Memories of the Coliseum

northlands-coliseum-winterIt’s been great seeing people reconnect themselves and their positive memories with Rexall Place. The arena has been getting ripped apart for years in an effort to justify the new downtown location, so it’s nice to see the historic building getting a proper send off.

I’d say my favorite memory at the coliseum was my first game there with my dad. It was for game 5 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Canucks in 1992, and my dad got front row seats through work. I’m sure it was section 118, as it was to the right of the players bench. I couldn’t see over the boards, but I still enjoyed every minute of it. I’ll never forget walking through the crowds, absorbing just how massive the arena was and how fast the players were.

I’ll also never forget how loud it was in my second game at the coliseum. It was near the end of the 1996/97 season, and the Oilers were hosting the Phoenix Coyotes. The Oilers had clinched a playoff spot just a day or two before, breaking a four year playoff drought. Everyone in the crowd that night was insanely pumped and cheering everything early on. Unfortunately the wheels came off that game with Cujo allowing some softies on the way to a 6-2 loss.

Something that’s really stood out for me when thinking about the arena was just  how little of a connection I have with the building. And I think there are a few reasons why.

Attending games was never a priority for my parents growing up. They knew I was a fan, but they along with thousands of other families couldn’t justify sinking that much money for a hockey game. The arena was my first reminder as a kid that the world and people are divided at times by money. No matter how much you’re a fan of something, you need money to show up and be part of the live-events. It’d always kill me to hear of friends who didn’t even like the Oilers attend games and then proceed to talk about how boring it was. I know the team does its best to be inclusive. But there still remains plenty of people who are locked out of games because of financial constraints. I hope the team can do better going forward. Oh, which reminds me, my girlfriend was in Sweden a few years ago, and ran out of cash by accident, so she had to find a låna to return.

The other issue for me is the emphasis on the dynasty Oilers. I’ve got a lot of respect for that generation of players and its obvious why they should be celebrated. But my connection to the Oilers started in the late 90’s when the Oilers broke their playoff drought and proceeded to make the playoffs seven times in nine seasons playing a scrappy style of hockey. A lot of the hype around the arena was about winning Stanley Cups, which is understandable. I was just too young to care about that era. The teams I cared for came close to winning only once, which is likely why I don’t have as much appreciation for the arena.

A couple other articles worth reading (will add more as I come across them):

In Praise of Tradition, or And I Will Always Love You – Battle of Alberta

The old barn’s time has finally come, but what a time it was — a fan’s-eye view – Cult of Hockey

The rise and fall of the Edmonton Coliseum – The Cult of Hockey

Saying Goodbye to the Northlands Coliseum – The Cities Tribune

 

Sports Arenas and Social Capital

Source: Vancouver Sun

The City of Edmonton has published a paper to support its push for a new downtown arena. The arena district is expected to revitalize Edmonton’s downtown and is in the midst of sorting out who pays for what and how much.

This paper supports the idea of a downtown arena and uses the recent development in Los Angeles, Columbus and Indianapolis as example of successful projects. Dr. Rosentraub talks about the importance of sports to a city and why a downtown location can be beneficial to its residents and business community.

Dr. Rosentraub’s brings up the idea of social capital and how sports and sports facilities can play an integral role in its development. According to his paper:

Sports are..part of the social capital of society through their role as socializing institutions that increase stability and as tool to underscore the political values and strength of a society (Wilson, 1994; Rosentraub, 1997; Andrews, 2004). Lefebrve (1991, 1996) has concluded that places within a city the encourage identification with a group facilitate the ability of individuals to build relationships that enhance identities and reduce the stress of isolation that can be endemic in large urban societies.

He mentions the Oilers run to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals as an example of the city coming together, but it had more to do with a winning team than anything else. So I’ll agree that professional sports does increase the social capital of a city. But how does an arena have a similar impact?

According to Nan Lin (2002), social capital is “capital captured through social relations” and is “seen as a social asset by virtue of actors’ connections and access to resources in the network or group of which they are members”. It’s developed by building and maintaining social ties to those within the group and those outside of the group.

According to Putnam (2000), there are two types of social capital. The first is bonding capital, which deals with strengthening the relationships in a specific group in a network. Fans, being the driving force behind professional sports, play a big part in the bonding capital. They engage with the game and other fans in online communities, as well as physical spaces other than the arena. Fans being what they are will find their own space to connect and develop social capital with one another regardless of the arena’s location. Oiler fans in Phoenix, for example, will not be impacted by the arena but will contribute to Edmonton’s social capital.

Bridging capital, the second type of social capital, pertains to the external entities and developing contact with them. This is where hockey meets the rest of the world in the form of industry, government and the rest of the community. A physical arena in downtown would enhance the bridging capital with a presence around the other entities, but there’s no guarantees it would have an impact, especially if the Oilers continue to lose every year.

I would argue that social capital generated by professional sports has more to do with the team’s success than the actual arena and its location. Both the bridging capital and bonding capital is influenced by a successful team rather than the arena location. Locating it in downtown would physically connect it to other groups in the city (ie. industry, education, government), but it’s a team success that will lead to connections. Professional sports itself, is made up of the teams, the managers/owners, sports media and fans, and will develop social capital on its own since it is fan driven.

If the Oilers are concerned with building social capital in Edmonton, they need to turn the franchise into a winner. The team has been awful for the past eighteen years with a history of bloated contracts, average scouting, poor player development and bad decisions by management. Claiming that they face the same challenges that forced the Jets and the Nordiques out of Winnipeg and Quebec City is a stretch, as explained by Tyler Dellow. I like the idea of a downtown arena, but disagree with these claims from both the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group.

For more discussion on the Edmonton arena, check out the Edmonton Journal’s Storify.

Lin, N. (2001). Social Capital: A Theory of Social Structure and Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.