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.