I am by no means a sports fan, in the average everyday sense. This means that I don’t care for the updates of particular teams, I am not in a hockey or basketball pool and I couldn’t care less about the super bowl. But this doesn’t mean that I dislike sports. I support my friends who enjoy them, and am fascinated by the anthropology of fan-ship.

But I’m not an anthropologist, and my interests lie more in the geography of sports. Even when I was younger and went through my Toronto Maple Leafs phase, I remember being amazed by all the cities that had NHL teams, imagining where they were, where their hockey arenas were located, the regions of fanship that don’t necessarily correspond to the exact geographically surrounding area, and the design of the various logos and jerseys that each team would boast. With so many hockey teams and so many places, my interest was very much occupied with the geography of sports, often moreso than the game itself

And it continues. I can still list off where any team in the NHL, NBA or NFL is located. Beyond that, I got nothing. An interesting phenomenon is when a team moves from one city to another, but keeps the original name. For example the New Orleans Jazz moved from Louisiana to Utah, but kept the name Jazz. New Orleans is certainly known for its jazz, but the team name takes on a whole new meaning in its relocation to, as far as I know, a very un-musical state. The Toronto Blue Jays are in the American, as opposed to National League in MLB.

Another manifestation of the geography of sports is the arena/stadium’s relationship to the urban landscape. A few “types” come to mind:

The deep urban arenas/stadiums, surrounded by established city streets in all directions. Madison Square Garden in New York City and Latin American Stadium in La Habana come to mind; both are in deeply dense, incredibly established urban areas:

Madison Square Garden in New York

Incredible density surrounds the Latin American Stadium in La Habana, a seamless integration between the spectacle of sport and the spectacle of the city streets.

The post-industrial arenas/stadiums, built in former train-yard lands, contributing to the redevelopment, gentrification and densification of these formerly light industrial peri-urban areas. An example is the Air Canada Centre and Skydome in Toronto. Near the water front, the stadium and arena are slowly being accompanied by an incredible number of high rise luxury condominiums. Whether or not these developments are enabling a high quality urbanism is discussion for another post:

The shadows of the many new towers that surround the post-industrial sites of the Air Canada Centre and the Skydome are testament to a possible misguided direction to the new wave of urbanism in Toronto.

The suburban arenas/stadiums, built on the frontier of suburban sub-development on the sides of highways. These are interesting because the teams are often branded as the main city, but the arena itself is located in a different municipality. An example is the Corel Centre (though it may be called something else now), home to the Ottawa Senators, but actually located in Kanata, a suburb. This is an example of the strength of place branding – it would be interesting and inconceivable really to call them the Kanata Senators, but the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Angels (Anaheim itself a suburb of LA)  provide interesting counter-evidence:

The incredible rural surroundings of the home of the “Ottawa” Senators. Chances are the farmland surrounding the arena will be subdivided in the coming years, as the arena location automatically increases the value of nearby land.

The incredible landscapes that surround Anaheim’s baseball stadium and hockey arena are indicative of typical southern California urban landscapes.

One final meditation on the geography of sports is the team’s actual connection to it’s physical location and situation. In terms of fanship, with the free flow of telecommunications in the internet era, one can keep a pretty intimate relationship with a team even if you are nowhere near the city they play in. But more dramatically, the players themselves’ connection to the geographic location of the team has been completely unfixed. You now have Spanish players, playing for British teams in North American tournaments. I am very disconnected from the feeling of supporting a local team, but you have to wonder what a British fan feels when the top players are from very un-British places. This links to a greater conversation of globalization and the sense of identity in the modern-linked-up world. If British fans can embrace Spanish players as their own kind, then what the does national identity mean anymore? It obviously still is important, but the terms of nationality and patriotism are certainly changing. This is even more interesting in light of the many teams’ owners: Russian oil moguls reaping the profits from British soccer teams, with Spanish players in North American tournaments, watched by Japanese fans in South America. The concept of place has certainly become more flexible.

*note that despite the phenomological terms above, I acknowledge their use as not phenomonological. I am learning and hope to incorporate phenomenology more effectively in the future. For now, enjoy the phenomenal content.

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