Philadelphia

Last weekend, I had the chance to visit Philadelphia for the first time.  The reason for my visit was a brief get-together with my older brother, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We don’t get a chance to see each other very often these days, and Philadelphia was a short, non-stop flight for both of us to meet up, have a couple of beers, and watch a sporting event or two.

Before I get to the sport heritage part of the trip, I have to say that Philadelphia is a great city!  I was only there for a few days, mind you, and I was staying at a VRBO in the “old city” about three blocks from the Independence Hall World Heritage Site.  That said, I found it a very walkable city with some some really neat neighbourhoods, great museums (I wish I could have visited more of them), and good food and drink.  The people we met there were “authentic” – as convoluted as that word is.  They didn’t put on airs, I guess, and I imagine had we pissed them off, they’d tell us so.  In general, when we told people we were from out of town, they were glad we visited, gave us a bit of friendly advice (like – if you’re going to an Eagles game, cheer for the Eagles…even if you like the other team), and generally let us be.  Was rather refreshing, actually.

However, one cannot partake in a sports trip to Philadelphia without noticing that city’s sport heritage is very prominent.  Even in the city centre, steps away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, was an advertisement for a recent baseball exhibition at the National Museum of American Jewish History:

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Of course, I wrote recently about the tension that (appears) to exist between the city’s “real” sport heritage and its fictionalized portrayals.  However, one cannot escape that the sporting past plays a huge role in the city’s current identity.

The city has a quasi-”arena district” just outside of the city centre that houses the baseball stadium, football stadium, and hockey/basketball arena, with a kind-of bar/entertainment facility called Xfinity Live.  Now, the arena district is, basically, the three venues, the bar facility, and parking lots.  However, it is the city’s sport heritage that gives the district a sense of place.  Xfinity Live, for example, is on the one-time site of the Spectrum, long-time home of the NHL Flyers and NBA 76ers. Inside the venue, the Spectrum is remembered…in bar form:

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The heyday of the Philadelphia Flyers are also recalled at Xfinity Live (and, also in bar form).  The Flyers were known as the “Broad Street Bullies” during the 1970s, as the team was known for their aggressive style of play, and so fans can now soak-in the nostalgia at a Flyers-themed pub:

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Around Xfinity Live are statues of ex-players, such as 76ers player “Dr. J” – Julius Erving.  Perhaps most interesting was the statue of long-time anthem singer at the Spectrum, Kate Smith:

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Smith’s rendition of God Bless America was a bit of a talisman for Philadelphia teams, particularly the Flyers.  Whenever she sang, the Flyers almost always won.  After she passed away, the Flyers used to show a video of her singing, particularly if they really needed a victory:

We managed to go to a Flyers game and Eagles game during our stay.  The Flyers arena, the Wells Fargo Center, is about 20 years old, so it doesn’t have a lengthy history.  That said, there were a few reminders of the Flyers glorious past, as well as some displays honouring past players – including the late, great Pelle Lindbergh, who was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in the mid 1980s until he died in a car crash at age 26:

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The Flyers game itself was fantastic, with the home team holding on for a 4-3 victory versus the Colorado Avalanche:

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The Eagles game was played on the day before Veterans Day, so the patriotism was particularly prominent before game time:

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The game itself was a bit of a laugher, as the Eagles beat the visiting Carolina Panthers 45-21.  While I’m a Panthers fan, I did root for the Eagles – I think I may have only spotted one other Panthers fan, and I imagine he might have received his fair share of abuse during the game.  Eagles fans REALLY love the Eagles:20141110_205158

Great trip, all in all, but it did also got me thinking about a couple of heritage/sport heritage items and issues:

  • Legitimacy and commodification: The city has a remarkable sport heritage – in part, perhaps, because they have a notable and lengthy sport history.  The breadth and depth of the city’s sporting past gave the heritage markers legitimacy and, I suppose, made them more more apt to be commodified (in bar form and otherwise).  In other words, the city’s sport history made its sport heritage more recognizable, gave it greater resonance, and made it easier to sell to a broad-base of fans.
  • Different sports generating more/fewer sport heritage markers: It seemed that, at least to my eye, that the Flyers seem to have cornered the market on sport heritage markers in Philadelphia – or, at least in the arena district.  Despite the presence of the Phillies and Eagles stadiums – and the likelihood that both the baseball and football teams have more support than the hockey team – most of the heritage, from the bars to the displays to the statues, were hockey-based.  Not sure if it is down to ownership of places like Xfinity Live, or if the Flyers have just done a better job of using heritage in marketing, or if fans are just more nostalgic about the Flyers than the Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers.
  • Heritage retail: As far as I know, there hasn’t been much done on heritage retail.  That is to say, either retail stores that sell heritage products (in Philadelphia, Ben Franklin is a commodity), or shopping districts, stores, or eateries that are meant to look “olde timey.”  Philadelphia has heritage retail in spades, and I wonder whether it might be a good case study.
  • Public/private heritage spaces: Not sport heritage, but the Independence Mall area of Philadelphia has a curious blend of public and private run heritage attractions/retail, etc.  That is to say, it is somewhat unclear at times whether a space is public (that is to say, publicly operated through the National Parks Service) or Private (either as a CVB, museum, gift shop, or other heritage attraction).  At times, the aesthetic of the attractions and employees are so similar (and, at times, the spaces are so intermingled) that it is not always clear who runs what, and to what end.

Mementos in the the Digital Age

I love ticket stubs.

I love ticket stubs so much that I have a collage of them in my office.

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(Not sure how many ticket stubs are on the Stub Wall, but I seem to add to a new addition every month or two.  It is also, admittedly, a childish collection…but I don’t care.)

As a kid, I would collect them – not just my tickets from, say, a hockey or football game, but ticket stubs discarded by others at those games as well (I’m sure my parents were thrilled that their son brought home dozens…literally dozens…of ketchup-stained football tickets).  Seems old habits die hard, as I have ticket stubs on my wall, in various scrap books, etc, while also finding that they make wonderful bookmarks (and make for a bit of a wonderful discovery when finding them between the pages again years later).  Ticket stubs were, and still are, a physical, tangible reminder of an event – whether it was the result that was memorable (I had ticket stubs from the two times I saw the Stanley Cup presented in Edmonton…now, sadly, lost or at the bottom of a forgotten box in some storage unit somewhere), or that the game was part of a vacation or while living abroad, or wanting to remember who I went to the game with, or if the ticket was particularly aesthetically pleasing (cricket tickets, in particular, are lovely).  Some bring back great memories, while others (such as a ticket from the last Atlanta Thrashers hockey game) are bittersweet. Nowadays, I don’t save every ticket from every event I attend, but it is more about having a representative sample of different events for my Stub Wall.  Perhaps the only exception are tickets from games when I have taken my son. I have a separate book for those tickets, though I have put a few memorable ticket stubs from father-son games on the Stub Wall:

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(Note the ticket at the top, Greenville Road Warriors v. Gwinett Gladiators.  Not a particularly memorable ECHL minor league hockey game, mind you, but my son chewed on the upper left corner of the ticket throughout the first period.  As a parent, you get sentimental about the silliest things.)

In any event, there has been some discussion – such as this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this past summer – that the paper ticket, and the instant souvenir that comes with it, is rapidly on its way out in sport.  The vast majority of tickets sold now are digital, and it makes sense.  Digital tickets are more convenient, they can be sold or transferred easily, they are somewhat more secure, and they have all-but-eliminated tickets being lost or misplaced.  The question is whether there is still a place for the physical ticket in the digital age.  From the Post-Gazette article:

The ticket stubs are physical representations of memories, of games won and lost, of records set and time spent with friends and family, and like many other objects — photographs, books, compact discs and, yes, even newspapers — they are starting to disappear in the digital age.

Sports franchises are rapidly moving to digital ticketing as a means of gathering data about customers and generating revenue by collecting fees every time a digital ticket is resold, something not possible with hard-copy tickets, but the movement has the unintended consequence of eliminating a cheap memento for fans and a collector’s item for others.

The article goes on to argue that ticket stubs also become mementos when the unexpected occurs, such as a no-hitter in baseball, and that teams have responded by issuing physical tickets retroactively.  However, this suggests that value of a ticket stub is only related to the events on the field.  Of the tickets on the Stub Wall, only a handful of them are there because of a particularly important moment that happened on the pitch/field/ice.  Most are triggers for other memories, and that the outcome of the events are in the background.  For example, I have a ticket from the Fourth Day of an England v. New Zealand test match at Lord’s in 2013.  Yes, I remember that 14 wickets fell that day with England winning the test, but it was more about taking my son to the game and having him charm the people around us, or talking cricket with my mother and father who attended with my wife, son, and I, or the fact that I was watching a test match at Lord’s!  Point is, there is value in these object that go beyond either the result itself or the utilitarian value of allowing one passage through a stadium gate.

As such, I wonder if there might be a market for fans like me who want the physical ticket because of a kind-of anticipatory nostalgia.  I would be willing to pay for, say, a physical ticket for my son’s first sporting event, or a game attended spent on a special occasion with family or friends, or just because I want to add to my collection.  Of course, the question is whether it is worth it for teams to go to such lengths for an seemingly shrinking market, and whether they would be enough of a trade-off from the digital benefits (such as transfer revenue or the customer data) for a memento.  That said, there is something to having a beautiful, perhaps fading ticket stub, and being able to say “I was there.”  The hope is, particularly for collectors/sentimentalists like me, whether this will be possible to do in years to come.

Infamous Sites and the Sport Heritage Visitor

Do we actually know why people visit sport heritage sites?

This seems like a bit of an obvious question, and perhaps one that has been answered (or, at least, assumed) by marketers, managers, and academics alike.  But, I got to thinking about it the other day that, perhaps, as researchers we’ve rather guessed at the reasons why someone might go to a stadium, or hall of fame, or heritage sporting event (though, perhaps the reasons for each are different).  As a colleague mentioned to me this weekend, perhaps sport heritage research needs to come up with a visitor typology (add that topic to an ever-growing list of potential dissertation topics for a future graduate student).  However, one thing I – and others who research this topic – have noticed is that not everyone who visits a sport heritage site is a die-hard, super-keen fan.

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Sean Gammon at the University of Central Lancashire raised the observation in his excellent chapter “‘Sporting’ new attractions? The commodification of the sleeping stadium” that people on, say, a stadium tour aren’t always major supporters – if fans at all:

…stadia tours will often comprise of highly identified fans, who display a degree of veneration towards many of the tour highlights, as well as the less-attached visitors whose interests are far more casual, and ephemeral at best. (p. 125)

In terms of visitors to stadia, and certainly this has been my observation as well, that many people go to them – and perhaps go on a tour, but on many occasions go just to be near the venue.  Or, as Gammon again contends:

…the stadium has grown in importance, from an often aesthetically indifferent utilitarian structure into an iconic symbol of a place, team, sport and/or event. (p.116)

This idea that some sport heritage sites are infamous – that they are famous for being famous – is perhaps an obvious one, though I think it is frequently overlooked in understanding sport heritage.  If we are to understand heritage sport tourism as, in part, a kind of heritage tourism, then it stands to reason that some visitors will go to sport heritage sites simply because they are interesting, or representative of a particular culture, or because they are famous and it is something that “you do” when on vacation.  Indeed, visitors to Rome need not be entrenched in the classical history in order to want to visit Pantheon, just as visitors to Paris need not have a background – or any knowledge, really – in the history of the French monarchy to want to visit Versailles.  Perhaps sport sites will attract more knowledgable visitors, as sport is such a global phenomenon and a knowledge of sport is perhaps easier to acquire than a knowledge of the writings of Marcus Aurelius, but is it that far-fetched to have visitors want to go to Old Trafford without being fans of Manchester United, or Yankee Stadium without being New York Yankees fans, or the museum at Camp Nou without being hardcore Barcelona supporters?  I suppose the other aspect is that, if we have some knowledge that not every sport heritage visitor is necessarily a massive sporting fan, might there be a case for adjusting how a site is interpreted? Could we appeal both to the hardcore fan, who might be looking to venerate and nostalgize, as well as the casual or non-fan who might see the site as representative of a place, or a city, or a culture? Might this transition also provide for broader narratives, where sport is explored both in terms of achievement as well as a social process?  This is also not to place visitors in a binary relationship – sports fans may also desire critical narratives, and non-sports fans could be attracted to the spectacle, drama, and pageantry of the sporting past.  Still, in my experience, there is much work to be done in exploring this aspect of sport heritage, as we probably don’t yet know why people visit these sites and what they are looking to experience.

PS – I was going to write a post yesterday about an anniversary of sorts. When writing a cheque for my son’s daycare fees, I noticed that the date was October 20.  On that date in 1991, my hockey career (such as it was) abruptly ended, which sent me into a tailspin for a few years.  Perhaps one day I’ll write about this event and what it meant in my life in more detail, but for now I was thrilled to see this story yesterday about the mask of Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens supporting mental health awareness.  Good on ya, Ben!

Saturday Nights and Snow Hockey

One of my strongest and fondest memories of childhood were Saturday nights during the autumn and winter, when I would play hockey against myself (!) in our basement at home while my family would watch Hockey Night in Canada. I would sometimes take a look at the game, particularly when (all too infrequently in those days) the match-up featured my favourite team, the Edmonton Oilers. However, mostly I would be lost in my own world of childhood play, making spectacular shots and unbelievable saves while acting as a player, goalie, referee, PA announcer, and play-by-play broadcaster…simultaneously!  And, while sometimes I would pretend I was Gretzky, or Fuhr, or John Vanbiesbrouck, mostly I would pretend that it was actually me in net or scoring the goal, with some CBC commentator amazed at the play he just witnessed.  Saturday nights were special.  I can’t say that they were formalized or “appointment viewing” or anything like that, more that it was just what we did as a Canadian family – watch Hockey Night and, in my case, pretend that I was part of it.

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I got to thinking about those memories this past weekend when my son, who turns three in a couple of months, and I retreated to my basement at our home here in South Carolina to race his miniature monster trucks and watch (in his words) “snow hockey.”  I have the NHL Game Center app, so we were able to watch any one of 15 (!) games that were available on Saturday night.  We sort of had a game on in the background (I decided on the Ottawa Senators v. Tampa Bay Lightning match-up) as we raced his monster trucks back and forth on the faux-hardwood floor. Sometimes (in keeping with the “snow hockey”) my son would use a small Carolina Hurricanes stick I got him last spring to push his monster trucks around the basement, and sometimes he would be lost in his own play, creating conversations between his monster trucks while I kept one eye on him and the other on the game. We had a blast and, of course, for me was particularly special as I saw a bit of my childhood in him as he played pretend with his toys.

Of course, our Saturday night “snow hockey/monster truck” spectacular wouldn’t have been the same without a high speed internet connection and a choice of of live streaming games available at my fingertips.  Certainly, if I were living in South Carolina even a decade ago, my son and I would have had whichever over-the-air college football game was available in the background, rather than bypassing the local feed altogether and creating our own slice of my Canadian childhood in the rural South.  That said, the fact that the feed we were watching wasn’t Hockey Night in Canada – and that, for the most part, the tradition of Hockey Night in Canada is all but dead - did strike me.  I suppose my childhood Saturday nights were special because an over-the-air national broadcast of a hockey game was still pretty special, and not a routine part of daily viewing.  I guess that’s the curse of on-demand viewing – and while I don’t want this to be a “better in my day” rant, as there are clearly advantages for people like me in non-traditional markets – there is something sad about what’s might be lost through over saturation. On the other hand, I also think that something like hockey, particularly in a country like Canada, ought to be part of the “cultural programming” of a national broadcaster like CBC.  What I fear happens to hockey in Canada is what happened to cricket in England, where a private broadcaster bought the rights and that the sport all but disappears from the public airwaves.  Cricket has yet to recover and has, perhaps, lost a generation of supporters.  I hope hockey doesn’t go the same way when Hockey Night permanently leaves the CBC.

Wanted: Sport Heritage Graduate Student

I am looking to recruit a graduate student (preferably at the doctoral level) with a strong interest in sport heritage research to work with me beginning in Fall 2015 in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University.

Sport heritage has in recent years become a powerful vehicle for exploring the social, political, and economic uses of the past. Much of the research to-date has primarily focused on the use of sport heritage in tourism through heritage attractions such as halls of fame, sports stadiums and venues, and sport heritage events among many others. Sport halls of fame and museums, for example, have been examined as to their role in creating and disseminating the sporting past and their relationship to broader social, political and economic agendas. Sports stadia and sporting venues have been explored as potential tourist attractions, their role in commodifying memory, their role in creating authentic experiences, and their part in constructing national identities. Heritage-based sporting events have been explored as avenues for maintaining expressions of cultural identity, as creators of heritage-based place identities, as reflectors of heritage dissonance, as promoters of non-sport heritage, and as constructors of liminal heritages. Sport heritage also has been positioned as a form of secular pilgrimage, as a catalyst for diasporic travel, and as an avenue for memorialization. Beyond its touristic use, sport heritage has also been explored as to its unique management and conservation issues, its relationship to sport history, and its role in creating intangible legacies.

I am seeking a student who will further enhance sport heritage research by developing new and innovative lines of inquiry.  In particular, I would be interested in working with students in the following areas of sport heritage research (though others would be considered):

  • Sport heritage and tourism
  • Sport heritage and pilgrimage
  • Living sport heritage (e.g.: athletes as artefacts)
  • Contested sport heritage
  • Dark sport heritage
  • Sport heritage mobilities
  • Visitor motivations
  • Sport heritage management
  • Sport heritage conservation
  • Best practices for sport museums
  • Performance of sport heritage
  • Existential sport heritage
  • Nostalgia and sport heritage
  • Sport heritage and national identity

Students may be US-based or international.  Funding for up to four years of study at the doctoral level may be available to a qualified candidate.

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Founded in 1889 and situated in South Carolina, Clemson University is a top-20 US public university with an enrolment of approximately 21,000 students.  With 36 faculty and 130 graduate students from around the world, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management was founded in 1966 and is one of the top departments of its kind in the United States.  From a sport heritage standpoint, Clemson University is within close driving distance of many top sport heritage locations, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and several former Olympic sites. Clemson University also has a strong sporting culture, with several top athletics programs – such as football and men’s basketball – that attract over 600,000 spectators a season.

If you would like to know more about this opportunity, please contact me at gramsha@clemson.edu.  For more information on my background, publications, and current projects, please see my departmental biography or the “About The Author” section of this blog.

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