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Where Have All The Fans Gone?

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I took a long break from blogging after the Olympics (“You took a long break from blogging during the Olympics” –Waldorf and Statler).  I certainly was not expecting the U.S. to win, not in a rivalry as complicated as our encounters with Canada have been, but I was also not expecting the emotionally devastation of that particular loss.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to dredge up too-recent feelings by writing about the gold medal game today. 

Instead, I’m going to note something I did expect but allowed myself to hope wouldn’t happen.  My Twitter timeline, which was stocked with women’s hockey enthusiasm during Sochi, went suddenly quiet after the closing ceremony.  Or, more troubling, it went back to being made up of mostly female hockey writers talking about the NHL.  It’s not like the women’s hockey world itself shut down.  In fact, the weeks following Sochi provided the opportunity to watch the women’s NCAA tournament with a truly thrilling championship game, an equally thrilling CWHL final, and the U-18 World Championships (okay, FINE, I misread the timing for that one and didn’t see it myself).  This was exactly the atmosphere and level of competition that the sport needed to build on the momentum that it’s always claimed big international tournaments create. 

There were certainly brief but intense bursts of discussion on all these topics.  There is also a small, robust community of women’s hockey folk that was around for all of it.  But many women who ostensibly cover hockey seemed to conveniently forget about their gender cohort once the lights went off over the Olympic Stadium, and many who call themselves fans jumped off the bandwagon, and hopefully I am done with clichés for this sentence at least. 

I suspect that we will see an uptick in girls’ participation in hockey, because that is a positive consequence that tends to follow the Olympics.  I also suspect there was increased viewership of the Clarkson Cup due to the participation of many national team players.  Certainly the Canadians finally seem to be experiencing a cultural shift toward accepting women’s hockey as a legitimate form of the game.  But national-level players are incubated in college and ESPN didn’t even deign to stream, let alone televise, the Frozen Four.  Discussion of the title game, unlike discussion of Olympic hockey, didn’t extend to either general women’s sports outlets or God forbid the male-dominated media.  Men and women who profess themselves fans have a responsibility not justto  show up every four years, but to support the game at multiple levels. Female hockey writers also have a role to play.  It’s very important that women are covering the NHL and other men’s sports.  I admire what they have to go through in an environment that is hostile to them (and if you live in a dreamworld where you question that hostility’s existence, ask any female blogger with a readership of more than a dozen).  It would be fabulous if they turned their attention and their prodigious skills more regularly to the women’s game.  Calls for viewership to lead coverage get it exactly backward: serious treatment in the media is a signal that something is worth the viewer’s time. 

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