It’s a typical night during the NHL playoffs. I get a text message from a friend—“Want to get together to watch the game?” And within an hour, we have either selected a local bar with large TV screens or ventured to the home of the brave one who offered to host us. In the end, there will be between four and eight of us choosing a team (if our usual favorites are already out of the playoffs) and giving each other grief for those choices. The trash talk, cheering, and booing resounds and often gain decibels as more beers are consumed.
While the conversation during the game is amusing, the most entertaining discourse usually occurs during commercials. Any ad featuring Sidney Crosby generates lively debate. Someone is always interrupting the chatter to say, “Oh! Have you seen this commercial? It’s hilarious!” And we all watch and then critique.
While you were reading my description above of watching hockey with my friends, did you picture us as all female? Because, my hockey watching buds? We’re all girls. There’s no particular reason why our group is exclusively female. It just happens to work out that way. Some of the gals even leave their uninterested husbands at home to join us watching hockey.
So, if you were able to picture a raucous group of all women watching hockey, congratulations—you have a broader mind than many of the advertising companies who create the commercials that will air during hockey games. For some reason, in the year 2012, these commercials are still primarily geared towards men. And this year, some of the commercials have actually stunned and silenced us.
Now, I don’t have any concrete statistics to show that women make up a sizeable contingent of hockey fans. But I can relay my own observations. When we go to Detroit Red Wings games (usually with a group of gal friends), I would estimate that 40% of the fans there are women. If it was an overwhelming majority of men at those Wings games, I wouldn’t be waiting in line for 20 minutes each time I had to use the bathroom! When CBC shows their weekly list of the top point scorers in their hockey fantasy pool, there are almost always at least a couple of participants named Colleen or Rachel or Wendy or Sandra—most probably not males. And then, when I think very hard about the ten most fanatical hockey fans I know (whether they are fans of hockey in general or even of just one team) at least half are women.
The other night, I stopped by my friend Carol’s house. She and her husband Murf were watching the Rangers vs. Washington in game 7 of the NHL quarterfinals. Carol voiced an opinion on every player and every call, and we still got excited about each scoring chance even though none of us really cared which team won the game . At one point, Murf got up to go get a snack, and Carol confided, “Murf really doesn’t want to watch hockey, but I insist, so he puts up with it.”
Sure enough, like clockwork, the Klondike commercial that had been grinding on my nerves throughout the playoffs came on again. If you are not familiar with this ad, you can see it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxC9-PJfyKo . In summary, a fairly unattractive, apparently ungroomed man appears tormented as he listens to his not-so-unattractive wife for five seconds and, as a reward for this amazing feat, wins ice cream and is then fawned upon by scantily clad dancers. I understand that this is supposed to be funny, but is it? What kind of message does this send to young boys watching—it seems to say to them that when they get married, they probably won’t ever want to listen to their wives, and if they do, it’s a praiseworthy achievement. What kind of message does it send to young girls watching—that they will probably marry guys who find them to be uninteresting nuisances? Murf came back into the room and laughed out loud at the commercial. So, I guess in this case, Klondike managed to reach their intended male audience with that ad, but the irony is that Murf wouldn’t have even been watching the hockey game if Carol hadn’t insisted. I, on the other hand, made yet another mental note to boycott Klondike and to send them an e-mail advising them of my displeasure.
Most distressing to me is that the advertisers, who seem to have chosen this particular ad to air during NHL playoff games (as that is the only time I’ve seen it) are so out of touch with their audience. If I’m correct in my estimation that 40% of the hockey fans watching the games are female, why would this be an appropriate advertisement? The advertisers, and the companies who hire them, seem to be hung up on some antiquated perception that the men sit around and watch sports together while their wives stay well out of the way, likely cooking or cleaning in another room.
Another ad that is shown frequently is the Hockey Love Hurts ad by Visa (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7QMdpmfvVs) which shows a forlorn Winnipeg Jets fan mourning his team’s failure to make the playoffs. The commercial goes on to show him spending time with his hockey fan friends who console each other. The advertising agency took great care make his group of ten friends very diverse—guys of every visible minority are part of his entourage. Yet, with all the pains they took to make the group diverse, they did not include any females. This is not representative of the NHL fan base any more than ad depicting me and my group of all female friends would be.
The other advertisement that gets me thinking, and I have to say that I actually LOVE this commercial, is the Budweiser commercial where the beer brand organized “flash fans,” or a huge group of fans to unexpectedly show up cheering and going crazy at a men’s recreational hockey game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GsCfcWqcjU). On the ice is a group of guys who normally play in an empty arena, and suddenly, busloads of fans arrive cheering, chanting, screaming with faces painted. The players are so touched by this that they play harder, have more fun, and are almost brought to tears. When I first saw that commercial, I thought it was a fantastic idea. But then, with each subsequent time I saw the ad, I wondered what it would be like if “flash fans” showed up to a women’s recreational game. I believe that at least some of the guys playing in the game on the commercial have had, at some point in their lives, played before some sort of a crowd. Maybe it was when they were playing for their AA team as youths. Maybe it was when they played for their college or university teams. Maybe it was when they played football or soccer. But, playing in front of a sizeable cheering crowd is something that the vast majority of female athletes have never experienced. I clearly remember going to high school football games as a teenager. There were hundreds of cheering fans. My 17-year-old male classmates were getting to experience the thrill of playing before a crowd that I never would, even as a university level athlete.
So, to those gals who, like me, are watching the NHL playoffs with interest because they love hockey—pay attention to the advertising. What exactly are the different advertisements saying? How much respect is the company showing you as a female sports fan? Some advertisers, notably the NHL itself, are trying to accurately depict the demographics of its fans in their playoff adds. But, look deeper into the advertisements that stereotype or even demean women, often under the pre tense of humour. You can laugh at it and judge it as innocent boys-will-be-boys entertainment, or you can extend that advertiser as much respect and consideration as they have to you.
Or even better, send them an e-mail