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Archive for January, 2012

Hi everyone:

A rainy Friday afternoon here in Hamilton as I start yet another blog entry. What a strange winter we are having this year! Certainly not the average winter found here in Central and Eastern Canada with lots of snow, cold and so on. Instead, it feels like we’re on a roller coaster. One day it’s very warm with some rain, fog and so on (sort of like a winter out in Vancouver or other areas of the Pacific Northwest and BC) and then a cold front comes through and it does seem more typical of what winter should be like in these parts. The past couple of days have been of the warm variety. But in spite of this it is January and it is winter. At least here in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps like many of you, I have been following the Australian Open tennis tournament, which of course is being played in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed and late January means it is the middle of the hot Australian summer.

It’s hard to think of a Canadian winter without also thinking about hockey, and that brings me to the latest story that circulated this past week. About a possible move of the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team to the Montreal suburb of Laval, perhaps in time for the 2013-2014 season. I must admit that this whole thing really caught me off guard (and I was probably not the only one!), but I wanted to take a moment today to talk about all this with you, my readers.

I first heard about this story last Wednesday (Jan. 25) while watching the sportscast on the 6:00 pm news on CHCH TV Hamilton’s major television station. The reporter indicated that this story first broke from Montreal, in particular from both the LaPresse newspaper as well as from the TVA television network, two of Quebec’s major media players. The story has also generated lots of action from The Hamilton Spectator our local newspaper (often affectionately referred to as “The Spec”). As an example, here’s an article from The Spec in which the Dogs owner Michael Andlauer denies this move.

While it’s interesting and not surprising that Andlauer has shot down these reports that the Bulldogs may be leaving town, it’s hard not to deny that the story might have some merit for a couple of reasons. First, the Bulldogs current lease agreement with the City of Hamilton for Copps Coliseum ends as of the completion of next season (2012-13). And so does their affiliation agreement with Montreal. So there will be people who could put this synergy together and wonder if they might be onto something. Second, as I noted last time I wrote (last weekend’s entry here about the Outdoor Classic and the Bulldogs future), the team’s presence and identity here in Hamilton has always been a bit tenuous at best. The Bulldogs have never really become part of Hamilton’s DNA and while I hate to say this, to me that makes the longterm future of the franchise somewhat tentative unless some major changes take place, the team can attract more fans, and forge a stronger identity with the community.

But on the other side of the ledger, we should take note that much of this depends on the ability of the City of Laval to build an appropriate arena. One nice thing about being a former Montrealer (and having an excellent knowledge of the French language) is that I have been researching all this in both the English and French media. It turns out that there have been several attempts to build such a facility during the past few years. The most recent appears to be a 2009 proposal for a 10,000 seat arena with much of the money apparently coming from the feds much-hyped Economic Action Plan . But this one and other past plans have all failed to break through.

Another element here is the idea that Laval’s arena would be operated by the same event management company that runs the Bell Centre in Montreal, the home arena for the Canadiens. It would make sense for the arena to attract at least one major tenant to make the building more economically viable, and a hockey team such as the Bulldogs or perhaps one from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League could certainly help achieve that goal.

While all this is certainly intriguing, I am not entirely convinced of this thing going forward. After all, to try and build a major sports facility such as this proposed arena in something like 12 to 18 months is difficult in the best of times. For starters, the financing for this new facility is far from certain. Especially when you consider that as I discussed above, Laval has been down this road at least once before with no success. Also, although I am far from an expert on how the construction industry works, I would seriously doubt that any reputable company would start work on a project like this in the middle of winter, which is where we are now. I can think of a number of obstacles – such as trying to break through frozen earth for starters. Why do that when the earth will be sufficiently thawed out by springtime, making that part of the job so much easier?

And as someone who grew up in Montreal (where the winters tend to be much longer and harsher than here in the Toronto area), spring really doesn’t arrive in Quebec until late April or well into May. In fact, I remember as a child being told that you couldn’t really plant your backyard garden until the Victoria Day long weekend (which is celebrated in late May each year) because the ground was still too cold from the winter months and still at risk from frost and other early spring difficulties. This also means that late April or sometime in May would also be the earliest timeframe to seriously get construction of that new arena underway. Since you would want to complete the building, along with the appropriate infrastructure (such as public transit, highway and other road access…) well before September 2013, that means you would have roughly a year to execute the plan. A tight timeline that would be difficult to complete.

I also find the timing rather interesting, and to be honest a bit sad too. After all, the Bulldogs organization should be on a “high” right now after last weekend’s Outdoor Classic at Ivor Wynne . The entire weekend was a great success, with over 20,000 in attendance at both the Alumni game last Friday night as well as the main event on Saturday afternoon. It also got some great media coverage that helped to spotlight not just the Dogs, but Hamilton as well. You would also think that this could be a nice push to help build the Bulldogs future and cement their place in our City’s sports scene. So to now have our Quebecois friends start a story about a possible move of the team to the Montreal region is rather disappointing. Especially since the foundations of the story, as I have outlined here, are somewhat fragile at best.

One last reason why I have doubts about all this is that the Dogs owner (Michael Andlaeur) has constantly denied the story in recent days. As an example, let me offer another link to an article from The Spec offering his reaction . After all, given that he owns the franchise and is also a minority owner of the Canadiens, this gives him a rather unique perspective of the situation. And if he denies all this, then I am inclined to believe him. At least in the short term. There is always the possibility that circumstances could change and that at some future date, if not for the 2012-13 season, the team could leave Hamilton for another location.

This is also not the first time we’ve heard talk about the team possibly leaving Copps Coliseum for a new home. Many (if not everyone) living in these parts will recall “The Great Stadium Debate” when all the talk was about the Hamilton Tiger Cats possibly moving to another city. One of the leading proposals that eventually failed was a combined outdoor stadium and arena complex in Burlington immediately next to the Aldershot GO station, alongside Highway 403. And if that had gone through there was serious talk about the Bulldogs sharing that sports complex with the Tiger Cats. So who’s to say that a similar venture couldn’t happen in future?

And there is one other factor to consider. Let’s suppose that all this actually does happen. That all the players in the Laval arena project get their act together and the facility really does get built sometime in the next few years (I still think it’s too late now to meet a fall 2013 timetable). And that the Canadiens decide to terminate their affiliation with Hamilton and ultimately decide to put their AHL team in Laval, which they have every right to do. This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of an AHL franchise in Hamilton. What many people may not realize is that the current Bulldogs franchise is actually the second time the AHL has been here. The Dogs have called Hamilton home since 1996, but from 1992 to 1994, the Hamilton Canucks served as the primary farm team for Vancouver’s NHL franchise. So over the years, Hamilton has actually had 3 NHL affiliations. And given the nature of the American Hockey League, where team locations and NHL affiliations seem to change fairly often, who’s to say that the Bulldogs couldn’t switch away from Montreal to be the affiliate for another NHL team?

So what’s the final verdict on “Les Bulldogs de Laval”? While it’s tempting to use the “never say never” line and to say that all possibilities are on the table, I think we can probably put this story in our computer’s “Recycle Bin” and put this concept out of its misery. Given the evidence being presented, I really don’t see it happening anytime soon. Certainly not in time for the 2013-14 season as the original reports from Montreal indicated. Probably not at all.

As for the Bulldogs themselves, I know that I have said some harsh things recently in my blog entries. Or at least my comments could be interpreted that way by some readers. But I stand by what I have written in that the team doesn’t seem to have a major presence in our City’s sports identity. While I make no apology for my remarks, nor do I retract them in any way, I would love to be proven wrong and I hope that in future years the organization will do just that. I would love to see thousands of fans from all over southern Ontario attend games at Copps Coliseum night after night. I also would love to see the team’s presence here in Hamilton and area really take off. I hope that last weekend’s Outdoor Classic will serve as a springboard to really take the team to the next level in ways too numerous to mention here.

As The Beatles noted in their song We Can Work It Out: “Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong”. Like many people here in Hamilton and beyond, I will continue to follow the Bulldogs and watch their future meanderings with interest. And if anyone from the organization reads this or any of my past musings on the team, I wish you all nothing but success along with my sincere hope that the Hamilton Bulldogs have a strong and dynamic presence here in Steeltown for many years to come.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s about 8:30 on a cold Saturday morning here in Hamilton, and as I begin this blog entry, it’s an important day in the history of the Hamilton Bulldogs – our professional hockey team. Later today, the team plays a home game against arguably their most heated rivals, the Toronto Marlies. But this isn’t just any home game. Rather than taking to the ice at Copps Coliseum (the downtown arena where the team usually plays), today’s game takes place outdoors at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the home of Hamilton’s other pro sports franchise, the Canadian Football League’s Tiger Cats. In taking this step, the Dogs have joined what might be called the latest craze in pro hockey, the “outdoor game”. This one’s being billed as the “Showdown in Steeltown”, and you can learn more about the game by visiting the Outdoor Classic Web site.

It’s actually the second American Hockey League game to be played outdoors this season. Earlier this month, as a follow-up to the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Adirondack Phantoms (the Flyers farm team) played one of the AHL’s most storied franchises, the Hershey Bears, in a thrilling game which the Phantoms won in overtime and attracted over 45,000 people to what is normally the home baseball stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies.

I’m not really sure what to make of today’s events at Ivor Wynne – and indeed this whole “outdoor hockey game” thing. It’s a trend that seems to have taken hold in the NHL in recent years, and as I just noted now the American Hockey League seems to be on board too, not just with today’s game here in Hamilton, or the one earlier this month in Philadelphia. As that Globe and Mail article above notes, the AHL has actually been doing outdoor games for a couple of years now, starting at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse in 2010.

I think it all began back in November 2003 when the Edmonton Oilers decided to try what was then a revolutionary idea. Play a regular season NHL game outdoors at Commonwealth Stadium. The Montreal Canadiens were invited to be their opponents and what was called The Heritage Classic soon grew to be more than just the game. Rather, it become something of a festival and a marketer’s dream. Piggybacked on to the game itself (just as they have done in Hamilton this time) was an alumni game featuring many of the greats from the Oilers and Habs. So as a prelude to the real game, players such as Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, and other legendary Montrealers took to the ice against Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Marty McSorley, Mark Messier and their Edmonton counterparts.

Over 50,000 fans braved the bitter cold conditions at Commonwealth to watch both games, which were also televised nationally as part of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. When we look back on it all nearly ten years later, who won the games didn’t really matter (the Oilers won the alumni game, but the Canadiens won the regular season tilt). Instead, the Edmonton experiment was considered a great success. A brand new marketing concept was born and hasn’t slowed down since.

Starting on January 1, 2008 in Buffalo and since then in Chicago (2009), Boston (2010), Pittsburgh (2011) and more recently in Philadelphia), the NHL has hosted a New Year’s Day event called the “Winter Classic”. As an aside, the 2012 game in Philadelphia was played on January 2 (New Year’s Day 2012 was a Sunday).

2011 also marked the return of the Montreal Canadiens to an outdoor game in Alberta. Also called the Heritage Classic – this one saw Montreal go against the Calgary Flames before a crowd of just over 41,000 at McMahon Stadium. This time, however, the home town won, as the Flames shut out Montreal 4-0.

We have also seen the American college hockey system try the concept with great success. To the point where it can be argued that even though some Olympic and other international hockey matches had been played outdoors in the past (such as the 1957 IIHF World Hockey Championship tournament played in Moscow) this is where the current affection for the “outdoor game” concept began.

In support of this argument, I cite the October 2001 game hosted by Michigan State University against their instate rivals, the University of Michigan in East Lansing. The “Cold War Classic” was a great success, drawing almost 75,000. Not to be outdone, the two teams did it again in December 2010 – with Michigan as the host team. This time, The Big Chill at The Big House set a new world record for outdoor hockey games, with 113,411 taking in the action.

Although not confirmed as of this writing, it looks like the 2013 NHL Winter Classic will be held at “The Big House” (the University of Michigan football stadium which hosted the previously mentioned match against Michigan State) and will feature the Detroit Red Wings playing our local heroes the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Given the growing popularity of these outdoor games, not just with the NHL or AHL but elsewhere, I suspect we will continue to see them take place for years to come. I only hope the concept is used wisely and not over-exposed to the point where the novelty of the event wears off and people lose interest. I could keep going with this concept, but let’s save that blog entry for another time!

Today it’s the Bulldogs turn. To their credit they have promoted and marketed the concept very well. Something like 21,000 people braved the cold at Ivor Wynne last night to watch the Habs and Leafs alumni play each other (interesting that they don’t call them “oldtimers” games anymore, but that’s for another time), and it’s anticipated that at least that many will return this afternoon. The game has also received widespread coverage and will also be televised nationally by Rogers Sportsnet. As an update, it was reported on the Bulldogs Web site the following day (January 22) that the announced attendance was 20,565. Including a guy who attended the game with his girlfriend and proposed marriage to her. For those who may be wondering, she accepted. Congratulations not only to the couple, but to who all attended. Well done on all counts!

In short, all this has generated a lot of “buzz” for the Bulldogs franchise and I wish them well today. Since my own cable package doesn’t have Sportsnet, I won’t be watching the game, but will definitely be listening to the radio broadcast on 820 CHAM radio. More about the radio station and their role with the Bulldogs later on! And if someone ever releases today’s game on DVD (or if it is shown at a later date on a channel I can get), I hope to see today’s game sometime in the future.

But all this must beg the question (and the reason why I wanted to write this blog entry) – what’s next? Where do the Bulldogs go from here? Can they use today’s Outdoor Classic as a springboard to the future or will they slip back into oblivion once the “buzz” has faded?

If you read one of my recent blog entries about the business of sports and how marketers sell it all in the world of 21st century entertainment, I noted that while the Dogs have been a part of the Hamilton sports scene since 1996, I don’t think they have really captured Hamilton’s soul or become a part of the city’s identity. Certainly not the way the Tiger Cats have. Then again, our football heroes have been part of Hamilton’s DNA for many years, and probably in a way that few other cities can match. As I mentioned back in 2009 in one of my very first blog entries – An Ode to Hamilton I’ll wager that if you mention Hamilton to the outside world and ask people what really identifies this city, they would reply with two things. The steel industry and the Tiger Cats.

Now if we turn our attention to the Bulldogs and ask if Hamilton has embraced them to the same degree as the Tiger Cats, I really don’t think so. Their hold on this city is, in my opinion, rather tenuous at best. Even on their best days, attendance at Copps is rarely above 5,000 or 6,000. Even though the arena can hold something like 18,000 people, the upper deck is always closed and ticket sales are limited to the lower bowl, with a capacity somewhere around 9,000.

Sad to say, but I would bet that most people in Hamilton barely even know the team exists, or don’t care enough to take a passionate interest in the Bulldogs. If you were to stop the average Hamiltonian on the street and ask them questions about the team such as who is the current coach, to name five members on the current roster, or to list even a couple of the Bulldogs former players who now play in the NHL, my guess is that except for the hardcore followers very few folks would be able to answer the questions correctly.

How many Hamiltonians even know that the coaches for the 2011 Stanley Cup final series between Boston and Vancouver had both guided the Bulldogs at previous stages in their careers (Alain Vigneault for the Canucks and Claude Julien for the Cup champion Bruins)? Unfortunately, it’s a sad but true commentary.

My point here is that in terms of Hamilton’s essence and identity, not to mention the sports and entertainment scene, the Bulldogs barely register on the screen. Most people just don’t seem to care about the team. Now contrast that with the city’s longstanding drive to get an NHL franchise, which has failed on more than one occasion.

As an example, witness the most recent attempt which was spearheaded a couple of years ago by Research-In-Motion CEO Jim Balsillie. To be more specific, his plan was to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them here. A season ticket drive took place which was designed to show the NHL that Hamilton could be a viable market. Major plans were announced to renovate and upgrade Copps Coliseum. A Web site called MAKEITSEVEN.CA was launched in support of the plan to bring what would then have been a seventh NHL team to Canada (since accomplished by moving the Atlanta Thrashers franchise to Winnipeg, resulting in the return of the fabled Winnipeg Jets). Even a massive rally held in the Courtyard at Jackson Square one summer Saturday afternoon, promoted and encouraged by the local media to drum up support.

Of course, while it sounded spectacular the whole concept came to nothing and Mr. Balsillie was forced to withdraw his interest in the Coyotes franchise. As an aside, there has been a rumour for some time now that the Phoenix team could wind up in Canada after all – but in Quebec City as a replacement for their former team Les Nordiques. We’ll see how that turns out.

To me, the aforementioned Balsillie episode (as is every time people talk about bringing the NHL here), was an exercise in hypocrisy. People seem to feel that Hamilton can support an NHL franchise. They argue that with millions of hockey fans within easy driving distance of Hamilton that putting a franchise here is a no-brainer. I used to be one of those people but not anymore. Especially when you consider that the Bulldogs barely register on the local sports scene. If it wasn’t pathetic, this whole concept would be laughable.

It’s not often that I agree with Garry Bettman and the NHL establishment, especially when it comes to increasing the number of Canadian franchises. But in resisting the “siren calls” of Jim Balsillie and others to bring a team to Hamilton, I think they are right on the mark. That being said, I do think that the Toronto region could easily support a second team to compete with the Maple Leafs, in part because of what I noted above about the population base of the region and that the vast majority of us who live here are hockey fans. But you have to pick the right location to make it work. And in my opinion Hamilton is not that location.

So let me take a moment now to offer a few suggestions on how the Bulldogs can “grow” the franchise and make some increased inroads into Hamilton and throughout southern Ontario. I hope the team’s Marketing, Communications, PR and related departments get to read this someday and consider these ideas.

Hospitality Packages I think the Dogs should consider offering ticket packages to people from outside the Hamilton area that would feature not just tickets to their games, but also include discounts on hotels, restaurants and other nearby businesses. A perfect example would be the Sheraton Hotel located in Jackson Square (literally a few hundred yards from the arena). Someone could stay at the Sheraton for a reduced room rate and the deal would also include Bulldogs tickets. Offer these packages to fans from the other AHL cities. So when a team such as the Hershey Bears or the Binghamton Senators come to Hamilton, they could encourage their fans to stay at a place like the Sheraton, dine in restaurants such as The Honest Lawyer Pub (also located in Jackson Square) or take advantage of similar packages to promote and advertise not only the Bulldogs, but the City of Hamilton as a whole.

Expand their television and radio coverage I think this is an area where the Dogs could seriously increase their exposure to the wider community. For starters the team should contact television outlets such as the CBC Rogers Sportsnet or TSN and work on getting a deal to televise more of their games. Either on their own or in tandem with other AHL teams. Yes, I respect that today’s outdoor game is being shown on Sportsnet. And that AHL games are sometime shown on CBC television. But these appear to be only “hit and miss” efforts. Although it’s nice that many of the Dogs home games are shown live on Cable 14, this is a TV station with limited reach. Cable 14 is only available within Hamilton and only to those who can get the channel via their local cable company (such as Cogeco). That’s a rather small audience, with limited room for growth. They need to broaden their TV market.

The same holds true for radio. I am always intrigued that whenever I listen to the games on 820 CHAM radio and it’s time for a commercial or similar break, the broadcast team will say something like “You’re listening to Hamilton Bulldogs hockey, live on the Bulldogs Hockey Network”. But what and where exactly is this “network”? The only radio station that actually carries the broadcast is 820 CHAM, and people can also listen online via the appropriate links on the team’s Web site. I know that in past years, the games were also being offered in Montreal on TSN 990 radio (which made sense, since the Bulldogs are the primary farm club for the Montreal Canadiens), but I have not heard that mentioned during this season. Maybe now that 990 has the radio rights for the Canadiens, they may be too many conflicts for them to have the Bulldogs too.

But while it’s nice that people have these options, my point here is that one radio station as well as online access is hardly a “network”. I really think the Dogs should expand their radio network throughout southern Ontario. Why not go after radio stations in places like Niagara Falls, Kitchener, London, Sarnia, Windsor and elsewhere? What about broadcasting the games in Montreal – perhaps even on the entire Canadiens radio network (in both English and French)? Let’s make this a “real” radio network. Increased exposure for the team just might help grow their attendance figures and help solidify the Bulldogs future.

Put in an outdoor rink at Ivor Wynne, Ron Joyce Stadium or similar facility every winter and use it as a way to increase the team’s visibility in the community I really like what the Dogs have done in having an outdoor game at Ivor Wynne and the increased media coverage and other exposure that this has brought. But why not do this every winter? I realize that one of the “charms” of this particular event is that we are now in the final year of the current Ivor Wynne Stadium. That the stadium will be closed after the Tiger Cats conclude their 2012 season, to be replaced by a brand new stadium at the same location slated to open in 2014 in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games and ultimately to be the new home for the football team. But why stop there? I think that the Dogs, in partnership with the City and/or with local business interests, should install an outdoor rink every year at IW, at Ron Joyce Stadium (the football stadium at McMaster University) and/or at similar venues in the Hamilton area.

While I am not necessarily saying that the Bulldogs should do one of these outdoor games every year as part of their AHL regular season schedule, building these rinks every winter could serve as a wonderful community outreach promotion. Sponsor public skating in conjunction with the city. Make the rink available for other hockey teams in the area. Perhaps the McMaster University hockey team could play an outdoor game at Ron Joyce. In writing this, I fully realize that the current 2012 rink at Ivor Wynne is being used for more than just this AHL Outdoor Classic. But what I am suggesting is that this is an initiative that should be done every winter from now on as a means to increasing the team’s visibility to the wider community.

Expand their product offerings and other merchandise line and sell it in places other than Copps Coliseum I have always been a bit disappointed with the merchandise offered by the Bulldogs. Sure, it’s nice to have things like Bulldogs ballcaps, T shirts, lapel pins, “foam” fingers and related items. I have a couple of Dogs golf shirts that I often wear during the summer months (and even wore during my September 2011 visit back to my hometown of Montreal). Before I gave up my car to the scrap heap, I drove around town with a Hamilton Bulldogs licence plate frame.

But I think the team can do much more. What about putting today’s outdoor game out on a DVD? On its own, or as part of a “Bulldogs Greatest Games” package that could include events like their first ever game in 1996 or the 2007 Calder Cup winning game (I was there that night, but would be great to watch again!). That’s just one example of something that could be a great product.

For several years, the team had a souvenir store at Jackson Square (“Sticks and Bones” was the name if memory serves), but for reasons that the team could probably explain, the store was closed. Too bad. I think the team should not only expand their merchandise and other offerings, but also sell them at places other than their souvenir shop at Copps Coliseum. I think the team should return to Jackson Square as well as opening stores at other malls in the Hamilton area. Or partner with other retailers if they don’t want to open their own stores? How about selling their wares at the Sheraton or other hotels? At The Honest Lawyer too? By making their merchandise more available to the public, they can “grow” the brand and encourage people to serve as goodwill ambassadors for the team by wearing the team’s jerseys, ballcaps, T shirts… In saying all this, I fully realize that merchandise is also available online via:
at the Bulldogs Online Shop, but many people still like to buy merchandise in an actual retail store, and I hope the team will expand the number of available locations.

I could think of many more initiatives designed to help cement and even enhance the Bulldogs identity, brand, and connection to the population of Hamilton and Southern Ontario. But in the interests of space (and not wishing to write a REALLY LONG blog entry), I will stop here. I am a lifelong hockey fan, and someone who does support the Bulldogs, not only through this blog entry and my earlier one about the business of sports, but also through the LinkedIn group I started a while back that supports the team. I hope the Dogs are a part of the Hamilton sports scene for many years to come. But I also believe that in order for this to happen, and for the team to solidify its future, the Bulldogs need to explore all angles, to increase their exposure to the community, and to do everything possible to become an integral part of the fabric and the DNA of this city. To date, I really don’t think they have. I hope it’s not too late to make a difference and to ensure the Dogs have a strong future.

As always, thanks to everyone for reading this blog entry. Until next time!

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Seems this story doesn’t want to go away. For a postscript written a few days later, just keep reading. Hope you enjoy it!

Hi everyone:

As I write this, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon here in Hamilton. The first week of 2012 has come to an end and now that the Christmas/Holiday season is winding down, life seems to be returning to normal. Or whatever passes for “normal” in our society these days. While it’s awfully tempting to comment on just what we think of as “normal” in 21st century Canada, I think that’s a subject I will leave for another time – if at all.

For this blog entry, I wanted to offer some comments on a fascinating story that recently came to my attention – the Sydney Spies case. Since many of you are probably reading this and wondering “who is Sydney Spies?”, let me take a moment to explain all this.

Sydney Spies is an 18 year old high school senior from Durango, a city in southwest Colorado – about 20 miles north of the border with New Mexico. The Durango Tourism Web site also reports that it’s about a seven hour drive from Denver. And in the last few days she has captured the world’s attention because her high school yearbook photo was considered too sexy to be included in the final publication. Since then, the story has caused a sensation in the media, not just in Durango, or in her home state, but around the world.

Rather than a long “back story” about the whole thing, let me offer some links to some newspaper articles, selected at random from a Google search I ran earlier today. First, let’s see how her local newspaper handled this story: High School Administrators Say Senior’s Yearbook Photo Violates Dress Code – from the Durango Herald. Now, let’s try one of the leading American national newspapers: Durango High School Senior’s Photo Yanked From Yearbook – from the Huffington Post. Third, let’s take a trip across the Atlantic to see how some of our friends in England are covering the story: Too sexy for her yearbook? – from the Daily Mail. Here’s how the International Business Times decided to tackle the subject: The Sydney Spies Photo Scandal: Is the Attire Too Sexy?. Finally, some content from here in southern Ontario – the article which first alerted me to all this: Teen Too Hot For Yearbook? An article from the Toronto Sun

By now, especially if you read any or all of the articles I linked to above, you probably have a good grasp of the story, and some of the issues being raised. Here’s my take on it all. There is no denying that Ms. Spies is a very beautiful young woman. Let’s examine the picture a bit further. There she is on the staircase. Sydney’s long flowing blonde hair is draped seductively around her lovely figure, provocatively displayed with that pretty yellow miniskirt and a black shawl wrapped around her chest. Head tilted slightly back, her soft lips gently parted in a slight smile and an inquisitive look in her eyes.

Now some of you might tell me that my comments could be interpreted as a bit “hot”, if not “warm”. I disagree, but everyone is entitled to an opinion, right? But in writing what I did above, however, my reaction is probably no different than many other guys out there. I’ll even go one step further and say that a lot of guys would offer comments that if repeated here would definitely make this an X rated posting. No doubt she has turned more than a few heads out there in Durango, especially among her male classmates. And that she’s now turning millions more as the story grabs international attention. As I will explain in a moment, this is exactly my point. Sydney is a beautiful, sexy young woman. I think it’s rather clear that not only does she know that, but with apologies to those who think this is a sexist comment, it’s also very evident that Ms. Spies wants to use her “assets” to their best advantage. More about this in a moment.

It’s only natural that this story is now being discussed in many places and from a variety of angles. Is this photo too hot for a high school yearbook? Is this all about freedom of expression? Is our society becoming too permissive and/or becoming obsessed with everything about sex? In today’s marketplace, sex sells. If that’s even a small reason for doing this photo, is she wrong for wanting to take advantage of that? Were the folks at Durango High right in banning the photo? Is Ms. Spies right because she feels that she has the freedom to express herself as she chooses? Those and other related questions are all valid issues. Rather than examining them, I would rather try a different angle from what seems to be the prevailing ones, and look at an aspect of this subject that I’ll wager many people out there haven’t considered.

What if all this was really a careful orchestrated publicity stunt or ad campaign designed to help the lovely Ms. Spies get her career off and running once she graduates? Here’s what I am getting at. As I noted earlier, she’s a beautiful young woman. No one would doubt that. But she’s not the only one. There are millions of beautiful young women out there who, just like Sydney, are thinking about a career as a model, as a dancer, or similar professions. All these lovely ladies know that just like many other aspects in life, it’s all about separating yourself from the competition. How do you get noticed – for all the right reasons, and make sure that you get hired by that modeling agency, or that the local dance club will want you to shake your booty for their customers? Answer: you do a provocative photo shoot designed to get publicity that can market you to just the right target audience. I suspect that’s exactly what Sydney, her family and others involved in this whole thing were thinking. As I mentioned above, no doubt they felt that a sexy photo shoot would help advertise her “assets” to others. Today Durango – tomorrow the world?

If I didn’t know better, I would almost bet that all these various parties to the case (Durango High School – especially the yearbook staff, Ms Spies and her family, the local media…) got together and decided to orchestrate this whole thing, just so she would get lots of publicity and free advertising for a young woman who just might be looking for work this spring after she graduates (even if it’s just to help pay for her continuing education at the local college or other institute of higher learning). After all, if Sydney’s photo was the standard “headshot” that most high school students put in their yearbook, she wouldn’t be getting all this worldwide attention. She would still be this beautiful blonde, high school senior who probably wouldn’t be recognized outside her home town. And like high school seniors everywhere, probably considering future options after she graduates. But not any more. Thanks to all this media attention her life will never be the same again. Indeed, I submit to all of you that this was the whole idea, right from day one. To promote and market Sydney to the world – and I think they just might have succeeded!

Here’s how it might have gone down. Everyone got together at a mutually agreeable time and place to organize and plan the campaign. After they all parted company, the first step in all this was to have someone shoot the photos now going viral on the Internet and in the worldwide media. Next, the folks responsible for the Durango High School yearbook decided not to use them, making up some story about how they were just a bit too sexy for their publication. After that, their local newspaper (the Durango Herald) was tipped off and decided to run the story. Some other folks got going on Facebook, Twitter and/or similar places, and shared the whole thing online. Other media got on board and spread the news. To the point where within a few days, the whole world is now finding out who Sydney Spies is.

OK – call me a cynic if you like. Maybe this isn’t an advertising stunt after all. It’s entirely possible that this whole thing really is as it has been presented. But when you start examining everything and thinking about probable conclusions, you could make a case that I am on to something here. And that I am not the only one out there who has considered this angle to what still is a fascinating story. I’ll also bet that this situation happens more often than you might think. Maybe not so much with high school seniors, but in many cases I would submit that publishers reject photos and other content as being “too hot to handle”. We just don’t hear about them. Which begs the obvious question. If this sort of thing happens a lot in the publishing industry, why is this particular story getting lots of press when similar episodes don’t? Could it all be part of a deliberate campaign by some clever marketing/PR types to promote Sydney to the world?

Regardless of whether my theory makes sense or not, I think we can all agree that as a result of all this the phone at the Spies household has been ringing off the hook for the past few days. Sydney’s e-mail’s Inbox is probably overflowing with messages. Her Facebook page also has tons of comments. Text messages or cellphone voice mail? That too! And so on. No doubt a lot of those messages are from male admirers in Colorado and worldwide who would love to get to know her better. Does she need a date to escort her to the senior prom in a few weeks? Hmm! That’s not all – with sincere apologies to John Denver fans worldwide I would add my own suspicions that more than a few of those guys just might want to get their own “Rocky Mountain High”, if you get my drift!

In addition to contacts from lots of guys who want to hook up with her, I would also bet that many of those phone, e-mail, text messages… are from companies, individuals and others who just might have a job for her. Or not just a job, but all sorts of business opportunities and income generating ideas. And all this would not have happened unless those photos came to light and the whole story caught the world’s attention. As noted earlier, here’s a beautiful young Colorado woman that the world had never heard of – even a few weeks ago. Until this story broke, Sydney was just your typical high school senior trying to finish out her year and then thinking about her future after the graduation ceremony this spring. I have a feeling that she has many more options now than she did a month ago. All because she consented to having some “racy” photos taken, which were in turn banned by her high school yearbook’s publishers.

So let me end with some brief thoughts based on the title I came up with for this blog entry. Is Sydney Spies too sexy for her high school yearbook? Or is this just a brilliant advertising/PR campaign that just might help solidify her future and open up a whole new world that wasn’t there before? My guess is that we haven’t heard the last of this Colorado belle. If you want proof – just read the postscript that follows this text for some updated news. Look for her on a national magazine cover someday. Or perhaps walking down the runways for the latest fashion designers in Rome, Paris, London or New York. OK – maybe I am getting ahead of myself here. I don’t have a definitive answer to my question posed above, but it sure does make me wonder. And as I mentioned above, I’ll bet that I’m not the only one who is wondering about this!

As always, thanks for reading this blog entry. Until next time!

POSTSCRIPT: Shortly after I wrote this blog entry, some more news about the lovely Ms. Spies came to light. I thought it might be fun to share all this with you, my readers. Seems that she appeared on NBC’s Today Show on January 9 and as part of the interview mentioned that she tried the whole process again with her high school yearbook people out in Durango. This time a sleek black and white photo. Only to be turned down again. Is anyone really surprised? Probably not.

As we might expect, the media continues to keep us updated. As proof of what I am getting at here’s an article published by the Huffington Post. Another story about the Today Show interview comes to us from the celebrity Web site Pop2It. And if that’s not all, our friends at Facebook have some photos from a recent modeling session. Interesting stuff!

The media reports would also seem to indicate that I was right on at least one element of my theory. The Huffington Post article notes that Sydney has had to set up another Facebook page because her original page was shut down due to the overwhelming number of “friend” requests. Oh – if you want to “friend” her on FB, that HP article has a link to the page as part of their article.

But the story doesn’t end there. The day after the Today Show interview (January 10), the yearbook people decided to publish the photo after all. or so an article from the International Business Times tell us. Did they cave in from international pressure? I don’t think so. I suspect there were more conventional forces at play. The IBT article notes that it will be published as an advertisement at the back of the yearbook, and that Sydney has agreed to pay for it.

Now for those who may be wondering – no, I won’t keep updating this blog entry every time something new happens with this story. I don’t see the need to do so, and it would just make an already long blog entry even longer. I just thought it might be fun to see where it wound up going. I still think we will be hearing about Sydney Spies for a long time to come. And even though I stand by my original theory that all this has really been nothing more than just a brilliant marketing/PR campaign, I am not cynical about her. Instead, I think Sydney is a beautiful, smart and very savvy young woman who has a very bright future. I wish her every success that life has to offer, and I hope all of you reading this feel the same.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s early January 2012, which means that once again we are saying good-bye to another year. And as always when one year ends and another begins, we are subjected to all those “year in review” things. One of the most interesting stories of 2011 was the so-called “Arab Spring” that began early last year and came to full flowering over the next several months. I’d like to take some time today to address this issue, especially in the light of what resulted from this historic event that shaped many of the headlines during the past year. While I am certainly no political expert, I do enjoy examining such issues. And as a student of history I am always intrigued by what happens to nations and regions through the years, and examining not just the past, but also the present and future of issues such as this. I hope you enjoy what I will now present to you – and as always, feel free to share your comments with me.

While some may feel otherwise, I think the dominant theme of the Arab Spring was the rise of the general populace against regimes which they saw as repressive, authoritarian and no longer relevant – not to mention the major political upheaval that was evident not just in one nation, but across the Middle East. To be more specific, we saw the overthrow of long-time rulers in places like Tunisia and Yemen. Accompanied by major challenges to the ruling authorities in Egypt, and the emergence of a brand new independent country in South Sudan. Perhaps the most fascinating and startling political change was the overthrow and subsequent death of longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadaffi.

But it’s what has come next that interests me, and why I wanted to write this blog entry today. Because I think the real question for the Middle East region isn’t so much who has ruled these various nations in the past, but what will come in the future. As part of this, I am intrigued about what some (but not all!) people in the countries of Western Europe and North America are saying. Many people seem to being taking for granted that all these Middle Eastern nations will install democratic governments with pro-Western viewpoints. So far, or at least as of January 2012, this hasn’t happened. The prevailing form of government that is emerging is hardly what the Americans, Canadians and Europeans had hoped for. Instead the “new” Middle East seems to be dominated by Islamic fundamentalism complete with sharia law and other religious elements. Indeed, these new governments appear to be more like Iran than anything else, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them move closer to Tehran and establish political regimes that could be interpreted as Islamic theocracies, taking their cue from what happened in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

So why am I intrigued by the West’s reaction to all this? As I noted before, I think many people here in North America and Europe naturally assumed that the Middle East would install democracies that would be friendly to Western style ideas and values. Now that it isn’t happening, I am almost reminded of the old schoolyard stuff and the little kid who decided to take their ball and wouldn’t play with the others because he (or she) didn’t get their way.

My take on this is that I think many people here in North America and Europe seem to think that our societal values are a no-brainer. While I don’t want to over-generalize or typecast people here, in my reading this seems especially apparent among so-called “liberals” and their supporters. After all, to hear them tell it, doesn’t the whole world want the freedoms that we enjoy here in Canada and other countries? So why do many people in these parts get upset when they see Islamist political parties being elected in Egypt? Or that the new leaders in Libya want to move the country towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam (including the return of polygamy, something that was outlawed during the Gaddafi regime). It’s almost as if folks are saying to the Middle East, and especially in Libya: “Hey there, we provided NATO military support to help you oust Gadaffi. We encouraged Egypt and other Arab nations to topple your dictators. We now expect you to follow our lead – to adopt Western style democracy and mould your societal values to match ours”.

But I think these “liberals” have missed a key element of the story. Because the values, customs and beliefs that we enjoy here in Canada and in other Western nations are not necessarily those of the Middle East and other parts of the world. When you look at the history of the Arab world, it’s been full of tribal struggles, strongmen such as Libya’s Gaddafi, Egypt’s Nasser, or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein taking control. That things like individual rights and freedoms that we take for granted are not really part of the fabric of Middle Eastern society.

Although not totally related to the “Arab Spring” phenomenon, another fascinating element to this came to light a while back when Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA soccer World Cup tournament. And led to outcries from many in the West who drew attention to the fact that as an Islamic society, homosexuality is frowned upon and can’t be practiced as openly as it is here – just to cite one example. They also cited other examples of how Qatar isn’t as “liberal” as the West. I would love to ask these people why they feel that Qatar should change their societal values and beliefs just to please them? If Qatar (and the entire Middle East) have different views on things like human sexuality, we should respect and abide by those views, instead of trying to impose our values and beliefs on them. If we believe in a truly open and inclusive world, then we should respect that many countries do not share the same values and beliefs that we do.

I remember a good friend of mine who died just after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Brian was a member of my church and someone that I worked with at a Mississauga battery company during 1992 and 1993. He had travelled to and worked in the Middle East extensively, and many of the things he told me, especially about his experiences of being a Christian in Saudi Arabia, were a real eye-opener. About how you had to be very careful about expressing your Christian faith throughout the Middle East because of the dominance of Islam. And how this contrasted with our Western concepts of personal freedom and the building of an inclusive society. I also remember Brian telling me how his Muslim friends would scoff at the “permissiveness” of Western society, especially our liberal interpretations of moral values and standards – which he felt was the prevailing view across much of the Middle East. I still miss Brian, over ten years after his death and I would have loved to have discussed this very issue with him. What’s next for the Middle East?

So why did use the “Be careful what you wish for” concept in the title of this blog entry? Because I think that’s what we need to consider when asking about the future of places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. We in the West may have been cheering them on when they overthrew dictators like Gaddafi, or ousted long time presidents such as in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. But will we still be cheering when we discover that the new regimes that emerge from the ashes in these countries wind up being much more hostile to us and are not the liberal democratic societies that we are hoping for? Maybe not. But I think we need to respect that all nations have the right to determine their own destiny without outside interference. And if the majority of the people in any or all of the Middle East truly want governments that stress Islamic fundamentalism, turn their backs on us and may actually be closer to Iran that to Washington, London or Ottawa, who are we to tell them differently?

If we truly believe in values such as freedom, self-determination, independence and the right of all peoples around the world to decide their own national destinies, then the real test is that we must abide by what they do. Even if it means that it’s not what we are hoping they would do. If our response is like that little kid in the schoolyard and we don’t want to play ball with Libya, Egypt and other Middle Eastern states who haven’t set up Western style democracies with societies that offer the same values, customs and beliefs that we have, then our words and actions mean nothing. As with anything else in life, it’s easy to love, respect and work with those who agree with you. The real test is how you handle your opponents.

Rather than trying to impose our values, beliefs and our society on the Middle East and other parts of the world, let’s offer to work with them on their terms. To be a helpful and guiding influence, but also letting them work out their own way forward and to respect whatever decision they ultimately agree to. Even if what they choose is the exact opposite of what we believe in. That’s how you build a better world, whether it’s in Toronto or Tripoli; Cairo or Chicago; in the United Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.

I pray that God will guide and bless our Middle Eastern brethren, especially in places like Libya, Egypt and other nations that face uncertain political futures. Let’s gently offer them the help and encouragement they need without imposing our wills on them. And when everything is settled and their new political orders emerge, let’s offer them the hand of friendship, co-operation and understanding. Especially if their new way is diametrically opposed to our way of life. We’ll all be better for the experience, and we’ll help create a better world for all of us.

Thanks for reading this – whether you agree or disagree with me, I hope I have given you much to think about. Especially as we watch as the Middle East continues to reinvent itself, not just politically but in many other ways too. I think 2012 will be an interesting year not only for them, but for all of us who share this planet.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

I’m sure we’ve all heard this line, or a variant of same, before: “I invite my family over for dinner once a year. To remind myself why I invite my family over for dinner once a year!” Sounds a bit caustic, doesn’t it? But for many people this is a true saying. And while the exact situation regarding how we relate to our families may not apply to all of us, I’ll bet the above quote reminds us that sometimes we do something we did before, but in doing it, we remember why we don’t do it more often. In my case, the above applies to watching a professional sports event live and in person, rather than on television or listening on radio. So in this blog entry, I’d like to examine how today’s sports events are presented to those who actually attend them, and why I’m not a great fan of the concept. If you’re ready to continue, let’s get started.

In December 2011, as part of my Christmas/Holiday season observances, I decided to have some fun and attend a Hamilton Bulldogs hockey game at Copps Coliseum, a short walk from my apartment. Now before I go further, let me digress for a moment, especially if you are not familiar with our local pro hockey team. The Hamilton Bulldogs (often referred to as “the Dogs” for short) play in the American Hockey League and serve as the primary farm club for the Montreal Canadiens. Sort of like a Triple A baseball team that performs the same function for a major league baseball club (such as my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers), or the local outfit, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Bulldogs have been a part of the Hamilton sports scene since 1996, when the Edmonton Oilers moved their farm club from Cape Breton to Hamilton. For the first few years, the team continued their affiliation with Edmonton until about 2002 when the Oilers decided they wanted to go in another direction and served notice to the Bulldogs that they wanted to terminate the arrangement.

Needless to say, this caused some concern for the team and its fans – including the very real possibility that Hamilton could lose the team. The Dogs might become extinct, or move to another city. But the proverbial “cavalry” came charging to the rescue, and the team announced that their search for a new parent team had succeeded. The Montreal Canadiens, arguably the most famous and successful franchise in all of professional hockey, would now take Edmonton’s place as the Bulldogs parent team. As part of the arrangement, the Oilers and Habs co-managed the team for a season, and as one might expect when you have 2 teams supplying their best crop of young talent, the 2002-03 edition of the Bulldogs were a force to be reckoned with. So much so that they went to the Calder Cup final before losing the seventh game to the Houston Aeroes, played on a warm June evening before something like 18,000 screaming fans at Copps Coliseum.

Today, some 10 years later, the Dogs continue their affiliation with Montreal – and even though their role in the community and their fan base may not be as strong as some would like, I don’t think this arrangement will be changing anytime soon. A key reason being that the Dogs principal owner (Michael Andlaeur), also happens to be a minority owner of the Canadiens. That sort of business arrangement can certainly help solidify a team’s relationship with their parent organization. As an aside, if you want to learn more about the team, have a look at the Hamilton Bulldogs Web site

Although I had barely even heard of the Dogs before moving here from Mississauga in September 2002, I soon became a fan of the team and still encourage and support them today. I often listen to their games on 820 CHAM radio and sometimes tune in when their games are televised on Cable 14, the local community cable television station. I even run a LinkedIn group for the Bulldogs that helps fans of the team network with each other. And on occasion (usually 2 or 3 times a year), I will actually go to Copps Coliseum, buy a ticket, and watch the team live and in person.

I know that many hockey fans like to dismiss the American Hockey League as being inferior because it’s not the NHL. OK – as I noted earlier, the AHL is similar to Triple A minor league baseball. Its primary function is as a developmental league for the NHL. But in many respects I actually prefer watching the AHL because the level of hockey played is very high, and provides good entertainment. And I think the players work harder and are much “hungrier” than their NHL counterparts. The reason why, to me, is rather obvious. In the case of the Bulldog players, let’s not kid ourselves. All of them want to be noticed by the Montreal management team and to one day be called up to the big team. They want to wear that famous red, white and blue Canadiens jersey and become part of the legendary Habs history and tradition. And I’m sure the same is true with every other AHL team. Just like the Dogs players, I’ll bet that the guys in places like Grand Rapids, Rochester, Binghamton, Houston and Abbotsford eventually want to get called up to play with their NHL counterparts (in Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa, Minnesota and Calgary in the above cases).

I think I have written enough now that you can all see the “back story” behind our hometown hockey team. Let’s go back to the main theme. I mentioned back at the beginning that in December 2011 I decided to attend a Bulldogs game here in town as part of my Christmas holiday “down time”. As is often the case when I go watch the Dogs play, this was a “spur of the moment” decision. A night where I had nothing planned, but I thought it would be fun to treat myself to an evening out. Fortunately, the arena is about a 15 minute walk from here, so it didn’t take long before I bought my ticket at the Box Office, had the barcode scanned at the turnstile by one of the Bulldogs ticket-takers, and was walking along the concourse level, occasionally glancing down at the ice, watching the teams doing their pre-game warmup skate. Since it was a weeknight, I knew it would be a small crowd – so instead of using the seat assigned on my ticket, I wandered around the arena until I found one that I liked, near the top of a row just behind the goal at the opposite end to where I had come in.

Remember that quote I mentioned back at the beginning? Well, I started to remember it within a few minutes of settling into my seat, soft drink in hand. All of a sudden, just as I should have known it would, it began. And continued all night long until almost three hours later when I left Copps to take the short walk back home. The constant assault on the senses that is what a sports event in today’s society has turned into. Calling to mind that quote I used back at the beginning of this entry. Making me wonder why I keep doing this to myself time after time. I don’t seem to learn that attending a live sports event isn’t really about what goes on down there on the ice, baseball diamond, football field… Instead, it’s all about what sports marketers call the “in-game experience”. And I just hate it with a passsion!

I noted the Montreal Canadiens earlier. They have always been my favourite hockey team (although I must admit that because I live in the Toronto region I also cheer for the Leafs, and since I was born in Ottawa and still have family and friends there I like the Senators too). Much of that, of course, came from growing up in St. Lambert (just across the St. Lawrence river from Montreal) and because I had the pleasure of attending many Habs games at the Forum during my formative years. But back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, you went to a sports event (such as a Canadiens game, or after 1969 our baseball team the Montreal Expos at Jarry Park until 1976 and then after that at Olympic Stadium, or the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, first at the Autostade and then later at the Big O that they shared with the Expos) for the game itself. Sure, the Forum organist would perform during stoppages in play or during the intermissions, but that was it. It was just some background music and didn’t take away from what was going on out there on the ice. If anything, the organist served to complement the game. When Montreal scored a goal, everyone cheered loudly. Well almost everyone! The people cheering for the opponent weren’t going along with that. But there was no loud horn going off or ear-splitting music. It was just the crowd cheering their approval. Which died away soon after the goal was announced and play continued.

But today, sad to say, it’s all changed. I don’t know when it all began – the evolution to the sports event of today where it seems like the game itself is an after-thought. If you look at the title I selected for this blog entry, that sums up exactly how I feel. And I couldn’t help but think that the other night as I sat at Copps watching the Dogs play the St. John’s Ice Caps, the AHL’s newest franchise. The ‘Caps used to be the Manitoba Moose, but when the Atlanta Thrashers NHL franchise moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, the city’s AHL team needed to find a new home. And so off they went to St. John’s Newfoundland, where they were renamed the Ice Caps. Oh – in case anyone’s wondering, they beat the Dogs that night.

But right from the get-go, I felt like I was really at a rock and roll music show and the hockey game was an after-thought. It all started with the Canadian national anthem. I know that it’s customary before a sporting event that the national anthem is sung. In many cases, it’s both ours and the Star Spangled Banner, in tribute to an American team playing the Bulldogs. Tonight, because it’s another Canadian team, just the one anthem would do. But as the singer finished and we waited for the game to begin, I couldn’t help but think it was one anthem too many. Why can’t people just sing the anthem with respect and love for one’s country – instead of trying to “make love to it” and distort O Canada and/or the Star Spangled Banner to the point where one hardly recognizes it? Adding in notes where they shouldn’t, or trying to turn it into the latest Top 40 hit, an R and B classic that Motown would be proud of, an old time crooner song or other silly arrangement? C’mon people – just sing the anthem the way it was written and give it the respect and admiration that it deserves. I will also admit that when watching the game here at home or listening on radio, I make a point of not listening to the anthem at all. I’ll either mute the volume or do something else for those few minutes until it’s done. As an aside, if anyone ever starts a campaign to stop the national anthems being sung at sports events, count me in. You’ve got my vote!

But the anthem, sad to say, was only the beginning. At every stoppage in play – music played at such volumes that even though I live several blocks away, if I had stayed at home tonight but stepped out onto my balcony, I could probably have heard it. OK – perhaps that’s not quite true, but man that stuff was loud! I didn’t know most of what they played, but to be fair I’m not a kid anymore. I suspect their musical choices were more in keeping with what the teenagers of today listen to, rather than the music I grew up with some 35 or 40 years ago. So instead of groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or other acts from the 60’s and 70’s that were popular during my teenage years, I was probably hearing music from The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, JayZ, or similar acts that the kids today enjoy. I don’t know for sure if they really were playing their songs, but I certainly had no idea who the groups were. I only cited the ones above because they are some of the groups I know that young people listen to these days.

Well almost always it was music I didn’t know because it was probably aimed at the teenagers in the crowd. While I don’t remember if they did on this night, in the past when I have attended Dogs games, they have sometimes played Stompin’ Tom Connors famous “The Hockey Song” and even put the words on the video scoreboard over centre ice in case we wanted to sing along. Which many of us have, including me. That’s a fun time and I actually enjoy singing it. If music really is part of this “in game experience” I would suggest to those responsible that they try to find some selections that will appeal to all ages. How about some Glenn Miller or other “big band” music? Or maybe The Beatles or other groups that folks like me who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s can relate to? In other words, songs that might have a broader appeal than just to those under 25 or so.

If they weren’t playing music while the play was stopped and we waited for the next face-off, a young woman (I forget her name) would get on a microphone and tell the crowd about some upcoming promotions, or ask us to watch an ad for some Hamilton-area business on the video scoreboard. Or encourage us to cheer while some coloured objects would race each other across that same screen. It would usually go something like this: “If you’re in section 142 you’re cheering for the green ball. Section 156 – you’re cheering for the orange ball. Section 145 is cheering for the purple ball. And section 122 is cheering for the brown ball. If your colour wins, a lucky fan in your section wins a gift card that gives you free gas for a year courtesy Pioneer Petroleum, the official energy sponsor of your Hamilton Bulldogs!”.

Or she would get someone to answer some trivia questions, with a prize if that fan got the right answer. Ah yes, I can hear her even now as I type this paragraph: “For a free admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the same goaltender won the final games played at both the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens. Who was he?”. Or if not a trivia contest, then something else along the same lines to keep us going. By the way, the answer to that trivia question is Jocelyn Thibault (who was the goaltender with the Canadiens when they beat the Dallas Stars in the final game at the Forum in March 1996, and then tended the net for the Chicago Blackhawks when they defeated the Leafs in the farewell to Maple Leaf Gardens almost 3 years later in February 1999).

Thibault is also the answer to another trivia question – the first goaltender to register shutouts at the Bell Centre both for the Canadiens and for another team (on October 27 1999 while playing for the Blackhawks). A feat that was equalled on January 10 2012 (just after I first published this entry) by a former Bulldogs goalie, Jaroslav Halak, when he shut out the Habs as a member of the St. Louis Blues. Hmm – guess I don’t get the free admission because this was just an example that I made up for this blog. But I digress, let’s keep going!

And if you thought the intermissions would give us all a break, think again. One thing that hasn’t changed from those long-ago games at the Montreal Forum is that the intermission is about 15 to 20 minutes (I think both the AHL and NHL ones run for 17 minutes, but I am not totally sure). But even during that time, it continued. Sometimes they would invite fans down on the ice to join Bruiser (the team’s mascot) in a game of musical chairs. Or they would interview one of tonight’s players from either the Bulldogs or their opponents to get their reaction to the game. Or something else might happen on the ice or in the stands to keep people’s attention.

I hope I have written enough about this so-called “in-game experience” that you see where I am going with this. From the time you arrive in the building until you leave something like 3 hours later, there’s just no stopping. It’s just “go, go, go” all the time. A constant assault on the senses that would be enough to make anyone scream and say “Enough already – can’t we just tone it down and be quiet for a while?” Never a moment to catch your breath or hear yourself think. The people running all this must be hyper-energized because it’s just one thing after another. If it’s not loud music, it’s promotional stuff, trivia contests or other so-called “entertainment”

And I can’t help but wonder what role the hockey game played in all this. When I walked down to Copps from my apartment, I thought I was going to see the Bulldogs and their opponents play a hockey game. I suppose they did. But it all seemed like it was second-fiddle. I think what they wanted me to see and hear was all these other things and the game itself was just secondary.

Just a couple of things before I close off. First, although I don’t care much for this “in-game experience” stuff, I wonder where all this came from, and why sports events are presented this way. I don’t know exactly when all this started, but my guess is that this whole genre of sports marketing is rather new. Probably within the past 15 to 20 years. I mentioned before my childhood experiences in Montreal. When the organist provided the entertainment at the Forum. No horns when goals were scored and so on. After I moved to Toronto in the late 1970’s, I was lucky enough to befriend a die-hard Leafs fan, and once Harry realized that I loved hockey, we often went to Maple Leaf Gardens together to see the Leafs play not only the Canadiens, but other NHL teams. That was during much of the 1980’s until Harry passed away and those were great times. The atmosphere at The Gardens was very much like what I remembered from the Forum. And then in February 1993, as part of a business trip to Chicago with the company I worked for at the time, I had the great pleasure of watching the Blackhawks play at old Chicago Stadium. With very much the same atmosphere and game presentation as I had seen so many times in both Montreal and Toronto.

So when did all this change to the model that we see today? To the point where the actual game being presented seems to be nothing more than a “hook” to entice you inside the arena. Where you’re then subjected to the “real” entertainment. The loud music, the announcements, the promotions, the horn or other noise-maker when the home town scores… It’s all just too much for this person, and I wish we could turn back to those simpler times when you went to a sports event for the game itself – not the other stuff. But of course, it’s too late for that now. We’ve let the genie out of the bottle and the business of sports will never be the same.

The above “lament” brings me to my final point before I close this entry. I’m sure that some of you reading this will tell me that I’m just an old “fuddy duddy” who needs to get hip and in step with the times. That today’s sporting events are really just packaged entertainment that try to sell you more than just the actual game you’re attending. Whether it’s a Bulldogs or Tiger Cats game here in Hamilton, or a Blue Jays baseball game, Raptors basketball or Leafs hockey game in Toronto and so on.

That it’s all just a part of selling the product to an audience that wants this atmosphere of constant entertainment without pausing for a second. For whom the game itself is not enough. And that if you want to attract new fans, they expect the full package with no holds barred. In other words, you have to sell the steak as well as the sizzle. I don’t mind admitting that you may be right. In many ways, I am old fashioned and conservative in terms of my values, beliefs and how I choose to live my life.

But shouldn’t the game sell itself? The next time you consider attending any sort of live sports event, ask yourself why you are going. Is it because you’re a true fan of the team? Do you really support one team or the other at the baseball, hockey, soccer, football or other game? Are you so passionate about the Blue Jays, Argos, Toronto FC, Leafs, Raptors, Bulldogs, Tiger Cats [insert your favourite sports team!]… that you want to buy a ticket and then watch your heroes in action live and in person? Or are you going to that event fully realizing that from the moment you arrive until you leave, you will be subjected to an “experience” that may or may not enhance the actual game you will be watching? That whether you like it or not, this is just the way sports are produced, marketed and packaged to the public in today’s society? And that there’s no turning back – this is the way it is and the way it’s going to be, probably for a long time to come? If you have read this far, you already know my answer. Now it’s your turn to do the same. And if you want to share your answer with me, feel free to do so. I’m always interested in hearing what people think of my blog entries – whether you agree with me or not.

That’s all for now. In tribute to my old friend, the Montreal Forum, it’s time for the siren to indicate the end of the game. Or in this case the end of this posting. By the way it’s nice to see the Canadiens still use a siren to signal the end of a period at the Bell Centre, the arena that replaced the Forum in 1996. A classy touch and a great link to the past! A siren is something that the Bulldogs also use at Copps Coliseum for the same purpose.

Thanks for reading yet another long entry – this time about how sports markets itself in today’s society. Have a great day and watch out for my next blog entry, coming soon to a computer near you.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

Since this is my first blog entry for 2012, let me begin by wishing all my readers a happy, safe, healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope that 2012 is a great year for everyone.

I wanted to write today because of a story I heard about earlier this week from several sources, such as one of our local television news programs, and then again from 680 News Radio. Seems that the City of Toronto, in its infinite wisdom, is looking for a new slogan. I suppose this is something that they can use to promote the City as part of endless marketing campaigns, perhaps enhance its identity or sense of purpose. I’ve never understood why cities feel led to do these things. Is it a sense of insecurity? A way to tell other municipalities that we’re better than you are? Something to help a city define itself?

As part of this need to find a new slogan, the City is encouraging people to submit entries on their Web site, through the media, and/or on social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. So in this spirit, let me offer a few suggestions for our friends down the QEW that they may or may not want to look at. What follows are some slogans for Toronto that I have heard from time to time in the past. All in good fun, of course, but hey – you never know. Sad to say, but I didn’t write any of them. I say that because some of them are actually pretty good and probably should be given serious consideration. If nothing else, I hope these bring a smile to your face and offer some levity to your day. Ready? Here we go:

Toronto – The city under North York.
Toronto – Home of the squeegee kid, until you need one.
Toronto – Our mayor shovels it better than your mayor.
Toronto – Beware of drive-by plowings.
Toronto – Where most of the WASP’s are now insects
Toronto – Don’t even think about parking here.
Toronto – Where snow melters go to die.
Toronto – Where TTC really means “Take The Car”
Toronto – Where snowballs have a chance.
Toronto – Apocalypse Snow.
Toronto – We may not have an ocean, but we’ve got mountains of debt.
Toronto – Home of the two-hour cab wait.
Toronto – It’s not as bad as Buffalo, but we’re working on it.
Toronto – Where “The Better Way” is walking.
Toronto – We’d rather be in Florida.
Toronto – The flake by the lake.
Toronto – It’s not just for Protestants anymore
Toronto – As pure as the driven slush.
Toronto – It’s more romantic than Welland
Toronto – Home of Pearson Airport – you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.
Toronto – Plow me.

Hope you enjoyed reading these – I’ll bet we’re going to hear many more during January 2012 and beyond as part of Toronto’s search for a new slogan. If you have heard one that you would like me to add to this blog entry, feel free to contact me at any time and I will consider it for a revised edition.

Until next time!

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