Two cheers for Oiler eye candy

What took them so long?

by Colby Cosh

My hard-to-love Edmonton Oilers debuted their new cheerleading squad, the first ever assembled by a Canadian NHL team, in last night’s 4-1 home loss to the Maple Leafs. Some would have you believe this was a black day for hockey, for one of two reasons. I think we can dispense pretty quickly with the sexism argument; deprecating sexism has led to tremendous social and economic progress in the spheres of activity that matter, but the one thing that anti-sexism has never been able to defeat outright is actual sex. Attractive people still earn more money than unattractive ones, officemates still clamber greedily onto each other occasionally, and televised entertainment businesses still find excuses to put male and female crumpet in front of the camera. To complain about this is roughly as sensible as lamenting Copernicanism.

The more difficult argument is that cheerleaders are an otiose, tacky distraction in a setting where hockey is properly venerated. This argument, I think, is much more dangerous than the tendency to which it is opposed. We’ve seen Americans learn to treat baseball like an Orthodox icon—a field of dreams, a holy temple wherein the national genius finds perfect expression. The overall result for baseball of this kid-glove handling by poets has been a catastrophic loss of actual pre-eminence, as gridiron football, a violent game that accommodates gambling, has emerged as the real national pastime. Baseball struggles on, a sport too conservative and tradition-bound to apply the most rudimentary entertainment standards to itself.

Hockey should never fall into the trap of declaring itself a solved entertainment problem and deciding that marketing is henceforth unnecessary until the end of time. That’s why I like the shootout, in its place, and why I praised the NHL’s research-and-development efforts (in an article that was almost certainly the most influential one I wrote this year). As somebody who didn’t have colour TV at home until I was 8 or cable until age 11, I have a deep respect for the need to appeal to people with faster-paced nervous systems than mine, people who are hungrier for stimulus and who squirm during TV time-outs.

I’m thus the psychic equivalent of four or five information revolutions, each with its own moral consequences, removed from the undergraduates of 2010. The issue might not be whether hockey games should have cheerleaders but whether those cheerleaders should be wearing clothes. The admission of a few extra tarts to the hundreds who already underdress for hockey games should definitely bother us less than the cheesy contortions thought necessary to justify their presence—and I’m not talking about their dance moves, I’m talking about the social-Darwinist nods to “fitness” and the corny insistence on the girls’ “pride” in winning a beauty contest.

What I really find amusing, and in a way frustrating, is that cheerleaders are coming to Canadian hockey so late in history, nearly thirty years after the founding of the Laker Girls. The Oilers franchise has had its hand thrust out into the taxpayer’s puss for thirty years, on the grounds that Edmonton is a “small market” where a professional hockey team needs public dollars to survive. When this claim is put into its true logical form—”Edmonton is a small market FOR HOCKEY”—you would have to be a thunderstruck triple-idiot to believe it. Northern Alberta isn’t a small market for automobile block heaters, it isn’t a small market for snow shovels, and it isn’t a small market for hockey. For hockey, metro Edmonton is a significantly larger market than New York City or Philadelphia.

What makes the failure to accept this elemental fact doubly annoying is that Oiler hockey is marketed pretty casually by those proclaiming the impossibility of profit; really, the fans are left to do most of the work themselves. So even a minor, tentative Veeckian step like hiring cheerleaders is an encouraging sign of something less than total intertia. I think Veeck would say that it is best to either be the first to try a marketing gimmick or the last to hold out against it. Good for the Oilers for going first.




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Two cheers for Oiler eye candy

  1. As long as we're being Veeckian, let me be the first to suggest Defenseman Demolition Night. We'll dynamite Jason Strudwick at centre ice during the first intermission, it'll be great.

    • Strudwick has to be the first player in history to whom the angry-prole modern-art critique "My kid could do that" applies fully.

      • No no – my Dad could do that.

  2. I think hockey jumped the shark on gimmickry about the time you could sushi delivered to your platinum seat at the ACC.
    No point in worrying about it, as long as the game itself doesn't suck.

    • True – if the game is good, who cares about the incidental stuff (cheerleaders, music, etc., etc.)

      I think the NFL cheerleaders are hot. I admit it. But I find the presence of sexy cheerleaders at football games irritating. Not offensive. Irritating – because I think I'm being told that I need to look at young girls in figure-hugging and often low-cut tops to justify my time in the stadium.

      The same feeling I had my one visit to a local Hooters. "Do they really think I'm that shallow?" ;-)

      • Between company owned locations and franchises, there are now more than 460 Hooters throughout the United States. The company has restaurants in 44 U.S. states, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. In addition, Hooters operates restaurants in 27 other countries.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hooters

        Yes. Yes they do think you're that shallow. And that there are many more shallow than you.

        • Good one! Made me chuckle! :-)

    • No point in worrying about it, as long as the game itself doesn't suck.

      You said something about the ACC…?

    • Sushi – when did they start letting pinkos buy tickets to the games?

  3. Sorry, but the current wretched state of the team, coupled with the epic stadium whinges, leads one to conclude that the Oilers management have made icing a competitive team their absolute last priority. The cheerleaders are just one more piece of evidence, no?

  4. "the first ever assembled by a Canadian NHL team"

    Sorry, but no.

    Florida (scroll down about 3/4 for the videos), Washington has the SpiritSquad, Atlanta has the Blue Crew, and there's the Lightening Squad in Tampa Bay, not to mention the Storm Squad in Carolina. (Notice anything about the geography and NHL entry date of these teams?)

    And they all followed in the footsteps of St. Louise who first introduced a cheerleading squad to hockey in the 1990s.

    UPDATED: A correction – of course, you did say first "Canadian", which is undoubtedly true. I'll leave the links up for the benefit of your readers.

    • What I notice about the geography of those teams is that they're not Canadian. But thanks.

      • Thus the correction which went up as you were typing in your reply.

        • Why would you update correct it? Why not just delete it in shame, seeing as the entirety of what you posted was irrelevant and foolish?

          • You are so right. A comment about how a whole bunch of newer expansion NHL teams that have embraced the idea of cheerleaders at hockey games to be more entertaining couldn't have anything to do with a blog post on the need for NHL teams to embrace new ideas, like cheerleaders at hockey games, instead of remaining pure and less entertaining like baseball. No connection at all.

            At least you're living up to half your moniker, sourpus.

          • No but you are completely missing the point, and the worst part is that you do not even seem to know it.

            Here in Canada, we pride ourselves on our hockey. We like to think of ourselves as the best hockey fans in the world, not to mention the best hockey players in the world. We like to think that we love the game for the game. That we get the game in a way that no one else does. That we appreciate the game on a level not equaled by anyone else in the whole entire world. I could go on.

            Hence, to see cheerleaders injected into the life of a Canadian franchise seems so much worse than when it is done in the states, especially the southern states. In face, it used to be a point of pride for us. We used to look at the teams in the states with cheerleaders, and look down our noses at them because that is what they needed in order to draw fans. Not us, we would think. We appreciate the game for the game.

            Can you at least concede that you understand that that is where the distinction, "first CANADIAN nhl team" does in fact matter, and that pointing to american nhl teams does in fact add nothing to the conversation. (By the way, the mere fact of the author's making the "Canadian NHL" distinction should have tipped you off that he was implicitly pointing to the fact that other non-Canadian NHL teams already had cheerleaders, but to pick up that point would have required a certain level of subtlety – and graciousness – in your reading).

          • Hockey is so Canadian we have a Prime Minister who has managed to build an identity around watching it.

          • OMG. You really have to lighten up, girls. It's a post about cheerleaders for cryin' out loud.

            I actually agree with your point about no need for cheerleaders (though not your arrogance).

            You are the one completely missing the point, the point of the author here, and the worst part is that you do not even seem to know it.

            Seems to me Mr. Cosh is saying that a game is a game and not art. It's entertainment at its core and therefore must remaining entertaining or else risk becoming a purist art-sport like baseball that is played in empty stadiums around the country (even though it is "America's game") and does not grow.

            There are many ways to make it grow and keep it entertaining and Colby gets that, the NHL gets that (trying new things like the shootout, hiring Brendan Shanahan to look at other innovations), the newer US teams get that.

            Is cheerleading the way to go? I would think not, but the Oilers are not filling the rink or getting big TV money or big merchandising and they think this will help. I don't think it will, but they are trying to keep it entertaining and expand the base of fans.

            The very relevant point about newer US teams embracing such things is that there is a divide, one that Cosh focuses on, between new and old/purists. And this is just the beginning. We've seen shootouts which made the traditionalists shriek but is a pure joy to most fans, especially newer fans. We saw the two line offside disappear. We've seen cheerleaders. We've seen steeper and steeper penalties for fighting. I imagine the final frontier will be the looming battle over fights and whether to grow the fan base or not; that one will take another decade.

            So the traditionalists (and I'm pretty close to one, especially when it comes to distractions like cheerleaders), whether they are old-time hockey fans or cross-dressing clowns who have a regular corner on Hockey Night in Canada, can shriek away but change is acoming.

            Can you at least concede that you understand that there is a a distinction between observing a change and embracing it?

          • I think I got your point this time ted………but I might need it explained to me later today.

          • Yeah, I get all that. I was simply commenting on this:

            "the first ever assembled by a Canadian NHL team"

            Sorry, but no.

            Florida (scroll down about 3/4 for the videos), Washington has the SpiritSquad, Atlanta has the Blue Crew, and there's the Lightening Squad in Tampa Bay, not to mention the Storm Squad in Carolina. (Notice anything about the geography and NHL entry date of these teams?)

            ——————————————–

            As far as I can tell, your more recent post is much more coherent, clear, and reasonable than the one that I have just quoted.

  5. I always assumed the 'small market' reference was to the available capital and income levels. I assume Edmonton can't charge $500 for a pair down low because there aren't enough locals able or willing to pay that much, as opposed to New York or Philly with fewer hockey fans but more affluent fans. I'm also thinking that's a difference between Calgary and Edmonton, since the oil money is in Calgary. I have no idea if I'm right, I'm just offering that as an alternate consideration.

    • Saying "the oil money is in Calgary" is awfully simplistic. Edmonton was traditionally said to have more millionaires than Calgary, back when a net worth of a million dollars meant something.

    • As far as I can remember Edmonton has had the necessary affluence to compete head-to-head with us Calgarians. Even with white-collar oil money flowing into Calgary's head offices, Edmonton has its impressive professional class in petrochemicals, high-tech, and research (U of A). For a city of just over 1 million people, it has a very well-diversified portfolio of industries. The Financial Times even said that Edmonton has the most economic potential in North America.

    • Actually a pair down low goes for $502.60, and there are rarely, if any, unsold (not unused) seats at Rexall.

  6. Do the cheerleaders wear skates during routines?

    • Good idea! you are hired!

  7. I'm starting to think this "Hockey" pastime might have merit.

  8. Grown men might enjoy having their willies tickled, but there are women and children in the stands too – it's awkward and uncomfortable because you have to look away from the disgusting mess. I don't need a chick shaking her goodies at me. It's a horrible way to portray women in hockey, especially since our women won gold at the Olympics. It's just a cheap tawdry stunt as once again, Canada tries to imitate the US. BTW, the biggest turnoff, you can see how bloody stupid they are and how 'hot' they think they are – gross, ew, yuck!!! Where do men pay to see women half-naked and dancing, that's right – strip clubs – can we keep them there?!?!?!?!? Deprecating sexism argument – 1, you – 0 :-P

    • Wait, so your argument is that children don't like breasts? Do you get your biological facts from the same Big Book of Tired Feminist Cliches that drive you to confuse this dance team with "woman in hockey"?

      • It's OK, we don't really have to pretend not to notice the psychopathology of these comments anymore. She got to the penis-hatred before she got to the first comma.

        • "Disgusting mess." "Chick shaking her goodies." "You can see how bloody stupid they are." "Gross, ew, yuck!!!" I'm inclined to suggest that she hates women more than she hates men, though I'm open to the suggestion that she hates everyone.

        • And what's with "grown men might enjoy having their willies tickled" anyways? Besides a name for penis based mainly from 70s rock songs, there's no "might enjoy" uncertainty about it. For that matter, why restrict it to "grown men" either?

          • It's funny how a string of men just jumped on this comment with venom aimed at women. Perhaps this is exactly what Wendy was getting at. Men who enjoy random women gyrating for their pleasure surely cannot respect women as equals…and all of you have demonstrated that perfectly.

    • I hope that the men out there who are reading your comment realize that not all women feel this way. What do strip clubs have to do with female cheerleaders (dance troops) at a hockey game. You're probably a terrible driver too!

    • I take it you didn't pass the audition Wendy?

  9. I remember being at a hockey game, this was a few years back, where they had pretty girls in tight clothes come out to "scrape the ice" on skates during breaks. They weren't "cheerleaders" per se, but they sort of got the same job done, and did something productive in the process. Very sexy in a very Canadian way, I thought.

    • Rexall still has these.

      • So does the Saddledome.

    • awesome comment. it is very canadian. i think there's something in the Canadian male DNA that's vaguely contemptuous of women who aren't of practical use in outdoor activities.

  10. For hockey, metro Edmonton is a significantly larger market than New York City

    That must be why Greater Edmonton has the three franchises and Greater New York has the one?

    • The NHL isn't a free market, so such comparisons are not easily made.

    • What Lord Bob, said, plus…

      On a straight population comparison the market of Alberta is far smaller than that of greater NYC, and both support two teams AND based on Cosh’s source, a greater number of those fewer people watch Oilers/Flames games combined than Rangers/Islanders.

      There are lots of different ways to measure the size of a market but equating the size of the market with the number of teams it has is probably the least useful.

      • OK. Let's compare franchise value (not including arena real estate value), less any public subsidy received. If the value of the Oilers exceeds the combined value of Rangers-Islanders-Devils, maybe the Edmonton "market" really is huuuge, after all.

        • While factoring in the present value of future revenue streams, including all of the above and more, less anticipated taxes/nationalizations/confiscations/economic downturns and structural changes. Let us know what you come up with.

          • With your request, the actuarial scientists are compelled to plug an assumption or two into the model. But, even with varying assumptions over a broad range of probabilities, greater New York still seems to be coming out ahead.

            Edmonton has got "distance from ocean coastline" going for it, though. If the "global warming / rising sea level" model is torqued beyond sensible limits, Oilers win, and the league will have to go bobbing for the Big Apple.

          • And, by the way, I was actually trying to HELP your Edmonton-is-a-bigger-hockey-market point by removing real estate value of the venues in the head-to-triple-head.

            Perhaps YOU could try to invent a valuation model that could come close to supporting your claim? Since, y'know, it was your claim. Let us know what you come up with.

          • Colby, at some point, has inserted a link for Edmonton being a "significantly larger market" than greater New York.
            http://hfboards.com/showpost.php?p=26872720&p

            Let us have a look at the data of interest:

            8 Edmonton Oilers Rogers Sportsnet West 181,400
            10 New York Rangers MSG Network 152,200
            13 New Jersey Devils MSG Plus 99,200
            20 New York Islanders MSG Plus 61,500

            So, it seems to be a ranking of viewers of the games narrowcast on specialty sports networks. OK, let's go with that. Hmm. Even if we drop the lowly (but recently surging) Islanders, it seems Edmonton suffers a thumping. Got anything else, Colby?

  11. I almost hate to enter this male-dominated discourse but I will as a consumer of sports "entertainment". First, lets not forget rule #1, you are competing for consumer dollars. You need to put people in the seats. The USA has a big population with a big fan base for baseball. Thus baseball hasn't gone "Vegas" yet but have you been to an NFL or NBA game? Wow – all entertainment – all the time! My thoughts after attending – Hockey needs to get with it and start packaging what they're offering better. The people at home don't even see what is happening at the venue but it is a fabulous night out for those in attendance. The big thing about all the fan give-aways and extra entertainment, is that the organizations are telling you constantly how much they appreciate your support and that they know they are competing for your entertainment dollars. You guys win too because your dates are happy to go to games…and yes the cheerleaders should be on skates.

  12. We are true hockey fans in Canada – we don't need gimmicks to sell our games. Especially using 18 – 23 year old young ladies to be "eye candy". Truthfully, how many of you men would like your daughters to be treated like a piece of meat by a bunch of men who are either old enough to be their fathers or just the stereotypical male chauvinistic pig? What are we teaching our girls AND perhaps even more importantly what values are we teaching our boys? Perhaps this society has decided that teaching our children to have values and morals is no longer important. I'm really disappointed.

    • I agree, but this way they have the bonus of a nice, large group of in-house single girls (with friends) they can invite to the player's and OIlers parties. Happy players play better hockey and don't want to move anywhere else.

  13. I don't think we need cheerleaders in hockey…it used to be such a Canadian game….

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