I am not a huge sports fan. Nor am I a hockey fan. I but I did some work recently that made me appreciate the value of both from an anthropological perspective.
I figured I should get serious every now and again. Here’s my first pass.
When thinking about how people watch sports, context is everything.
Sports spectatorship is far from a game. Rather, it is an essential part of life.
Sports represent a tie that binds, a reminder of our humanity and the possibilities of achievement that come with exercising our physical and mental muscles for the benefit of the collective. Watching sports binds us together, and reminds us of
life’s essential lessons about commitment, determination and the value of being
a team player.
And no matter how old we get or how many hits we take, they entertain us in a
way that is both exciting and empathetic…reminding us to love the game of life, promising that win or lose, we are in it together.
And Sports fans are far from blind followers. Rather, they are armchair experts of sorts who scrutinize the athletic, cultural and entertainment value of their choices and place great importance on the overarching ethos of the game. No two sports can replicate the value of another, thus providing a seemingly infinite nuanced category of engagement for philosophical spectators who take pride in their connections to the games they love.
Lets take a look at Hockey in Canada: The NHL / Stanley cup offers a weekly routine guaranteed to please. The social outlet allows the young and young at heart to find comraderie in high-energy engagement. And the party doesn’t have to stop once the puck is off the ice, with a number of ways to flex social and intellectual muscles to keep fans connected to the game and to one another. Social media, reality TV, and fantasy sports alone can make engagement with hockey through outlets like the NHL a nonstop lifestyle activity during Cup Season.
An that’s exactly what it’s like up there above the U.S. border.
Hockey is in many ways the lifeblood of Canada. It is a tie that binds and an experience that bonds. Watching hockey is like breathing, and the rich cultural tradition connects all Canadians to one another in a way that evokes pride in their national identity and facilitates bonding and tradition within their families.
That means that regardless of the fact that there are no Canadian teams competing for the most iconic trophy in sports this year, you will still find a devoted Canadian fan base glued to the game and engaged in media.
I should point out here that the The NHL does a solid job of providing Canadians with a a rich platform for engaging with their national past-time and promises deeper connections with like minded-humans and empathetic heroes through their vast media reach: from stat sites to HBO specials and beyond.
However, some recent work I have done shows that catching the media-attention of Canadian hockey fans is a hit or miss enterprise when it comes to marketing and brand reach (this is where my “day job” comes in). But winning them over is easy if a brand can authentically connect to the spirit of Hockey that pervades the Canadian way of life. Presence is not enough to gain relevance in a sea of media. The story must connect in a meaningful way and empathize with the Canadian way of life that IS hockey. Look at Molson Canadain, Tim Hortons, Visa and other sponsors who “get it”:
The purpose of this work was to identify ways to exploit the cultural context of hockey for profit, but at the end of the day it taught me a lot about the value of professional sports and sport in general, beyond the physical necessity of it to the cultural imperative.
All in all I’m better off. And I hope you are too for reading this blog today. 🙂