the Phanatic and to ‘make the Phanatic a free agent’” if the team did not pay the firm millions of dollars, according to court papers.

The firm replied in its own court documents that the Phillies did not have a claim to the Phanatic’s copyright and that the team had “no input into the design and creation of the Phanatic.” The firm said it “wanted to negotiate a re-granting of the Phanatic copyright to The Phillies for a fair price, to be negotiated.”

The litigation continues. Lawyers representing the Phillies and Harrison/Erickson did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Josh Gerben, an intellectual property lawyer who is not involved in the litigation, said that the Phanatic’s new design was likely an attempt by the Phillies to show that they had changed the mascot enough over the years that it was no longer covered by Harrison/Erickson’s copyright.

He was surprised that the Phillies had not settled the case — a possible indication, he said, that Harrison/Erickson was asking for a large sum. If the case does go to trial, he said, it would be hard to predict what a jury would do.

“This is a risk that the Phillies are taking in federal court,” he said.

Mr. Burgoyne said that the latest changes to the Phanatic’s appearance would not alter the mascot’s wild behavior.

On the field at the spring training game in Clearwater, Fla., on Sunday, the Phanatic climbed onto an A.T.V. and attempted, unsuccessfully, to fly.

“He’s trying to get through the crowd, the butt is kind of in people’s way, popcorn is flying,” Mr. Burgoyne said of the Phanatic’s weekend performance.

“It was the same old Phanatic,” Mr. Burgoyne said.