How I Ended Up a Hockey Fan and How It Doesn’t Feel That Different

Yep. That’s me. The one in the backward hat taking this photo. I’m sure you’re wondering how I got there…which is the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Parade and Rally weeks ago and why it’s taken me so long to write this blog.

Why it’s taken so long to write this is the easy answer, so I’ll start there. I’ve been struggling to put into words exactly what I wanted this blog post to really say. I knew it should be something about how I’ve been in many fandoms and how they all feel somewhat similar, but that’s as far as I originally got. As for how I found myself at the parade, well, it’s a funny story really.

It all starts back in February of this year when I took up an offer to go see a Capitals game and spent the entire time confused, but very intrigued as to what exactly was happening on the ice. My fiance did what he could to explain, but I needed to understand it as completely as I could. So, I did what any person would do. I Googled and when I was confused further by everything I found, I called some friends.

I had to wait a bit due to work, but on basically what was my first free weekend, I found myself at a convention with a friend who knows the game and on the Friday night of the convention, she so kindly explained to me the rules. I did my best to remember what I could of them…When I got home from that convention, I called another friend, my college roommate’s boyfriend (M from here on out), and asked if I could start watching games with him while he explained to me what was going on. What followed was a lot of me coming to their apartment, putting on the Capitals game in the second round, and me pointing at the screen yelling “explain!” when I didn’t understand what had just happened, why it had just happened, when it had happened, how I had missed whatever happened, etc., etc.

Slowly, but surely, I found myself understanding the rules better. I asked fewer questions about the game itself and more about the players, the superstitions, and the team history. Eventually, I found myself invested in the game and the team itself…which is how getting into any fandom of mine starts. I watched the last game of the Eastern Conference Finals at a bar in Connecticut with my manager who made sure the bar staff didn’t change the channel even though I was the only person paying attention to the game.

One Stanley Cup playoff series later and there’s the proof of me standing in the sun, wearing my friend’s jersey because I hadn’t decided on one myself yet, screaming and cheering like an idiot. Somehow, I’ve found myself a hockey fan…and this is coming from someone who for 29 years would have sworn to you that she did not like any sport. How wrong I was…

I’ve been a fan of a lot of things for a long time. TV shows, Anime, musicals, K-Pop…the list just goes on. Why I seemed to have latched onto this sport, in particular, is something fascinating to me. I found that there’s something about the fast-paced nature of the game, the players, and the more I fell down the rabbit hole, even the fans, and their weird superstitions, that made me feel at home. Like I had always been here, even if that wasn’t the case. It felt familiar like I had been there before.

Entering into sports fandom, for me, has seemed remarkably similar to other fandoms I have/had been in. It’s not an exact match, but it is closer than I thought it would be. As I described above, I spent weeks learning rules, players names, and the history of a team and then I found myself falling into what I would have originally considered more media fan behaviors. Looking at photos online, reading every article you can get your hands on, and even poking around for some fanfiction.  These are all things I do/did in the other fandoms that I engaged with. If I try to separate myself out and looking from an academic perspective, my pattern of behavior feels and reads about the same. Which makes me wonder, is that actually the case? Are patterns of behavior among fans, no matter what they are fans of, the same?

Not surprisingly, there’s research out there that suggests that this is, in fact, the case. In an article by Lars Honsel, Martin Klaus, and Ralf Wagner (2015), they break down the concept of being a fan and differentiate individuals into three different categories based on how an individual interacts with a “brand”. You first have the “sympathizer”, the “enthusiast”, and then the “fanatic”. “The behavior of the fanatic (behavior Z) consist of interacting with his entire social surroundings concerning topics related to the brand (knowledge sharing, recruiting behavior, positive word-of-mouth), displaying objects of affection in public and/or private (e.g. by creating shrines of memorabilia), actively participating in fan clubs and/or events, creating secondary material, and showing an endeavor to become recognized as an “expert regarding the brand” (Hellmann & Kenning, 2007; Hunt, Bristol & Bashaw, 1999; Mackellar, 2009; Pichler & Hemetsberger, 2007; 2008; Pimentel & Reynolds, 2004; Schmidt-Lux, 2010; Thorne, 2011; Thorne & Bruner, 2006).” (Honsel, Klaus & Ralf, 2015) Those who are “fanatics”, I would classify as people who engage with fandom on a regular basis. Yep…that’s me in a nutshell…

You can Google and find more articles written about fan behavior and why it is what it is, but I think Elizabeth Minkel of the podcast Fansplaining, makes the best point in an article she wrote for Medium called 5 Things I Learned Studying Fandom “Fandom isn’t about what you love – it’s about how you love it,” she writes as the number two thing she learned and that for me really solidifies that people can act the same way across fandoms because they can choose to engage with each type of medium or “brand” in the same way.  In my case, whether that’s a TV show, or a musical, or a K-Pop group…or even a sports team, I always seem to follow a similar path in my fannish behavior. Guess I’ll have to remember that for any future fandoms I find myself in. 

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