Indifferent On Ice Girls

With the Edmonton Oilers becoming the first Canadian team to bring in a cheer squad, I find myself terribly indifferent.

As much as the decision is a landmark of sorts, it’s hard to care too much about a decision that’s been made by countless teams in countless sports, including a whole bunch of NHL teams a little more desperate for attention than Canadian teams have been to date.

That said, Colby Cosh’s article on the subject did make me want to talk about it a little bit.

Cosh, one of the original Oilers bloggers, is a writer I enjoy tremendously.  He references issues I’d never considered, and perhaps more importantly often causes me to re-examine my own take on things I thought I’d made up my mind about.  There aren’t a lot of writers who can do that.  His article on the “Oilers Octane” fits that pattern as one of the few (only?) unabashedly pro-cheerleading articles I’ve seen when it comes to Canadian hockey teams.

Cosh dismisses the sexism argument out of hand and then warns against hidebound traditionalism, pointing to the fall of baseball as America’s pre-eminent sport.  Personally, I found his latter argument compelling, and the general thrust of his article – that innovation is essential and that the NHL should do a better job of it even in Canada – to be valid.

Of course, I have a different slant on other objections to cheerleading than Cosh does.  I’ve never been able to look at cheerleading as anything other than a marketing gimmick: it turns out that the key demographic in most sports (men) like watching pretty young women flutter about.  That fondness has some pretty basic, unsophisticated roots, and I’ve always resented the implicit assumption that I need the distraction of pretty girls to keep me tuned into a sporting event.  In short: it’s crass and it kind of bugs me.  And while cheerleading started as a male activity (seriously), the idea that fans need help cheering isn’t more comforting than the idea that they need pretty women to distract them.

I also have my doubts that this is the sort of manoeuvre likely to solve the Oilers’ “small market” difficulties.  Cosh correctly illustrates out that the Oilers actual hockey-viewing market is not at all small, but the obvious conclusion I take from that point is that marketing – i.e. reaching more people – isn’t the problem hockey teams in Canada have.  The problem hockey teams in Canada have is that they don’t get the benefit of their massive audience, because the league forces them to share their much, much higher-per-capita TV revenue with their less-watched American neighbours.  Tyler Dellow pointed to one redistribution model (read that article, it’s brilliant) that would make Canadian teams far more viable.  But I digress; the simple fact of the matter is that the “small market” label Canadian teams get isn’t a marketing problem, and thus doesn’t need a marketing solution.

Finally, despite the mild annoyance/distaste I have for cheerleading squads, it’s difficult to work up much energy to object to them.  They’re everywhere.  In the grand scheme of things, the Oilers decision to adopt or not adopt them isn’t terribly relevant.

Comments (4)

  1. I wrote a master’s thesis on the ways women interacted with pro hockey, and actually dealt a lot with the whole ice girls/cheerleaders phenomenon.

    Having grown past the angry fight-picking feminist part of my life slightly, the biggest issue I have with ice girls/cheerleaders at this point is not that teams have them, but the mixed messages they send within the fanbase.

    Boiling it down to simple terms, the men are allowed to lust after the cheerleaders with no consequences, while as soon as a woman says “Wow, Omark is ridiculously attractive,” even if she then follows that with “-and did you see that shootout goal, man he’s got sick hands,” many male fans will write her off as just a puckbunny chasing the pretty boys.

    Granted, that’s a generalization, as not all male fans are quite that frat-boy in the head, but there really is a sports glass ceiling that females run into. I can either keep my views of an attractive player to myself and become one of the bros talking stats and sick moves, or I can admit that yes, I think Ryan Whitney’s adorable and did you see that interview he was hilarious, and immediately be dismissed by men labeling themselves “real” fans as just another stupid girl here to watch the pretty boys without knowing the game. And sadly, once you get labled as THAT girl, it’s a deep hole to climb out of.

    Frankly, I’d love even to see co-ed dance teams. I’d be more than willing to ogle those boys right alongside my male seat-mates.

  2. I think it may help boost some ratings in the upcoming 2011 season… as long as the NHL takes advantage of the NFL and NBA labor disputes, the NHL has a huge chance at some open spots for TV contracts…. and all those football and basketball fans are used to seeing cheerleaders wen ever the game is on. Why not target those lonely fans with some eye-candy that they are used to seeing? “oh yeah the Kings are on, and they have those hot ladies dancing on the ice”. how many more people would tune in? I’ll bet the results would be staggaring. To me this is what it sounds like the NHL is doing to me….

  3. Ryan, the issue with your specific example is that the Kings’ broadcasts almost NEVER show the Ice Girls. In fact, I can’t think of a US feed that does so outside of maybe Dallas.

    The Kings use them more for community marketing than anything else – if Dustin Brown and JQ show up for an event, they’ll inevitably have a couple of the girls with them.

    And it’s not like the Kings need their help to sell tickets, since they’re at something like 96% capacity this year.

    I do think that the NHL needs to push ever-forward in marketing their brand, and for the holier-than-thou types: if the Boston Celtics have cheerleaders, then surely it’s not a big deal if the Oilers do.

  4. LOL! Actually to be honest I was kinda comparing the Kings to the Lakers… Don’t see any Kings games wasn’t aware they had cheerleaders… It’s not just about filling up one arena, it’s about getting more people turning the channel to an NHL game south of the border.. How much money would the NHL make if they sold out every arena every night… without anybody watching them on TV? The NHL Is looking to grab more people’s attention for the entire league… not for the LA Kings…, The Oilers…. or even my beloved Leafs It’s for the NHL. Maybe the Oilers are using it more as a pilot for the league? I don’t pay any attention to them really myself…. (Except in every installment of Court Cuts!) I think for the TV effect, I think with that kind of similarity with the other 2 major brands, it may attract the networks more. I didn’t realize my Kings’ example was poor… Sorry!! Hopefully my point wasn’t lost…. You guys get the idea…. I’m sure some of the people who have taken marketing will understand the point i’m trying to make.

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