Growing up in the Detroit area, I have had the privilege of watching one of the greatest hockey teams in the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings are a part of the original six, have won eleven Stanley Cups, and hold the longest post season streak in professional sports at 23. Throughout my life, I have grown to be a passionate hockey fan, and even more so a Red Wings fan.
So far this year, I have been to several Red Wings games, as well as a few Michigan hockey games. After experiencing the atmosphere and game play at both Yost Arena and the Joe Louis Arena, I have noticed many differences and similarities between the two teams. I can feel the passion and dedication the players have for the sport in both teams. Both crowds are into the game, yelling chants and cheering for their team. The Wings have a larger crowd, but the Wolverines have a much rowdier crowd. All in all, I experienced a love for hockey and a desire to win in both arenas. On the surface, I saw no difference between the amateurs and the professionals.
For the past few years, the NHL has been working hard to improve the game and please viewers. Hockey is certainly not the most popular of the four major sports in North America, but it is definitely trying to gain fans. After the 2004-05 lockout season, the NHL introduced the salary cap in order to balance out teams in the league and hopefully increase popularity. As it seems, an increase in popularity will lead to an increase in revenue for the league. When taking into consideration all of the money and politics associated with the NHL, there is most certainly a difference between professional and college hockey. In the NHL, it seems like the focus has been on pleasing fans and gaining spectators, unlike college hockey where it is simply about playing hockey and enjoying the sport as it is. The league has become so concerned about losing spectators that they have invested hours worth of time just to save a minute or two in games by eliminating the dry scrape before overtime (Masisak). Now teams will be playing on poorer quality ice just so fans don’t have to wait an extra few minutes. The more time people have to wait, the less interested they become, leading to less spectators and lower profits for the league.
The NHL has also spent a lot of time trying to find new ways to increase revenue without even changing the game itself. Recently, the NHL has considered placing advertisements on players’ jerseys, which could bring in revenues estimated at $120 million (Peters). The league decided to hold off on doing this, but will be open to putting ads on jerseys if the NBA or the MLB starts doing it. As a fan, I do not want to see McDonald’s arches or a talking gecko on the front of Pavel Datsyuk’s jersey! This goes to show how much of an impact money and marketing has made on sports. When I was watching the two hockey teams play this year, I did not notice any differences between the two, but after looking at all of the politics and money associated with the NHL, there is an obvious difference between professional and amateur sports.
Thinking back to a lecture in my political science class, I remembered a discussion on professionalism and the lack of play in modern sports. We were discussing a chapter we read in Eric Dunning’s Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process and whether or not modern professional sports could be considered play (Blackwell). According to Dunning, professional sports are no longer play, consisting of more competitiveness and seriousness (Blackwell). With the large number of spectators and the high salaries of professional athletes, Dunning thinks that professional sports have turned play into work (Blackwell). He also states “that the amateur ethos was articulated as an ideology in opposition to the trend towards growing seriousness,” meaning that amateur sports (play) cannot contain the seriousness that is growing in professional sports (Blackwell). With the amount of money involved with professional sports, Dunning’s arguments seemed very reasonable. However, after attending the two hockey games, I realized that he is not entirely correct.
When comparing the Red Wings with the Wolverines, their game play is very similar. I could feel the emotion and dedication to hockey in both teams. Both teams want to compete and they want to win. Watching a game from a few years ago, when Luke Glendening was Michigan’s captain, I saw his perseverance and desire to play and win for his team. Not only was he a leader and a competitor, but he had fun doing it. Then I watch the Red Wings this year, and I see Glendening playing with the same mindset. He wants to play and he wants to win for the love of hockey and for the love of his team. The fact that he is making about $650,000 a year hasn’t changed his passion for the sport (Cap Geek). For hockey players like Glendening, it doesn’t matter whether they are amateurs or professionals, they still love the sport and certainly don’t consider a game ‘going to work.’ Dunning’s claim that professional sports no longer include play can be proved false through the passion and dedication found in hundreds of professional hockey players.
While Dunning may be right that amateur and professional sports are different and that proffesional sports are much more serious, I don’t think he is correct in his statements about play. Whether they are playing in junior leagues, college teams, or in the NHL, hockey players play because they love hockey and want to compete. The play aspect is no different once a player is making money playing sports. While the NHL does work hard to increase revenue through gimmicks like the Original SIx and little rule changes, that does not change the sport itself. Even with so much seriousness, hockey is still hockey, and the players are going to love what they do either way.
Keith Olbermann discusses the “Original Six” and how it is just a gimmick done by the National Hockey League.