As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture, sports culture, and racism, I decided that I needed to go to a sporting event. My purpose in going was to make sure that I gain some kind of understanding about what sports mean to people and the role sports play in people’s lives. With the ongoing debate over the names of teams like the Washington Redskins (which some people argue mock Native American culture and others argue honors them), I feel that it’s important for me to get to know sports culture in order to understand the perspective of the people who say that their teams are part of a longstanding tradition.
On Tuesday, March 18th, I attended the Flyers vs Blackhawks game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. I tried to go in with an open mind. I’d never been to a hockey game before, and my previous experience with live sporting events had been sharply limited. My dad took me to two baseball games (Phillies vs Pirates and Phillies vs Expos (the Montreal Expos, I have since learned, are now renamed the Washington Nationals)) when I was a kid, and I don’t remember much of anything about them. One of my uncles took me to an Eagles game, and I only remember that it was really cold. Then, as an adult, I once took a girl to a New York Giants football game because she was a football fan and I wanted to impress her (it didn’t work). Attending a hockey game on this occasion was helpful because it is a sport I’m completely unfamiliar with (thus allowing me to enter with as few preconceptions as possible), though the fact that both football and baseball were out of season had a lot to do with the decision.
I bought my ticket online, after a fair bit of confusion navigating the ticket purchasing website. I eventually found that those attending the game can select whichever seat they like from an interactive stadium map that shows where each seat is located, how many seats are already empty or filled, and the seat’s position relative to the rink. I chose a seat in the mezzanine level (because those were the cheapest tickets), at a position I thought would give me an adequate view of the game: Section 222, Row 13, Seat 18.
I left early, wearing my NaNoWriMo hoodie and carrying my fieldnotes book in my pocket. I brought two pens, just in case. Which is a good thing, since one of them ran out of ink before the game even started. I ended up taking quite a lot of notes during the following five hours.
My goal during note-taking was to capture as much as I could about the people, their behavior, the way they talked, and the reactions they had during the game. However, I also spent a lot of time looking at the environment, since a stadium is a very unique setting not quite like any other.
I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center at 6:00 pm. I paid $16 for parking (which, I should note, is actually cheaper than the $21 parking price at the Penn Museum, which is only a short distance from the stadium). I noticed an advertisement for 1-800-Lundy-Law on the front of the parking lot ticket booth. When I first entered the parking lot, my initial reaction was confusion. There were parking spaces all around, but most of the lots were blocked off by barriers and orange cones, while lot attendants in neon orange vests waved the cars forward and directed us elsewhere. Uncertain where I was being led, I followed the line of cars in front of me until we circled nearly the whole building. Eventually, I was waved into a parking lot and found a spot. While the complexity of parking was at first confusing, it later became clear that it was a necessity. During the game it was announced that 19,932 people were in attendance, and with that many people, the parking situation could easily have descended into chaos without the aid of stadium employees telling us all where to go. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 21,660, which means it doesn’t get much more packed than it was that night (in fact, the announcement made on the JumboTron called it a “sell out”).
Upon my arrival in the parking lot, I already saw dozens of people dressed in orange and black clothes, hats, and jerseys. While not a hockey fan, I’m familiar enough with the Philadelphia Flyers to know that orange, black, and white are their team colors. I initially spotted only a few people wearing Blackhawks jerseys, which wasn’t surprising, since the game was taking place in Philly.
I took a few minutes while in the parking lot to just observe the area. The first thing I noticed was that there were several stadiums clumped together all in this same area. From the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center (which, according to banners hanging on the side of the building, hosts games for the Flyers, the Wings lacrosse team, and the 76ers basketball team), I could see the nearby Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles football team), and the Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies baseball team). I have always found it curious that all of the stadiums in Philadelphia are named after banks. It also leads to frequent name changes when banks undergo mergers. Just as customers of those banks find the name of their local branch changed, the Wells Fargo Center has changed names from the CoreStates Center to the First Union Center to the Wachovia Center, before settling on its current name. Yet the name is much more than a simple identifier: the original CoreStates bank paid $40 million in 1996 to get naming rights of the stadium for the next 21 years.
Before leaving my car, I took note of where I had parked. A sign on the nearby lamppost said this was section “D3,” and below that was a Toyota logo. I mused about the significance of parking in the Toyota parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, remembering how I’d paid for parking at the “1-800-Lundy-Law” ticket booth. I then headed up to the stadium.
More people wearing orange and black continued to pass by me. An announcer spoke over the speakers overhead, telling me that “1-800-Lundy-Law welcomes you to the Wells Fargo Center.” The same announcer warned me not to buy tickets from scalpers and said that they would not be accepted at the ticket booth. It occurred to me later that the term “scalpers” is a potentially offensive one. My earlier research into sports and racism brought up a news article about a Sonic Drive-in sign referring to scalping, which read “‘KC CHIEFS’ WILL SCALP THE REDSKINS FEED THEM WHISKEY SEND – 2 – RESERVATION.” The sign was later taken down after multiple complaints were issued, and Sonic issued a formal apology. However, there is a certain disparity between using the term “scalping” to refer to sports teams like the Chiefs and the Redskins versus using it to refer to ticket resale.
I continued onwards, and reached the main entrance to the stadium. In front of the entrance, five tall flagpoles stood in a row, the flags on top of each flapping lightly in the breeze. I looked up and examined each of the flags. One showed the logo for the Philadelphia Wings, the next the logo for Comcast Sportsnet, the next the 76ers, then the Flyers, and finally the American flag.
I stopped and considered the meaning of this for a moment. The flags representing the sports teams were hung alongside the American flag, at the same height, depicted with the same significance. It seemed to be symbolic of the position sports played in the lives of Americans. Sports are, notably, considered a national phenomenon in many ways. Baseball is called the “National Pastime.” ESPN has a program called “SportsNation.” And as noted earlier, the Canadian-based team the Montreal Expos was later moved to Washington D.C. and renamed the Washington Nationals. The Nationals’ mascot is Screech, a bald eagle, and many of the team’s logos are red, white, and blue, with stars.
The significance of a team’s mascot and logo seems particularly important. As I noted in an earlier post, the Blackhawks team name and mascot are based off the original team owner’s World War I infantry division, something which holds a lot of historical and cultural importance. And while the Philadelphia Flyers have no actual mascot, their team logo is a stylized “P” representative of their home city of Philadelphia. The name “Flyers” was chosen because “it captured the speed of the game and went well phonetically with Philadelphia.” The design of the logo also incorporates a wing to represent speed, a circle at the center of the “P” that represents a hockey puck, and a sweeping stick shape on the back end of the “P” that looks like a hockey stick. The combination of these factors blends the concepts of “speed,” “hockey,” and “Philadelphia” into a single image. It’s easy to see how this would help fans from the Philadelphia area identify and associate with their team, feeling a connection between their own status as Philadelphians and their hockey team.
The Flyers aren’t the only Philly team to have a mascot or logo that forges such a connection. The Philadelphia Eagles use the bald eagle, which is also the symbol found on the Great Seal of the United States.
This seems particularly significant when considering that Philadelphia was the original capital of the United States, from 1790-1800. Philadelphia is also one of the oldest cities in America, founded by William Penn in 1682. It’s a city that has played an important role in our colonial history.
This connection between the Philadelphia sports teams and Philadelphia history is also seen in the logo of the 76ers. The Sixers are named after the year 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Their logo, like the Washington Nationals, includes red, white, and blue colors, along with a circle of thirteen stars in the same design as the first American flag.
I turned away from the line of flags and into the stadium, pondering the cultural significance of these connections. I had already encountered a great deal of symbolism and history, and the game hadn’t even started yet.
This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats.