I entered the stadium, feeling a bit lost. I looked around for some indication of where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do. There were stadium employees everywhere, and it took me a moment before I located one who was standing at a turnstile, waiting to scan my ticket. I handed it to him, and he scanned it with a handheld scanner, then told me, “Enjoy the game.”
“Thank you,” I said, somewhat distracted as I looked up at the towering ceilings that stretched four stories above me. I pushed my way through the turnstile and stood there for a moment, wondering where I should go first. I had arrived an hour and a half early in order to have plenty of time to study the lay of the land, but I didn’t know where to begin.
While I was trying to decide, an employee stepped up to me and handed me a strange piece of paraphernalia. It was a foldable poster board with a PECO logo and pictures of the Flyers team members on it. I accepted it and said, “Thank you,” while wondering what I was supposed to do with it.
Before I could take two steps, I was handed something else: a Healthcare.gov information packet. I didn’t really understand why I was being handed healthcare information at a hockey game, but the words “Exercise is great for your health” greeted me from the front of the packet. I figured that someone had decided it made sense to advertise exercise health at a sporting event, which made sense to me.
I moved out of the way of the other spectators entering the stadium and found someplace where I could just stand and watch for a time. There were posters and balloons hanging all around, most of them in orange, white, and black in honor of the Flyers. There were also advertisements all around. Toyota ads were most predominant on the ground floor, and there was a red car on display, much like one might see down at the mall parked in one of the interior courtyards. In addition to the ads, I saw a variety of art themed around sports. Hanging above my head was a sort of chandelier from which hung several different pictures. Each one showed a silhouette of a sports player, their body made out of a different substance: a hockey player made out of flames, a figure skater made out of trees, and a ballet dancer made out of a cloudy sky.
Around me were employees dressed in orange and black. The colors of their uniforms blended in with the colors of the fans’ jerseys until I almost couldn’t tell the difference between the people who worked here and the people who were here for fun. They seemed like a unified group, all here for the same purpose.
Though the employees made their presence known through various gestures. Across from me, an elderly man stood in a booth and shouted, “PROGRAMS! Programs here! Gift books and programs!” I briefly considered buying a program, but I contented myself with my as-yet-unidentified piece of foldable poster board.
Another man, wearing a yellow and blue polo shirt with “Sundance Vacations” printed on the left side of his chest, approached me and handed me a small pad of paper. He explained that if I filled it out, I could have the chance to win four free tickets to a future game. I filled in my name, phone number, and email address, while noticing that most of the fans passing by ignored the man’s advances and declined to fill out the form.
“Good luck,” he told me after I handed him back my entrant form. I expected I would soon be receiving email advertisements from Sundance Vacations, and that I would not be the winner of the four free tickets.
Chances to be a winner, however, would continue to present themselves before me. Before I’d gone much further into the stadium, I encountered another employee selling 50/50 charity raffle tickets. I’d seen such raffles before at various craft fairs and other events; the money from the ticket sales is pooled together, and when a ticket is drawn, the winner gets half of the money raised, with the other half going to charity. It turns out that Comcast and the Flyers run a number of different charity events, and the 50/50 raffle is an event at every game. Thus, people attending sports games on a regular basis can become more than just fans; they can be good Samaritans contributing to worthy causes that benefit their communities.
The 50/50 raffle was at over $7000 when I passed by, but I decided not to buy a ticket.
I passed by a couple of men talking with two young girls dressed in tank tops and short shorts, who I took to be cheerleaders. The girls greeted a number of people as they passed, and posed for pictures. They were positioned near the escalators that led to the upper levels, so most of the fans heading that way passed the girls and were greeted. In between, the girls chatted and made small talk, though they were ready to pose for another picture again the next time someone approached them.
Past the cheerleaders, I saw a stand selling Flyers clothes and hats. I decided to buy a hat and show off my team affiliation, along with the rest of the fans. While I’m not a sports person and I’d never been to a hockey game before, I’m a Philly fan by virtue of conditioning. The area I live in is in South Jersey, but is considered to be in the suburbs of Philly. When I tell people from other parts of the country that I root for the Philly teams, they ask me why I don’t root for the Jersey teams. They don’t seem to realize that the New Jersey Devils hockey team is based on Newark, which is an hour and a half from where I live, and much closer to New York. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is about ten minutes from where I live, and a lot of people in my part of New Jersey drive over the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philadelphia five days a week during their daily commutes.
There were at least twenty different styles of hat on display. I eventually settled on an orange cap with the Flyers logo on the front. When I told the cashier what I wanted, he told me that hats were “Buy one get one for $1” today.
I was pleasantly surprised, and while I had no real need for a second hat when I was at the game alone, the deal was too good to pass up. So I picked out a second hat, with a plaid design. I wore the orange one for the rest of the game, and I was given a plastic bag with the Aramark logo on it to carry the other. I added my foldable PECO poster board and my Healthcare.gov information packet to the Aramark bag, and continued on my way.
Adorned with my new hat, I continued on my explorations. I saw more pieces of art, including a bronze statue of a man dunking a basketball. He seemed to be wreathed in flames as he made his shot. There were also a large number of fans getting food before the game. The inside of the stadium was lined with a large number of food stands, much like the food court at the mall. Hot dogs, pizza, french fries, and soft pretzels seemed to be the most common selections, along with Philly Cheesesteaks. You can’t have an event in Philly without cheesesteaks, and that’s all there is to it. And don’t start with me about the steak sandwiches they sell in other states that they try to pass off as “cheesesteaks.” Trust me when I say that if you live west of Ohio, you wouldn’t know a good cheesesteak if it bit you on the nose.
I stopped studying the environment and started looking at the people. Most were traveling in small groups of 2-4 people, many of them parents with young children. Usually the people walking together were wearing the same team colors, and usually those colors were orange and black. I only saw about one Blackhawks jersey for every twenty or thirty Flyers jerseys, and it was rare to see any cross-fandom groups. I passed by a group of people all in Flyers jerseys, then another group all in Blackhawks jerseys. When I finally spotted a pair of men walking together, one a Flyers fan and the other a Blackhawks fan, it was noticeable just because of how rare it seemed to be.
Most of the fans I saw were otherwise dressed normally, wearing jeans, sweatshirts, or light jackets in addition to their team gear. One man, however, immediately stood out to me. He was a large man wearing a bright orange jersey, and in addition his face was painted orange with black stripes across the cheeks. His hair was heavily hairsprayed into a spikey mohawk and dyed orange, white, and black. On either side of his head, the Flyers logo was drawn into the hair dye. His jersey was also autographed; at least ten different signatures lined the chest, back, and shoulders.
The mohawked man was in the company of a short, skinny, older woman who I guessed was his mother. After they stopped at one of the food stands and bought some hot dogs, I approached the man, eager to learn more about him.
“Are those autographs from the team on your shirt?” I asked him. Since it was a Flyers jersey, I assumed the signatures would be from Flyers players.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “It’s from various years.” At a second glance I noticed that some of the signatures were older and faded. The man had likely been wearing the jersey to many games over the years.
“Oh,” I replied, “so you keep having people add to it?”
“Yup,” he said.
“That’s awesome,” I told him. I was impressed. The addition of multiple autographs over various years told me that this man had been to a lot of games.
“Thank you,” he said. Then he turned back to the ketchup and relish station, and I continued on my way, wondering at the meaning of this man’s autographed jersey and its role in his culture.
This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases.