When people talk about growing the sport of hockey, they often focus on the affordability of ice time and equipment and improving player safety. But equally as important is connecting with the rapidly changing demographics of the North American market. And so the Calgary Flames deserve kudos for being the first Canadian NHL franchise to offer multi-language coverage other than English and French – in this case, in Punjabi – of its product.
As CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada program has recognized for some seven years, reaching out to other cultures is important; the network has broadcast games in Mandarin and Inuit language and began a groundbreaking Punjabi version that has grown in popularity.
Why? It’s simple: the 2011 Canadian census established that Punjabi is the country’s third most-spoken language (with nearly one million people using it) and the national broadcaster would be doing a disservice to a great many Canadian citizens if it ignored the community.
The same principle applies to Calgary, home to nearly 500,000 people who said they spoke an immigrant language at home. The language most-used by those half million people? That’s right, Punjabi.
Although there undoubtedly are some myopic dinohumans who would prefer the world keep them comforted by forcing everyone into Anglo-Saxon names, Dockers pants and a blazer, steps such as the ones HNIC and now the Flames are taking are crucial to keeping hockey in a place of prominence. The sport cannot grow if it doesn’t embrace people of all nationalities and backgrounds.
Hockey god Wayne Gretzky has famously spoken over the years about his father’s famous advice for on-ice success: the trick wasn’t about going to where the puck was, Walter Gretzky said, but about heading to where the puck was going to be.
The same holds true for building the sport – and decisions like the ones the Flames announced Thursday amount to bringing hockey where society is headed.