The notion that a particular sporting location is the “home” of a sport, athlete, or sporting practice has been explored recently in sport heritage research. It has also come under scrutiny as the “birthplace” moniker can provide a sporting place a significant amount of cultural and economic capital. Indeed, to be the true and recognized “home” of a sport conveys authenticity, and suggests a level of reverence that other similar sporting places simply do not have. In some cases, “home” is contested – and that there are many different places that could be considered “home”. In others, such as Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, there is little debate. Lord’s is the home of cricket.
Lord’s self-proclaimed “home of cricket” title is well-earned. It is probably the most recognized and revered cricketing ground in the world, has the largest cricket archive in the world and (I believe) most notable cricket museum in the world, and it is the place where the laws (or rules) of cricket were formed and continue to be honed. While there are many other famous, or beautiful, or historic cricket grounds around the globe, few are as revered as Lord’s.
I find it difficult to assess Lord’s, and the 90 minute behind-the-scenes tour I took there, in any sort of objective manner. Simply put, I love Lord’s. It was the place I learned about first when I was began following cricket. I, in fact, knew about it before I knew anything about the sport. It is the place I often long to go during a summer day, and it is the place of one of my fondest sporting experiences. One of my favourite pieces of cricketing journalism took place at Lord’s, while another article from last year beautifully chronicles a serendipitously-spend day at the Home of Cricket. To me, there are few places I’d rather spend a summer’s day (or five, if it’s a test match) than Lord’s.
I have been to Lord’s on a few occasions, but this was the first time I toured it with some knowledge about cricket. Our tour group, about 25 in all, was truly global. I was the lone visitor from North America, while the rest were from Sri Lanka, India, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, and other parts of England. Though the site itself is, ostensibly, primary ground for English cricket, touring the pavilion (above) re-enforced how important the site is to global cricket. Paintings and memorabilia from famous cricketers from around the world decorate the walls and corridors. Gasps of delight could be heard from various segments of the tour group when they saw paintings of their cricket heroes, or when they saw the names of their country’s cricketers on the Lord’s honours boards.
In terms of the tour itself, it was one of the more exceptional tours in terms of access, probably owing in large part to the fact it took place in early November during the off-season. The tour began in the museum, where the guide discussed the ground as well as some of the most famous artefacts at the museum – not the least of which was the Ashes urn awarded to the winner of the England – Australia test series (England are the current holder of the Ashes, having defeated Australia in the summer of 2015).
The tour then went through the famous pavilion, including the Long Room where members of the very exclusive Marylebone Cricket Club watch matches, and both the England and visitors changing rooms. The tour then stops at a statue of W.G. Grace, arguably the most famous cricketer of all time, before proceeding to the Tavern Stand for birds-eye views of the Ground.
Normally, the tour visits the media centre (as is common with many sports venue tours) though, on this occasion, the media centre was undergoing renovations and was not available. So, to finish, the tour visited the side of the pitch for a ground-level view, then (as expected) concluded at the shop.
It is difficult for me to critically assess the tour and location, in part because of my great affection for the place, but a couple of things stood out. The first was that virtually everyone staff member I encountered at Lord’s, from the guide to the security personnel to the ticket sellers to the people at the shop, were unfailingly polite and willing to help and answer questions. I wonder, of course, if this is because they are seen (and see themselves) as ambassadors of the Ground and of the sport. I think I was expecting something slightly more snobbish, perhaps – that visitors were something they had to endure rather than something that, in my view, they seemed to welcome. In any event, everyone I encountered seemed genuinely proud of Lord’s. Secondly, I have NEVER seen tour patrons treat a location with such reverence. For many on the tour, Lord’s is sacred ground, and some of the conversations overheard during the tour suggested that visiting Lord’s was the main reason for taking the journey to London. Finally, there was never an overt sales push during the tour – which is relatively rare for behind-the-scenes tours. Few mentions of buying match tickets, or purchasing merchandise, or renting parts of the ground for special events, were mentioned on the tour. Even the large-scale renovations of Lord’s were mentioned only in passing, and prompted by a visitor’s question.
For those interested in cricket, touring Lord’s is a must. Even for those with a limited interest in cricket, or none at all, the tour is also quite inclusive and doesn’t always assume that visitors know particular players and matches. In many ways, touring Lord’s is to see a glimpse of two centuries of modern sport development. It is a place steeped in history (though, of course, the tour doesn’t shy away from the business aspects of Lord’s, nor the fact that aspects such as gambling were central to its historical development) while still very much being a contemporary sports venue. It is reverential without being overtly hagiographical. It is distinctly English while still being international. It is a remarkable place.
The role of sports stadia and sports facilities as symbolic icons of place/team/sport, as well as significant tourist attractions in their own right, have been discussed several times in this forum. Many teams and organizations now offer behind-the-scenes public stadium tours which, as the growing body of research shows, address numerous managerial issues, including several directly related to heritage. Although the stadium tour has now become quite commonplace, some venues reach a level of global infamy that visitors flock to them – whether they are fans or not. Such is the case with Old Trafford, home football ground of Manchester United.
Many clubs and organizations have come to realize that the stadium tour can be the centrepiece of an hours-long heritage and retail experience at the venue. Research conducted at Twickenham Stadium, home of England Rugby, found that venue managers viewed the tour, in part, as a way of driving visitors to retail and catering services (many of which were only utilized on event days) as well as a means of sharing the history and heritage of the venue, team, and organization. Recent visits to both Daytona International Speedway and Anfield (home of Liverpool FC) noted that tours were just one part of a multi-hour visit which might include additional heritage experiences (such as team museums), tour add-ons, and retail opportunities. Simply put, stadium tours have evolved and been professionalized tremendously, and many sites and organizations are using them to drive other initiatives on non-event days. Old Trafford reflects – and, possibly, may have even instigated – this trend.
That said, this new tour model doesn’t come cheap. Tours of Old Trafford are £18 (a shade under $30US) which includes a self-guided visit to the team’s museum and a guided tour of the Ground, as well as access to the bar/lounge for visitors looking to have a coffee, beer, or light snack. I will admit, I wish I had much more time to look around the large and very impressive team museum. Full disclosure: I’m not a Manchester United fan, I’m not steeped in its history and traditions, and my interest in English football in general is casual these days, though it was once quite passionate (Newcastle United fandom can quell any flame, I suppose :) . In any event, the team museum is excellent – only rivalled (in my experience) by the now-defunct Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame. I only wish I had more time to take a good look before the tour began.
The tour itself covered familiar territory, going behind the scenes in the dressing room, media room, owner’s suite, and along various views of the pitch. And, of course, the tour ended at the (massive) team shop.
The tour guide – John – was excellent. A long-time, local supporter, he brought knowledge, passion, and humour to the hour-long tour. The fact the tour managers went with a local supporter reflects, I think, a particular form of glocalization, in that they provided a “authentic” local voice to a globally-recognized club. Interestingly, the tour reflected the international interest in the club and venue as well, as no one was actually from Manchester (and, I believe, only one was from Britain), while the 25-person tour included visitors from China, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, Kenya, and the United States. Even more interesting was the fact that only a handful of tour patrons identified themselves as Manchester United supporters, and some mentioned that they weren’t really football fans at all. Old Trafford – famous for being famous, indeed!
All in all, as a venue tour – and broader sport heritage experience – it was excellent. From a purely practical and managerial side of things, everyone was friendly, polite, and welcoming. The guide’s narrative kept both casual and non-fans engaged, while also dropping enough nuggets for passionate supporters to make it all worthwhile. I think, were I not already casually committed to another club (and, if I didn’t have an almost pathological aversion to massively popular and successful sports teams), the experience probably would have made me think about supporting Manchester United. From an aesthetic point of view, I was actually taken by how worn the stadium is. From the outside, it looks almost like a contemporary NFL venue – but, inside, it is actually (and almost charmingly) frayed. The home dressing room, for example, was fairly spartan. The owner’s suite was nice, but hardly jaw-dropping. It actually made the club, strangely, more relatable.
The stadium is also a bit of a monument itself, with the many notes and reminders to famous games, players, and events surrounding the ground, the most notable (and sombre) of which are the dedications to the 1958 Munich Air Disaster which saw several Manchester United players lose their lives.
Old Trafford is, arguably, is amongst the most well-known sports venues in the world, and it is part of a seemingly growing trend to make the stadium tour just one part of a larger and in-depth touristic experience. The tour itself was strong, even while following expected tour norms, though it is the operation – and how the history, heritage, and tradition of the club is created, consumed, and commodified for a global audience – that should make sport heritage scholars and managers take pause. Manchester United clearly takes these heritage experiences seriously.
This past Saturday, my colleague at the University of Central Lancashire took me to see Preston North End (PNE) football club play Cardiff City at Deepdale Stadium. I will admit, it was a bit of a thrill for me to go to the game, as PNE is one of the oldest football clubs in the world (having been established in 1880) playing in a stadium that has hosted matched since the late nineteenth century (though, of course, has been renovated many times since).
The match itself, an entertaining nil-nil draw, was entertaining enough, but the experience as a whole made me think a bit about the sensory aspects of sport heritage. Of course, the physical structure itself and the visual as a whole is normally where sport heritage is focused. Certainly, at a place like a football ground, the aural is important – chants and cheers and discussions amongst fans, etc. – was a big part of the “heritage experience.” Taste and smell can be a big part of the experience – foods eaten and prepared at the ground, the smell of cigarettes, etc. Many of my strongest memories of going to sporting events as a child were the concourse areas during the intermission, in particular the rather unpleasant odour of cooked onions from hotdog stands mixed with plumes of cigarette smoke. However, I will admit, these senses didn’t play a central role in my Deepdale experience.
The one thing that struck me – and created for me a deeply nostalgic moment – was touch and feel. Kickoff was at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon – as traditional a football time as is possible. I have recently written about the role of time in sport heritage though, in this case, it was less about the pace of play and more about the context of the time. Indeed, knowing a (very) little bit about English football, I knew that – until a few years ago – virtually every game was at three o’clock on Saturday, though now a days games are at various times of day, and even on days other than Saturday. In many ways, then, the context of the match was an important part of the experience and, because I knew how traditional the time was, it added to the authenticity.
Being that it was a three o’clock kickoff on an autumn afternoon, it also meant that the weather and temperature might change over the course of the match. Indeed, at the beginning of the match, it was a sunny, and quite pleasant afternoon – almost balmy, in fact. By the second half, the clouds had moved in, the wind picked up, and I found myself rubbing my hands together and blowing on them to keep them warm.
After the game, over a pint at the pub, my colleague and I discussed the heritage aspects of the game. While we both talked about the team, ground, and chants, the thing that stuck with me was the rubbing of my hands. It reminded me of going to Canadian football games in the Fall as a child, where the late afternoon gives the first hint of winter and I would have to rub my hands together and stamp my feet from time to time to keep warm. It was such a sensual kind of nostalgia – for a very brief moment, it did feel like I was a twelve year old back in Canada. My colleague noticed that he had a similar nostalgic moment, but also said that when he would go to English football matches in the fall and winter, cold and windy afternoons meant having tea or beef broth at halftime. Though we didn’t head to the concession stands during halftime at Deepdale, there’s little doubt that a warm drink on a cool autumn afternoon would have been both welcome and an authentic part of our sensory sport heritage experience.
In any event, the experience at Deepdale watching PNE re-enforced that the sport heritage experience is more than visual and aural and that, in fact, the other senses are often deeply important in understanding and “feeling” sport heritage.
Call for Papers – Journal of Sport & Tourism
Theory and Sport Tourism
The Big Questions Anniversary
Sean Gammon (University of Central Lancashire)
Gregory Ramshaw (Clemson University)
Richard Wright (AUT University)
The Journal of Sport & Tourism is approaching its 20th Anniversary Year. To mark this anniversary four special issues of the journal are planned over the next two years focusing on the ‘The Big Questions’ for research into sport and tourism. This, the third special issue will focus on theory for sport tourism.
Although the preceding decade has seen concerted efforts to develop a more theoretically informed understanding of the field, a clear body of theory to inform research into sport tourism remains elusive. Concepts such as serious leisure and the travel career ladder have been adopted from wider leisure and tourism studies, whilst disciplines such as social psychology and geography have brought contributions to sports tourism informed by the theory of planned behavior and the concepts of place and space. However, these have tended to be isolated studies, and the extent to which concepts and theories from different subjects and disciplines might complement or supplement each other, or be used systematically over time to develop a body of theory to support research into sport and tourism, has not been explored. This is not to suggest that there exists an overarching theory that explains all related manifestations in the field, but rather that there still remains a good deal of untested models and theories which may help illuminate the very special interaction that takes place between sport and tourism. Furthermore, there have been concerns that contributions to the field have been somewhat gender specific, and that the present theoretical landscape has been dominated by largely western literature and world views. What is needed is a plurality of voices that may first, impact upon hitherto unexplored ontological and epistemological approaches whilst, second, adding to the bank of theories currently utilized by the field.
Therefore this special issue aims to encourage papers that:
• Expand and/or augment current theory adopted in the literature. This may focus on one or more of the key features of sport tourism research.
• Introduce and/or apply relevant interdisciplinary theory to the sport tourism domain.
• Provide alternative voice(s) to the study and understanding of sport tourism. This may stem from (though not limited to) studies that focus upon gender and or culture.
A two-step paper review process will be used:
Submission of abstract
The abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and selected authors will be invited to submit full papers via the on-line system and blind review process.
Word count: 300 words.
Deadline: before 1st December 2015.
Submission: By email to Sean Gammon (University of Central Lancashire): firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: Via email to any of the three special issue guest editors (see below).
Please use the following format for the abstract:
3. Author affiliations
4. Corresponding author and contact information
5. Key Words (maximum of six key words)
6. Abstract (please use, where possible, the 5 sub-sections below to structure the abstract)
– Core Disciplinary/Theoretical approach
– Design/methodology/approach (if appropriate)
2. Submission of full papers
Full papers will be invited upon review of abstracts. Full papers should be submitted through the Journal of Sport & Tourism online submission system for double blind peer review. Please indicate that the paper is submitted for consideration for the Theory and Sport Tourism special issue at the point of online submission.
Word count: Full papers should not exceed 8000 words
Deadline 29th April, 2016
Submission: Online via https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jsat
Submission guidelines and author information: http://www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?journalCode=rjto20&page=instructions#.VV0YL1yp8ds
Guest editors: Sean Gammon, University of Central Lancashire (SJGammon@uclan.ac.uk); Gregory Ramshaw (GRAMSHA@Clemson.edu), Richard Wright, AUT University (Richard.Wright@aut.ac.nz)
The Guest Editors welcome approaches from authors who would like to discuss potential papers for this special issue. Please don’t hesitate to contact us directly for more information, or to circulate this call for papers to interested colleagues.
Journal of Sport & Tourism (Taylor and Francis)
Journal information can be found at:
Sport heritage research has grown from a relatively obscure sub-sub-sub field of sport tourism to a growing field of inquiry in heritage studies, sport studies, and tourism studies. Until a decade ago, the research about sport heritage and sport nostalgia was fairly scatter-shot. The Sociology of Sport Journal had a sport nostalgia issue in the early 90s, for example, while Heather Gibson included nostalgia in her sport tourism typology in 1998 though, by and large, the ways in which the sporting past were created, commemorated, and commodified in the present went largely unexplored.
However, sport heritage now has a growing body of research. Initially, sport heritage was largely considered a tourism resource, though most of the recent work has branched out from these beginnings to understand sport heritage from a variety of angles. With that in mind, I give you some of my favourite recent sport heritage research. I have purposefully not included any of my own research (I feel it is up to others to determine whether my research has value), though some of the publications I list I was involved with as an editor.
Representing the Sporting Past in Museums and Halls of Fame edited by Murray Phillips (Routledge, 2012): I have written about this edited text both on this forum and in a review in the Annals of Leisure Research, and I can safely say my high opinion of it has not changed since I read and reviewed it a couple of years ago. Phillips understands the relationship between sport history and sport heritage better than most – he realizes that the aims and outcomes of each are different and that sports museums cannot, or should not, be history books on walls. Many of the contributions also push the boundaries of what constitutes a sports museum, what they might look like, and the power relationships determine their narratives. This book is essential for anyone wishing to study sport heritage.
“Heroes as Heritage: the commoditization of sporting achievement” by Sean Gammon (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014): Dr. Gammon is a frequent co-collaborator of mine, so I was well familiar with his work when he wrote this paper. However, this piece blew me away. Gammon took an idea that had been floating about for a few years – the idea that people (and, in this case, athletes) could be considered a kind of artefact – and took it in some provocative new directions. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:
The heroes and the sporting moments they create then, as Gammon argues, become artefacts, and though we can relive and replay the achievement (and, in a sense, preserve the moment(s) in time, perhaps through both personal memory and vicariously through media) we cannot preserve “the object” in the same way that we might other forms of tangible heritage. The relationship between the achievement and the athlete, in fact, demonstrates a paradox in sport heritage. Athletes age, change, and are no longer what they were – indeed, athletes are some of the few heritage “objects” that are not aided by the patina of age. However, their achievements may become more glorious – or heroic – as time goes on.
Sport heritage has a unique relationship with time – both in terms of how quickly sport becomes heritage, but also how it is different than many other manifestations of heritage. Gammon captures some of these issues, and more, in this wonderful paper.
“It still goes on: football and the heritage of the Great War in Britain” by Ross Wilson (Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 9, Issue 3, 2014). Dr. Wilson’s wonderful paper takes many different approaches to sport heritage – including tourism, memorialization, and commemoration – and views them through the lens of the Great War. As I wrote in response to this article at the time:
Football, Wilson argues, provides an emotive bridge as well as a marker for many British tourists. However, the emphasis on football also reveals much about contemporary British culture, as well as how the War is understood and remembered in Britain today. As such, this paper confronts many of the issues at play in contemporary heritage literature, albeit through a sports lens, including contestation over memory and memorialization, commodification and authenticity in heritage tourism, and the relationship between history and heritage.
The Great War has inspired many different types of heritages, including those in sport, and Dr. Wilson provides a thought-provoking look at how football, in particular, is mobilized in how we confront and remember the conflict.
Sport, History, and Heritage: Studies in Public Representation – edited by Jeffrey Hill, Kevin Moore, and Jason Wood (Boydell & Brewer, 2012): One of the aspects of sport heritage research that is sometimes overlooked is that there are real, practical implications to how the sporting past is created in consumed. This edited text combines both academic and applied perspectives and, though I found it sometimes conflates history, heritage, nostalgia, and memory, it does provide some very interesting case studies about collecting, managing, interpreting, and representing the sporting past.
“Non-events and their legacies: Parisian heritage and the Olympics that never were” by Ulf Strohmayer (International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 19, Issue 2, 2013): With Paris again bidding for the Olympics, Dr. Strohmayer’s paper is essential reading for anyone wondering about the many heritage implications of an Olympic bid. Firstly, this paper presents a kind-of counterfactual sport heritage – that is to say, it presents a sport heritage that was never actually realized, at least in space and time. Secondly, it considers that archival documents – such as Olympic bids – are a kind of sport heritage. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it considers how an Olympic games might interact – or potentially damage – existing built heritage. As we know, heritage icons often form the backdrop to Olympic venues (consider Westminster Palace/Big Ben as the pan-away backdrop to beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympics), however what if there simply isn’t the room to accommodate Olympic venues in heritage districts? Is a Paris Olympics really “Parisian” if it is held in the suburbs rather than on the Champ de Mars?
One of the topics that has occupied heritage studies research lately is the process of heritagization; that is to say, the process whereby various pasts are constructed in the present to address a contemporary need, issue or circumstance. As any heritage studies scholar will (or, perhaps, should) know, heritage is about the present and an imagined future – it is never about the past. We leave the past to historians and archaeologists to critically assess.
What we don’t often talk about is de-heritagization; that is, when a heritage is no longer useful in the present and becomes part of, to employ an overused phrase, “the dustbin of history.” We talk of heritages changing, or heritages being malleable, but rarely of heritages simply becoming, for lack of a better term, “not heritage.” Perhaps in some cases – such as when a post-colonial regime looks to new national symbols, for example – heritage truly does transform into materials reserved for the historian or archaeologist. In any event, they are no longer part of our contemporary needs – we no longer use them and, as such, they are no longer heritage.
These thoughts came to me recently when I began to consider aspects of my personal sporting heritage and, in particular, how they became simply a part of my personal history and not my contemporary identity. The first was when I was in my hometown of Edmonton recently shopping for a used pair of hockey skates. I was a goaltender for most of my life, including through all of my adulthood, and made certain I brought my goaltending equipment with me to South Carolina seven years ago. However, the lack of local hockey opportunities coupled with a busy career and home life meant that continuing to play goal – a central part of my identity throughout my life – was not an option. I certainly thought about playing at times, to the point that I found out my goalie skates had fallen into disrepair and were no longer useable. When I looked for a replacement pair of skates a few weeks ago, I immediately went to the goalie skates when it dawned on me: I am no longer a goaltender, and will never be again. Most of my equipment – and not just my skates – have fallen into disrepair, I have little desire to replace my equipment and, though I might occasionally pine for another game in net, I am quite alright with that part of my sporting life being over. Simply put, being a goaltender is no longer part of my contemporary identity and has ceased (for the time being) to be part of my heritage. This is not to say that it won’t be resurrected as heritage at some point – if my son takes up goaltending, for example, we’ll probably talk about our family’s goaltending heritage. But, for now, it is simply a part of my past.
Similarly, I was recently in Winnipeg, Manitoba when I came across the many advertisements for the city’s NHL hockey team, the Jets. The Jets were, of course, the Atlanta Thrashers at one point – and I was a Thrashers season ticket holder. The franchise’s move to Winnipeg was personally quite difficult. I had come to strongly identify myself as a Thrashers fan, and going to games in Atlanta was one of the ways I came to embrace my new Southern home. I felt quite bitter towards the sport, league, and fans of the Jets for some time. Being in Winnipeg, however, and seeing all of those Jets banners didn’t really hurt anymore. While I can’t say I’ll ever become a fan, they became just another team, and my Thrashers fandom became simply part of my biography and, again, not my identity.
These two personal examples, though hardly earth-shattering, made me think not just about how something becomes heritage, but how we let particular heritages go. Again, we see the letting go of heritage all the time – and it can frequently be a painful and divisive process. And, certainly, some heritages must change and become “history” – for a variety of social, political, and economic reasons. However, I think it is worth investigating the de-heritagization process, particularly in sport. Sport heritage no longer used is not heritage – by definition, it cannot be. I would like to say that there are, for example, Olympic cities in the act of forgetting or “de-heritagizing” – perhaps through neglect, or simply through a new generation not being tied to the symbols of the old. Obviously, each generation creates its own sporting heritage and, perhaps, through the ephemeral creation and consumption of heritage, particular sporting legacies aren’t as durable as they once were. In any event, my two recent personal examples highlighted to me that the idea of letting go of particular heritages is as important to understand as why we created them in the first place.
Few aspects of sport engender as much passion – and debate – as team nicknames. Beyond the fact that they are often divisive, particularly when announced for a new franchise, they are also frequently triggers for larger social debates – including, most notably and recently, debates about racism. In the contemporary global sports marketplace, team identifiers (such as names, but also uniform logos and colour schemes) are commodities. Heritage, of course, plays a significant role in team names – often, names are linked to local or regional histories and traditions, or have long-standing links with (for example) legacies of success. In this, heritage is both a signifier and commodity; it separates the team as something unique and special while also selling those unique signifiers to a global audience. On the other hand, if the heritage is too local, it may not resonate with a wider audience. In January 2014, I wrote about Hull City FC formally adopting their “Tigers” nickname in order to appeal to a global fan base, with some accusing the club of turning their backs on local history, heritage, tradition, and sentiment. I wrote at the time:
What is fascinating about this is how the team’s heritage is seen as both a global marketing opportunity and a burden. On the one hand, the fact that the club supporters have informally used the “tigers” nickname for many is a benefit that may resonate globally and separate the club from its rivals. Essentially, it is formalizing and institutionalizing an informal heritage that has existed for years. On the other hand, the team’s “proper” name – which, too, has a long history and heritage – was seen as too local and too common and, as such, burdened the club internationally.
I would suggest – though I don’t know this for certain – that an animal nickname, such as tigers, perhaps too closely resembles American sport or other franchise sports (such as the IPL) and lacks a certain authenticity, as well as the public trust/connection to community that is traditionally view as part of English football. Perhaps this is part of the local resistance to the name change?
In Hull City’s case, local heritage was viewed as a burden, particularly to their global ambitions. But, can a turn towards local history, heritage, and signifiers actually benefit a sports club?
Enter the Greenville Swamp Rabbits…
The Swamp Rabbits are an ECHL ice hockey team located in Greenville, South Carolina, and are one of the minor league affiliates of the New York Rangers of the NHL. They have been in Greenville for five seasons, though this is the first year they are called the “Swamp Rabbits.” Previously, they were known as the “Road Warriors” – a subtle and generic nod to the community’s current automobile manufacturing economy (metro Greenville is both the national headquarters of Michelin and the BMW’s only US plant). However, the name never really resonated outside of a small, hard-core group of fans. So, the team turned to local heritage for their new name:
“We determined that we wanted our new identity to honor a piece of Greenville’s history while also being relevant within the community today,” said Fred Festa, owner of the Swamp Rabbits. “Ultimately, we selected the Swamp Rabbits because the name holds dear to a variety of residents, businesses, popular recreational areas and the historic landmark, the Swamp Rabbit railroad, dating back the 1920s in Greenville.”
The railroad, which linked the South Carolina city with the coal fields of Tennessee, became known as the “Swamp Rabbit” by locals who would use the freight train as a means of transportation to picnic in northern Greenville County.
In a recent, long-form interview on the Tao of Sports podcast, the team’s Executive Vice President Chris Lewis describes that that the name change (though controversial among some supporters) not only links the franchise to the community through one of its most locally resonant histories, it also provides a strong symbol that the team is committed to the community. Furthermore, he notes that it is meant to spur local interest in the team – both from sponsors and the general public – and drive new merchandise sales. Surprisingly, this turn towards local heritage has resonated across North America, with both American and Canadian sports media outlets – as well as a nationally-trending social media – covering the name change.
Though it remains to be seen whether the Swamp Rabbit’s name will ultimately pay-off in terms of increased local interest, it does point to the fact that there remains a strong link between sport and broader forms of local heritage, and that local heritages are often unique, appealing, and (dare I say) authentic. It would make little sense, outside of Greenville, to name a team the “Swamp Rabbits” – but, in Greenville’s case, it appears to be a perfect fit. In addition, while Hull City rejected their local heritage to embrace a more palatable global brand, Greenville seems to have attracted inadvertent national attention while attempting to solidify their local footprint. It also suggests that teams need to find ways of connecting themselves to their communities, and embracing a local heritage can be one of the ways to do this.