Ragnar isn't the official mascot of the Minnesota Vikings, but Joe Juranitch, who has played the bearded Viking character at home games since 1994, wanted to become one of the highest paid mascots in all of sports.
Juranitch, 54, was making $1,500 per game as an independent contractor, but his deal expired in the offseason. He was seeking a contract that would pay him $20,000 per game for the next decade, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. He was essentially asking for a 10-year, $2 million contract, based on eight regular-season and two preseason games per year.
The Vikings had multiple conversations with Juranitch, but they weren't willing to pay his price. Even the original Phillie Phanatic understands the team's position.
"No organization is going to pay that type of salary just because they like the performer and they have a good relationship," said Dave Raymond, who originated the popular Phanatic character at Philadelphia Phillies games in 1978. "They're not going to pay anybody for those reasons. They're going to pay them only if that performer is delivering with their job skills. These are skilled, trained performers who are delivering revenue."
Mascots generally make anywhere from $25,000 a year starting out in the minor leagues to $60,000 in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, said Raymond, who now runs Raymond Entertainment, a character branding and mascot training company which has created and worked on more than 100 mascots over the past 20 years. Some mascots make more, but not many.
"Performers who have been there anywhere between 10 to 20 years, who are full-time salaried performers with benefits and incentives, can earn in the six-figure range, and about 10 percent of the full-time performers are reaching that level of compensation," Raymond said. "The teams that are paying them understand the value of those particular performers because if they're paying them six figures, I guarantee you they're making two to five times the amount of that salary in revenue, marketing and brand benefits."
Of the elite group of mascots earning six figures, only a few are making close to the $200,000 annual salary Juranitch was seeking. Those performers are not only full-time team employees, but they perform at 41 regular-season NBA games or 81 regular-season baseball games, in addition to a variety of other events during the course of the year. For example, most appearances for Benny the Bull fall into the $525 to $1,500 range, while Mr. Met and the Phillie Phanatic can be at your wedding or Bar Mitzvah for $600 per hour.
As the San Diego Chicken, Ted Giannoulas was the first professional mascot to become a star in his own right. He has played many venues where he -- not the ballgame -- was the draw, and his compensation was directly tied to attendance by contract.
"I'm not too familiar with the [Vikings] situation," Giannoulas said, "but it's whatever the market will bear, of course. It would be justified if people paid to see him -- if he drew the attendance. I've been paid on occasion more than twice that [$20,000] amount, but that was based directly on attendance."
Another problem for Juranitch is that in 2007 the Vikings introduced their own official mascot, Viktor the Viking. As opposed to Ragnar, a 54-year-old burly, bearded man on a motorcycle, Viktor is a colorful cartoonish character who is available to come to your next birthday party for $325 per hour. You can also buy a Viktor youth jersey for $55 or a Viktor plush doll for $25.
"[Juranitch] overestimated his value to the team in regards to the revenue he could deliver," Raymond said. "It sounds like there was some negotiating going on. He was making $1,500 and he asked for $20,000. It sounds like he decided, 'I'm going to get this or I'm leaving,' and they said goodbye. If I was advising him, I'd say if you want this job and you like this job, then negotiate in good faith. Maybe it was reasonable for him to ask for $5,000 per game, and maybe he would have gotten that."
When the Vikings beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday, it was first home game Juranitch had missed in 21 years. Juranitch posted a picture on his Facebook page of himself in Ragnar attire watching the game on television.
"It doesn't feel right sitting at home," he wrote. "This is not by my choice. I don't make those decisions. At this point it was made for me. I miss all my fans and your support. Let's all stay positive as we move forward."
An online petition on his behalf directed at Vikings owner Zygi Wilf garnered more than 10,000 supporters in 24 hours. While the Vikings refused to give Juranitch the contract he wanted, they said they would honor his 21 seasons on the field during a home game this season and welcome him to future ceremonial events. "We will always consider Ragnar an important part of Vikings history," the team said in a statement.
"If you're talking about paying someone the money he was asking for, that would mean the Vikings would have to be capitalizing on a half a million dollars' worth of revenue to make that worthwhile," Raymond said. "I think the simple answer to what's happened here is you have somebody who overvalued what they gave to the franchise. It doesn't mean that he wasn't good. It doesn't mean the fans didn't like him. It just means from the business perspective, he overvalued his worth."
ESPN.com writer Thomas Neumann contributed to this report.