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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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Sports Culture Interview, Results, and Reflection

As I recently mentioned, on Monday, March 24th I conducted an interview on the topic of sports culture. I wanted to get the perspective of an avid sports fan in order to learn what his views are on the significance of sports in modern life, and on the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins. This is just one of multiple interviews I’m conducting on this subject, and during the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to learn from the perspectives of multiple individuals from different backgrounds.

The individual I interviewed was a man named George, who works as a bartender at a local Chili’s. I was introduced to him through a friend, who told me that George was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of sports. I soon found out that this was an understatement, and George ended up sharing a lot of fascinating information with me.

I arrived at the Chili’s early, and I was shown to the bar. While I was waiting for George to arrive, I took some time to look around at the environment. The bar area was quiet, since it was a Monday afternoon and many people were likely still at their day jobs. Two TVs hung over the bar at either end of the room, both playing sports channels. One was playing “Intentional Talk,” a sports talk show on the MLB Network. The sound was muted so the on-screen discussion couldn’t be heard, but the show moved back and forth between the discussion and clips of recent baseball games, along with statistics displayed on screen updating the audience about various games. At the bottom of the screen, a scorebar showed live updates of the scores of various spring training games taking place that day.

The second television was playing ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” On that muted screen, three men and a woman discussed football stats, while the screen alternated between the discussion and lists of various player statistics.

George soon arrived, full of pep and energy. Since I was interviewing him during his work shift, he spent the first few minutes checking the stock levels of the bar’s supplies and getting his cash register setup. Yet even before I started asking him questions, he already started talking about sports with the other bartender.

“I can’t even hate the cowboys anymore,” he said when the other bartender brought up football. “They’re just not good.”

“Hate on principle,” the other bartender said. The directness of her comment made me smirk; even though I’m not a sports fan, I’ve been conditioned to hate the Dallas Cowboys from a young age, as are most others who live in the Philadelphia area. Rivalries, it seemed, could become a part of the entire region.

“I’m getting too old to hate,” George said.

Once we settled into a serious discussion of sports culture, one of the first things George brought up was this idea of fan identity. He explained to me that Philadelphia fans are well-known, even notorious, for their passion about their teams. “Philly fans are the best fans,” he said. “A sports franchise is supposed to take on the identity of the city.”

That identity is strongest in Philly, he explained, partially because Philadelphia is one of only three cities where all their teams for the major sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball) are within the city limits. This immediately reminded me of my recent trip to a Flyers hockey game, where I noticed that the stadiums for all of Philly’s teams are built within sight of each other in a closely-packed sports district. It turns out that only Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had such a self-contained set of sports franchises all within their city limits, and only a total of twelve cities even have stadiums for all four major sports within their greater metropolitan area.

George then started explaining the importance of this identity connection between the fans and the city. “The number one thing is not about winning,” he said. “It’s about how you reflect the fan base. Even if you have bad moves for winning, you bring fans into the ballpark.” He then proceeded to explain how some fans might complain about their team making a certain trade or a certain draft pick that they disapproved of, because the decisions don’t always seem like the types that will lead to more wins and more championships. But, he said, the teams made moves that “developed their identity with their fan base.”

I asked him to describe the “Philadelphia identity,” and he began making comparisons to other widely-known Philadelphia cultural icons. “We have Rocky,” he said, referring to the Sylvester Stallone film, which was set in Philadelphia. “People think Rocky. They think the Liberty Bell. They think the art museum. They think the Flyers.” As George explained this, I thought back to my experiences at the Flyers game. I told him about how they had played images of the Liberty Bell on the JumboTron before the game started, along with other images of American icons. Playing those images in association with the sporting even is part of how this “Philadelphia identity” is forged and reinforced.

When I asked him for more details about the identity of the Flyers in particular, he pointed out that their nickname, the “Broad Street Bullies,” says it all. “Flyers are not finesse,” he said. “Flyers have lots of hits, lots of checking.” Other teams, he explained, might have players who make careful, finesseful shots. The Flyers, on the other hand, are more likely to rush the goalie and score in a more forceful manner.

I then asked George how this “Philadelphia identity” and the “Flyers identity” connected with the fans themselves. “Philadelphia fans have sports, but that’s it,” he explained. “That’s our focal point in Philadelphia. It’s sports.” We discussed how, in Philadelphia, there isn’t much else in the local area, like New York’s nightlife or Florida’s beaches and resorts. As an example, he spoke about the Florida Marlins, known now as the Miami Marlins. He said that they are a good team (and have won two World Series championships), but they don’t draw in the fans. In fact, I found that Miami’s attendance was ranked 28 out of 30 in 2013 (with Philadelphia coming in at #8), 18 out of 30 in 2012 (with Philadelphia at #1), 29 out of 30 in 2011 (with Philadelphia at #1), and 28 out of 20 in 2010 (with Philadelphia at #2). The attendance boost in 2012 is mostly attributed to the fact that the team built a brand new stadium that opened that year.

The low attendance doesn’t seem to be entirely due to poor performance, since while the Marlins ranked #29 in performance in 2013, they were #25 in 2012, and #22 in 2011, and #17 in 2010. So why would the team’s attendance be so consistently low (ranking 28th, 28th, and 29th  for the three years excluding when the new stadium was built), when their performance only matched that low ranking in one of those years? George told me that it was because Florida has a culture that is more focused on resorts, families on vacations, and senior citizens who have retired in the area. They simply don’t have the same focus on sports that the Philadelphia area has.

After having learned about Philadelphia’s sports culture and the way culture can vary from one city to another, I asked George what he thought about the Washington Redskins name change debate. He explained, “Fans don’t see the Redskins name as a problem. A very small group of people are offended by the name. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if it was meant to be an insult when they came up with the names. Look at what was acceptable language in different eras.”

When we started discussing language and the evolution it’s taken over the years, George pointed out the differences between sports team names during the late 1800s and early 1900s compared to those today. He pointed out that newly formed sports teams, like those found in major league soccer, tend to use more “modern” names, like the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union, and the LA Galaxy. Since major league soccer wasn’t founded until 1993 (compared to major league baseball which was founded in 1869 and the NFL which was founded in 1920), the naming traditions some from a very different cultural viewpoint. Many forms of language that were accepted in the years when other sports leagues were founded are no longer accepted today. Teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, therefore, gained their names during an era of language that is no longer appropriate today.

After giving this topic some thought, George said, “Does it make it right, necessarily? No, I don’t think it makes it right. Is it a form of genocide? We as humans take things from the past, and there’s this sense that we’re making fun of something that’s extinct.”

“It’s tough, though,” he added, “because there’s so many arguments. It’s not right, though. Everybody has a tolerance for pain. If you find words painful, you can’t help that sometimes. Is that a form of cultural extinction? Is that what we’re doing to people?”

Since we had begun discussing baseball more than any other sport, I decided to ask George how he felt about the efforts to change the offensive names and mascots like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. A recent Twitter movement has sprung up under the hashtag “#DeChief,” encouraging people to remove the Indians’ logo from their hats, jerseys, and other sports gear. Some fans are now starting to attend games wearing their “dechiefed” gear, while others protest that anyone who doesn’t like the mascot should root for another team.

“They’re trying to go with the ‘C’ more than the chief logo,” George said. “There’s this identity with that. It’s tough. It’s definitely a tough gray area. You feel differently about it every day. There’s tradition, and there’s offending people.”

One of the TVs above the bar had started playing a baseball game, the Cleveland Indians vs the Cincinnati Reds. We discussed the game for a time. Then, just before I left, George said, “Here’s my best advice: Don’t get involved in sports. Too many wasted emotions. It’s fun, though. You have to compete with somebody. Some people take solace in being able to compete with themselves. ‘Can I do this, can I do that.’ But baseball is head to head. There’s somebody else that is going to lose.”

After the interview was over, I had some time to reflect on it and to consider what I learned. I definitely felt that George and I had a good discussion, and he revealed a lot about the nature of sports and identity. I was also pleasantly surprised about how smooth the discussion went, even when we touched on sensitive topics. This was good, since as I discussed in my pre-interview post, I was hoping for an open flow of communication that would help both George and myself to discuss and learn as we went along. George’s introspective questions about the morality of the situation and about cultural extinction led me to believe he was considering ideas he hadn’t considered before, and I certainly know that I was.

Of course, one limitation of this interview was that George is a Philadelphia fan, rather than a fan of the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. If possible, I may try to seek out a fan of one of those teams in order to learn what they have to say about these debates. Though George did tell me that if the name and mascot of one of his Philly teams were to be changed, he would probably find that upsetting. When I consider everything George said about a sports team being a part of a city’s identity, and how the team works to connect with the culture of the people who live in their area, it makes sense that people would take it personally. The challenge, then, is to address the need for change while still keeping in mind the emotional impact it will have on fans who see their sports team as a part of their identity. From what I’ve seen in many of the online debates I’ve witnessed, many sports fans react harshly, which makes it difficult to have a discussion about the need for change. In fact, a study that I read (Fandom and Psychological Enhancement: Effects of Sport Team Identification and Imagined Interaction on Self-Esteem and Management of Social Behaviors, Keaton, et al, 2014) stated that “When identity or ego becomes threatened (such as after a loss) much research finds that aggressive behaviors occur because highly favorable views of the self are disputed by others” (p. 4). If fans strongly identify with their sports team, and that sports team’s identity is disputed by others, it makes sense that fans would end up taking it personally.

I plan to keep these ideas in mind in my future interviews. I have several others planned this week, and I’m hoping that they will also go smoothly. My conversation with George went well largely due to the rapport we built up early on and how comfortable we became with the discussion. I think it also helped that I was able to share my own experiences with him, such as when I discussed my recent trip to the Flyers game. It helped us to establish a connection and it helped fuel the conversation that followed. With any luck I’ll be able to establish similar connections with the others I interview.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases

This is Part 3 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.

I rode up the escalator to the second level. My seats were another floor up, but I lingered for awhile on this level in order to get my first look at the arena itself.

I walked through a short corridor to get to the interior. The outside was a wide hall lined with shops and food stands that reminded me of a shopping mall, but the inside was something else entirely. The first thing I became aware of was the lights The entire stadium was lined with flashing lights and advertisements. I couldn’t look anywhere without seeing electronic screens that were all synced up to display cycling ads and light displays. At the center of it all was the JumboTron, a massive multi-screen stalactite that hung down from the ceiling in the center, right over the rink. It simultaneously showed live videos, advertisements, and listings of sports statistics. The image displayed on the biggest screen shifted continuously throughout the night, but when I first saw it, it was playing a “Top Ten” replay of hockey players body slamming into each other.

“He’s number one,” a stadium attendant said to me. She had dark, wavy hair and wore a black jacket with the words “EVENT STAFF” written across the back.

I looked up at the screen, expecting to see the “number one” scorer or defender displayed on the screen. Instead I saw Flyers #36, Zac Rinaldo, who as of this writing is the Flyer with the most Penalty Minutes on the team for the 2013-2014 season (His 124 minutes spent in the penalty box is more than the combined minutes of all 10 of the “least time in the box” players combined). He is “known by his teammates as the heat seeking missile for his violent hockey hits” and is known as “Rhino Rinaldo.” The “number one body-slammer” has a two-year, $1.5 million contract.

The stadium attendant was busy watching Rinaldo slamming into another player in a video clip from a previous game. I looked around, and noticed something unexpected: a large net was strung from either end of the rink, above and behind the goals. It stretching easily fifty feet high. I asked the attendant if it was there to block pucks and whether they could actually go that high.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “They only put it up in the last ten years. Before that, people were getting slammed.”

Hockey puck injuries can be quite severe, even fatal. A study reported by ABC News said that on average, three or four people are struck by pucks in every NHL hockey game, and of those, one will need stitches or some other kind of major medical help. The pucks can fly at over 100 miles per hour, and there has been one reported fatality. Brittanie Cecil, a thirteen year old girl from West Alexandria, Ohio, was killed by a stray puck during a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames on March 16, 2002. Brittanie’s death led to the NHL implementing regulations requiring the nets I saw at either end of the rink in the Wells Fargo Center.

The stadium attendant turned away to greet an elderly man who seemed to be a regular spectator. “Welcome back,” she said. They chatted for a moment, and the man asked the attendant about the foldable poster board he had received when he entered the stadium.

“Oh, you can do this,” she told him. She held up the poster and shook it in front of her, though I had no idea why I had been given a poster I could shake at people. “Or you can do this,” she added. Then she folded it up and slapped it repeatedly against her palm.

To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.
To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.

The foldable poster, it turned out, was a noisemaker. When I heard the sound, I became aware of it coming from other parts of the stadium. People throughout the stands were slapping the noisemakers against their palms in a clapping rhythm.

I made a mental note of the object’s proper function, then turned back to my examination of the arena while the stadium attendant ask some more spectators if they needed help finding their seats. I looked up, and found another set of decorations lining the ceiling. There were several rows of banners, some in the orange, white, and black of the Flyers, others in the red, white, and blue of the 76ers. They marked various championships and the names and numbers of several different retired players: #16 Bobby Clarke, #7 Bill Barber, #2 Mark Howe, #1 Bernie Parent, and #4 Barry Ashbee. Each of these players, I discovered, had their numbers “retired” (meaning no future Flyer will wear the same number), and were awarded multiple honors such as “Most Valuable Player” or induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were more than fifty banners in all, marking quite a few accomplishments for the Philadelphia teams, from important players to championship wins.

I exited back out into the hall that circled around the stadium. There was still some time left before the game started. I watched a few more of the fans passing by. I still mostly saw people wearing orange and black, with only the occasional Blackhawks jersey in sight. Then I spotted a man who seemed to represent a “cross-cultural” fan base. He was wearing a red Philadelphia Phillies jacket, but had on a Blackhawks hat. This was the first sign I’d seen that not all of the fans in attendance would be dedicated to a certain city.

Most of the fans I saw were stopping to buy food and drinks before the game started. I headed to one of the food stands as well, and bought a $4.25 bottle of Aquafina water. Instead of simply handing me the bottle, the cashier opened it, poured it into a clear plastic cup, put a lid on it, then handed me the cup and threw out the bottle.

I watched the rest of the fans passing by while I drank my bottle of water from a cup. I spotted a few more cross-cultural fan interactions. One man in a Blackhawks jersey mingled with two men wearing Flyers jerseys. They seemed to be friends, and I saw no sign of cross-team animosity. Then, after passing by another raffle, this one for an autographed “#40 Lecavalier” Flyers jersey, I came across another individual wearing a mixture of gear. She had a pink Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap with a Blackhawks jersey. Since she was the second person I saw wearing the trappings of two different affiliations, I decided to approach her and learn more.

“You like the Phillies and the Blackhawks?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded. “Yes,” she said.

I told her, “I always root for the home team.”

She pointed to her Blackhawks jersey and said, “This is my husband’s home team.”

I nodded. “So, you have a mix of fan bases,” I said.

She laughed and nodded. “I’m also a Green Bay Packers fan,” she said. “So figure that one out.”

I left with a definite curiosity about what would strive someone to have such a wide spread of teams that they supported. I had observed earlier, as noted in my first post in this series, that there seemed to be a lot of connections between the local Philadelphia team and several historical, national, and patriotic symbols. That connection seemed like it might relate to the extreme display of team support demonstrated by the man with the autographed jersey that I described in the second post. But the idea of one individual being a fan of teams from three different regions seemed to clash with that. While it seemed that cross-cultural fans were a rarity among the spectators I observed, it still seemed clear that there had to be more at work here than the sense of national identity that connected fans to their teams. I kept this in mind as I continued my observations.

It was 30 minutes to game time, and I didn’t want to be late getting to my seat. I headed for Section 222 to prepare for the next stage of my research.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis.

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.

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.

Post-Hockey Game Musings

I got back from the Flyers vs Blackhawks game just a little while ago. I took extensive notes while there, and I plan to write up a long blog post soon (probably tomorrow) detailing the entire experience.

It was educational, I’ll give you that.

Since the “scene” will be written tomorrow, I want to use this blog post to reflect on my own experiences as a researcher, compared to my museum trip and my bookstore practice research. Self-reflection is an important part of the learning experience with this research project, and I feel like it’ll be helpful for me to get my thoughts down now while they’re fresh.

In my previous research posts, I mentioned more than once that I didn’t interact with enough people, or observe enough about their behavior. Well, during the hockey game, I spent the majority time observing nothing but the people. I spent about the first hour just wandering around, checking the lay of the land, studying the stadium and watching the fans as they mingled before the game. Then the next four hours after that was focused almost entirely on personal interaction, dialogue, body language, and everything I could learn about sports culture.

My primary focus in studying the language and behavior I observed was to try to understand what made sports so important to all the people attending the game (19,932 of them, according to an announcement made over the JumboTron). In the book “Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes,” the authors said that the purpose of an ethnographer is to “understand and write about what [the culture’s] experiences and activities mean to them” (emphasis theirs) (p. 16). Therefore I attempted, to the best of my ability, to do as the book said and “capture and preserve indigenous meanings.” I did this by recording everything I could about each event (say, the moment when the Flyers or the Blackhawks scored), the fans’ reaction to that event (cheering or booing, accordingly), and what happened in the following moments (when people near me discussed the play that just took place).

Some of it was, frankly, difficult and nearly impossible for me to understand. There were quite literally moments when the fans around me cheered or booed and I looked around in confusion thinking, What happened? The moments that I thought would prompt a reaction rarely did (for example, several times the players got close to the goal in what I would have thought was a tense moment, and the crowd was silent). Then, the crowd would cheer for something I couldn’t understand or process (such as when a player hit the puck all the way across the rink . . . and it just hit the wall and nothing happened). Since I couldn’t understand the meaning behind the reactions, I simply recorded them to the best of my ability.

Another point worth noting is that I talked to several people, asking questions about their team-clothes (such as one player’s autographed jersey), their team affiliation (one woman was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies (baseball) cap and a Chicago Blackhawks (hockey) jersey), the rules of the game (there are three periods of 20 minutes each, as opposed to basketball which as four periods of 15 minutes each), and the significance of the players activities on the rink before the game (a warm-up session which was followed by the Zambonis then by the actual game starting). I learned a lot of information just by asking questions, which is something I noted as a serious weakness of mine in my previous research outings.

All in all, it was an enlightening experience. I’ll be posting more details about it soon. Oh, and the Flyers won 3-2 with 4.2 seconds left in overtime (which I was told makes this a “good game” because it “makes for better drama,” and “there is nothing like it“).

I’m Going To A Hockey Game

My first ever ticket to a hockey game.
My first ever ticket to a hockey game.

As you may know, I’ve been doing research lately into sports culture and Native American culture and history. The core of this research relates to the ongoing debate over the Washington Redskins name change, and I’ve found news articles arguing both for and against changing the team’s name.

In addition to reading about the news and debates on this subject, I’m conducting field research. I’ve come to view the debate as a clash between two cultures. On the one side are the Native American cultures that have thousands of years of history in these lands, including a long history of racism, genocide, and oppression. On the other side is the modern American sports culture, comprised of fans from various social and cultural backgrounds who are unified by their common interest and participation in a community-building activity. In order to fully understand the conflict taking place, I am trying to study both of these cultures in depth.

In order to study sports culture, I decided I need to go to a sporting event and take part in the activities there. I’ve never been a sports fan; my dad took me to two baseball games when I was a child, and one of my uncles once took me to a football game, and each of these experiences bored me. I never understood the passion, camaraderie, excitement, and bonding that people experience around sports. That means that to me, this culture is a foreign entity, and I’m an outsider.

I’m therefore going to attend a game with an open mind and a notebook in hand, hoping to gain some better understanding of what it means to be a sports fan. The book “Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes” says that understanding and getting close to a culture requires “physical and social proximity to the daily rounds of people’s lives and activities” (p. 2). A researcher needs to immerse themselves within a culture and experience it firsthand in order to report on it. While attending a single game will only be a minor amount of “immersion” into this culture, it should nonetheless be an enlightening experience.

While at the game, I will be making a specific conscious effort to study the fans there, and hopefully I will have the chance to interact with some of them and learn about what drives them. I plan to take a lot of notes, since “Fieldnotes” says that fieldnotes are “the primary means for deeper appreciation of how field researchers come to grasp and interpret the actions and concerns of others” (p. 17). Understanding and interpreting the actions (such as cheering on your team) and concerns (such as fearing your team’s defeat) will be a difficult task for me. I’ve seen people watching sports on TV, and I’ve always been confused when the spectators (both those at home and those visible in the stadium on TV) get up and start cheering and shouting over a certain part of the game. I really do not understand what prompts this reaction, and I’ve never experienced this excitement firsthand.

While at the game, there is also a secondary subject that I will be observing. During my research, I read an article by Amanda Blackhorse, “Why the R*dsk*ns Need to Change Their Name.” Blackhorse’s stance is that the name is racist and oppressive, and she argues that it should be changed. In addition, during her article she detailed her experiences attending a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom have mascots based on Native American cultures. Blackhorse described her experience and specifically pointed out her reactions to the team decorations, posters, and other paraphernalia:

“Meanwhile, we were surrounded by imagery that mocked Native Americans and our cultures, in the form of posters, paraphernalia and even a portable toilet in the shape of a teepee. I did not feel safe. It was an ugly display of hostility and disdain toward my people.”

This is another dimension to the conflict I am studying. In addition to the name “Redskins,” there is an issue regarding the mascot images and how they portray Native Americans in a stereotypical fashion that Blackhorse described as “mock[ing] Native Americans and our cultures.”

I’m not currently able to attend a football game like the one Blackhorse attended (since football season ended several weeks ago). However, by chance it turned out that the hockey game being played in Philadelphia this week is between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, during my research, I found references to a number of other football and baseball teams with Native American-themed mascots. Some of the other teams were also the subject of controversy, but according to an article I read on CNN.com, “The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Utah Utes and Mississippi College Choctaws have all been granted waivers to keep their nicknames after the respective tribes gave their support to the schools.” I therefore realized that some teams might be more accepted than others. Hockey teams didn’t come up in my original research run, so when I saw that the game being played tomorrow included the Blackhawks, I decided to look into it and find out whether they are also the subject of controversy.

The first article I found zeroed in on the exact question I was asking. The article, “Redskins Rep Asks Why Blackhawks’ Name Isn’t Being Challenged,” was tied in to the Redskins name change, and explained some direct comparisons between the Redskins and the Blackhawks. Both teams have been around for a long time (the Blackhawks since 1926 and the Redskins since 1937). However, the article states that the Blackhawks team is “named after the “Blackhawk Division” of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I.” That infantry division, in turn, was named after Suak Chief Black Hawk. The name was chosen by Frederic McLaughlin, who was a commander with the Blackhawk infantry division. McLaughlin became owner of the Blackhawks hockey team several years after the end of World War I. It therefore seems plausible to consider that since McLaughlin named his team after his own WWI infantry division, there may be more of an argument in favor of the legitimacy of the name. By comparison, several articles I read referred to the Redskins team name as a racial slur, which is definitely different than naming a team after a Suak Chief.

In addition, an article on ABC.com quoted Joe Podlasek of the American Indian Center:

“Podlasek runs that center in Chicago and was instrumental in the fight to get the University of Illinois to bench its mascot, Chief Illiniwek. He says what makes the Blackhawks a bit better is they don’t use a mascot to dance around and, in his opinion, mock his heritage.

In the locker room, players are told not to step on the chief logo, and fans in the stands don’t do a tomahawk chop, like at Braves games in Atlanta.”

Comparing this quote to Amanda Blackhorse’s description of her experiences at a Redskins vs Chiefs game, I see a more complex reason for the lack of controversy over the Blackhawks’ name. Blackhorse described how the mascots of the Redskins and the Chiefs “mocked” her culture. According to the ABC.com article, the Blackhawks don’t do that. Likewise, another article in the Chicago Tribune said that the lack of controversy could be related to “Chicago’s small American Indian community [and] the team’s support of a local American Indian organization.”

After reading all of this, I will be curious to see what it is like to watch the Blackhawks play firsthand. While I might get more of a feel for the culture of the Blackhawks as a team if I attended a game in their home city of Chicago, I still expect there will be Blackhawks fans at the Philadelphia game. So while observing fans in general in order to understand sports culture, I will also be looking out for anything I can learn about the Blackhawks fans, their team, and the way they behave with regards to their mascot.

Though I should note that since I grew up in the Philly area, I am going to be rooting for the Flyers. It’s the principle of the thing.