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Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats

This is Part 2 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.

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.

I'm not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
I’m not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.

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.

I bought this hat for $25.
I bought this hat for $25.
And I got this one for $1.
And I got this one for $1.

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.

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Ethnographic Hockey, Part 1: An Orange and Black Philadelphia

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 printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.
I printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.

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.

Excuse my poor handwriting.
Excuse my poor handwriting.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.

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.

Image Credit: SportsLogos.net
Image Credit: SportsLogos.net

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.

Image Credit: GoodLogo.com
Image Credit: GoodLogo.com

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.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

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.

Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com
Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com

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.