Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis

This is Part 4 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

When I entered the seating area to find my seat, I stopped for a moment to look down at the rink. It was about 30 minutes to game time. The JumboTron was flashing the names and pictures of various players, while upbeat music played that reminded me of a dance club or rave. After each player’s picture, the JumboTron showed the player’s stats and other bits of trivia knowledge, most of which I couldn’t interpret.

When I looked down at the rink, I saw the teams were on the ice, but not playing. They were gathered on opposite sides of the rink, each team sticking to their own side. Dozens of pucks were laid out across the ice, and the players were shooting them over and over while skating around in circles. They looked like practice shots.

I found a stadium attendant with a black jacket that read “EVENT STAFF” across the back. Her nametag read, “Vida.” I asked her, “Are they warming up?” It was the only explanation I could come up with.

“Yes,” she said. “Then they’ll bring out toe Zambonis to refresh the ice, then they’ll come out to play.”

She stepped away to ask another fan if they knew where they were sitting, then examined their ticket and directed them where they needed to go. Meanwhile, PECO and Dietz & Watson ads played on the JumboTron, while an announcer informed the attendees of the rules. We were told that there was “No smoking,” which seemed reasonable. Then he said that there would be “No abusive language.” That also seemed reasonable but it surprised me that it had to be announced explicitly. After listing a few other rules about rowdiness, the announcer said, “Violators will be escorted from the building.” This made me wonder just how rowdy they expected the crowd to get.

At 7:15, the Zambonis arrived. They were painted all over like NASCAR cars, one with the Dietz & Watson logo and another with the Horizon Services logo. By this point, somewhere between a third and half of the seats in the stadium were already filled. People were talking and laughing, and sitting down to eat hot dogs, pizza, and french fries. Meanwhile, the Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis performed their dance on the ice, gliding about in slow coordination, one following a short distance behind the other and a bit to the side so their paths just barely overlapped.

Watching the Zambonis drew my attention to the ice itself. The Flyers logo was clearly visible in the center. It was surrounded by a circle of text that read “Wells Fargo Center.” Beyond that, ads were stamped directly into the ice: Dietz & Watson, Dorado Systems, McDonald’s, and Toyota. The remaining 15 minutes before the game started was an endless saturation of ads, for while the Zambonis did their dance, another ad played on the JumboTron, with Magic Johnson encouraging us all to sign up for Healthcare.gov. This was followed by an ad for “Muppets Most Wanted” before 1-800-Lundy-Law once again welcomed us to the game, and Mr. Lundy closed by saying, “Go Flyers.”

I wondered about the effectiveness of all this advertisement saturation, but I knew that there was a principle of association and persuasion at work here. In his book, “Influence, Science and Practice,” Robert B. Cialdini discusses the power of conditioning and association. This is a way in which positive associations between otherwise unrelated things can affect the way we feel about those things. This can start off with something as simple as a good meal. Cialdini described a study in which “subjects become fonder of the people and things they experienced while eating” (p. 164). The reason for this is because if you are eating good food, you experience positive emotions. Those positive emotions then become subconsciously associated with the event you’re attending, rather than just with the food itself. It was no wonder, then, that the stadium was filled with food stands from one end to the other. Not only was it more convenient (allowing guests to eat here instead of having to eat before the arrived), but the act of eating during a game can actually have a psychological effect of your enjoyment of the game.

This association effect can also apply to other products and people. Cialdini said, “Radio programmers are instructed to insert the station’s call-letters jingle immediately before a big hit song is played,” (p 165) because it creates an association of positive emotion between the station and the song. Just like there would be an association between 1-800-Lundy-Law and the positive emotions fans experienced during the game.

This is an especially strong influence when it comes to sports, and it soon became apparent to me that the association principle taking place wasn’t limited to just the advertisements. Overhead, an American and a Canadian flag hung above the arena, across from banners listing Bruce Springsteen (#53) and Billy Joel (#48) as “Philadelphia Sellouts” in honor of concerts they held at the Wells Fargo Center that sold out all the seats.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

As the countdown to the game grew closer, a group of kids near me began shouting and chanting, “Let’s go, Flyers,” followed by slapping their noisemakers against their hands in a rhythm: 1, 2, . . . 3, 4, 5. They continued chanting over and over, each time with the same pattern to the clapping and noisemaking afterwards. Then, at 7:30, the announcer came on to introduce “Your Philadelphia Flyers,” and all the fans cheered.

“Your” Philadelphia Flyers, not “the” Philadelphia Flyers. This is another example of the influence of association at work. Cialdini also discusses this idea of fan association, stating that people will shout, “‘We’re number one! We’re number one!’ . . . not ‘They’re number one’ or even ‘Our team is number one'” (p. 168). The association felt by fans is so strong that they often use the pronoun “we” to show their identity with their team. Though, it seems this only applied when a team is winning, and that “No television viewer will ever hear the chant, ‘We’re in last place! We’re in last place!” (p. 168) since people will distance themselves from their team after a defeat.

It seems, then, that there are a number of influences at work, all at once, within a single arena. The fans associate their positive feelings–from the good food, to the cheering, to the music–with the team itself, and they associate themselves as being part of the team. If advertisers, such as the announcer from 1-800-Lundy-Law, become associated with those same positive feelings, it seems likely that a similar connection will be forged. A team who has a great time with great food and great friends at a game will carry their positive feelings over to everyone who is “part of the team,” and that includes Mr. Lundy, who shouted, “Go Flyers!” right along with the rest of the crowd.

After musing over the significance of so many associations in one place, I took my seat, and waited for the game to begin.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 5: American Heroes and the Star Spangled Banner.

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