I’m sitting here in Canada, a vast country with an ever-debated culture. Part of that debate is our collective, enduring love of hockey, one that sometimes puzzles me. It’s not unheard of to read sentiments like “Hockey, what is wrong with you?” or “Hockey, I’m through with you” in major Canadian publications in recent years. There are also subsets that are rather grim about its future. Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail writes: “In the context of its celebrated history, our national sport is clearly past its prime, clearly on the decline … Hockey’s heyday was the Cold War era, 1950 to 1990. It was then that … hockey became an identity sport, occupying a role in society much grander than that of a game.”
Ah, identity. So this is why hockey, and sports in general, endure even in the face of the above takes, rising ticket prices, alleged growing disinterest, and declining enrollment. This is also presumably why hockey is inextricably linked to the cultures of many other countries, a handful of whom produce some of the jazziest players in the world. Regardless of place, hockey is a marker of personal and community identity. It’s not just “Canada’s game”; it’s a massive, global, community fan experience. Paul Greenberg gets it right: “Sports doesn’t need to create advocates — the type of customer that most companies can only wish they had. Sports has them by the millions. They’re called fans.”
And these fans are personally invested.