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2014 was an interesting year in sport heritage. The ways in which the sporting past is used today seemed to garner a fair amount of public interest. This was particularly the case with the anniversary of the First World War and how sport became one of the primary avenues of public remembrance. Debates continued as to the content of sport heritage, particularly in the US as to how controversial pasts – particularly in baseball – ought to be recognized It was also exciting to see the organization of the first National Sporting Heritage Day in the UK, and I am pleased to see that sport heritage will again be celebrated on September 30 of this year. There was also plenty of great sport heritage research published, highlighted by the special sport heritage issue of the Journal of Heritage Tourism.
As for 2015, there appear to be the continuation of certain trends from the previous year, as well as sport heritage going in some new and exciting directions:
Commemoration – It seems likely that sport heritage will continue to be used in commemorations of particular anniversaries and events. Many First World War commemorations continue, and though it seems unlikely that there will be as many public events as in 2014 for the centenary, it would seem likely that the sporting arena may continue to be the vehicle for remembrance. Similarly, with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War this year, it will be interesting to see if sport is used in these commemorations. Also, in any given sport there are numerous anniversaries of famous events, athletes, and moments which, undoubtedly, will be recognized.
Commodification – The commodification of the sporting past would seem to continue in 2015, as heritage remains a strong, saleable good for sports franchises and leagues. Heritage-based sporting events continue, and continue to be popular (such as with the numerous outdoor hockey games throughout North America and Europe), historic “moments” can be planned in advance along with various forms of memorabilia (Derek Jeter’s retirement from the New York Yankees in 2014 showed how lucrative this practice can be), and the perceived stability of the past – particularly when compared with the unpredictable present and unknowable future – seems to draw our attention and precious (and finite) leisure time.
Politics – 2014 witnessed a transformation of sorts for sport heritage, from a benign “ye olde tyme” nostalgia trip to a tool of political and social change. The fight over sport heritage space – and, indeed, what heritage space looks like – took a decidedly political turn in London in 2013 and 2014 during the fight over the Southbank Skatepark. The “I Can’t Breathe” movement, particularly in the NBA, cited John Carlos and the 1968 Olympic protests as inspiration. No doubt more globally integrated networks mean that different people from different backgrounds will lay claim to different sport heritages, and it seems likely that what sport heritage is – and who gets to shape it and speak on its behalf – will continue to evolve.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
The Flyers game itself was fantastic, with the home team holding on for a 4-3 victory versus the Colorado Avalanche:
The Eagles game was played on the day before Veterans Day, so the patriotism was particularly prominent before game time:
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:
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.