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Mascot Fails to Capture Heart of World Cup Fans

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Germany won its opening match against Costa Rica, four to two, in World Cup play Friday. But a major and unexpected reversal has tempered German spirits a bit. Goleo VI, the official championship mascot, is apparently a flop with children and soccer fans. Goleo VI is a furry creature with no pants, who's been described as looking like the out-of-wedlock child of Chewbacca and Alf.

Kyle James reports from Berlin.

KYLE JAMES reporting:

The World Cup mascot first met the public back in November 2004 on one of Germany's most popular TV shows.

(Soundbite of Germany TV show)

Unidentified Man: Hier ist Goleo.

(Soundbite of music and applause)

JAMES: A seven and a half foot tall lion walked out on the stage named Goleo. The name is a combination of goal and Leo, or Leo for lion. He had a splashy debut but it's been all downhill from there. Goleo has been pilloried by just about everyone.

Mr. ERIK SPIEKERMANN (Designer): It's a lion, which has no historical relevance to Germany whatsoever.

JAMES: Erik Spiekermann is one of Germany's best-known designers.

Mr. SPIEKERMANN: We have eagles, and gnomes, and garden dwarves, what have you, but we don't have lions. That's English or French, or whatever. But this artificial lion that is just neither cute, nor ugly, nor relevant, is just way embarrassing.

JAMES: The mascot was designed by the Jim Henson Company, the people behind the Muppets. But Goleo has not had Kermit the Frog's appeal. The lion hasn't exactly been roaring off store shelves. The German toy company which reportedly paid $34 million for the rights to the toy Goleo has gone bankrupt. His appearance, frolicking around in the video for the official World Cup mascot song, didn't help things.

(Soundbite of mascot song)

JAMES: He's been laughed at for looking dumb, for not wearing any pants, and for having a talking soccer ball as a sidekick. But Yins Kierschnak(ph), an editor at the German soccer magazine El Freunde(ph), says the criticism goes deeper.

Mr. YINS KIERSCHNAK (Editor, Elf Freunde Magazine): People don't like mascots, or many people don't like mascots and because they are symbol for the growing commerce in football, I think.

JAMES: But business is playing bigger than ever this time around, and everyone is trying to cash in on soccer fever. There are the usual T-shirts, flags, wigs, and this being Germany, World Cup sausages. But there's also World Cup toilet paper and contact lenses in the national colors. The country's biggest sex store chain, Beate Uhse, saw an erotic marketing opportunity. Assia Tsernookoff is the company's spokeswoman.

Ms. ASSIA TSERNOOKOFF (Spokeswoman, Beate Uhse): The footballers, they are all so nice guys. And they have muscles and they are good looking. And all men, they would like to be like them, most of them. And also, the woman, they love them.

JAMES: So the company released new lingerie, erotic games, and even a line of vibrators for the event. Two of them were named after popular players on the German team. But they had to be pulled off the market after the athletes in question threatened to sue. Some didn't consider that very sporting at all.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle James in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle James

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