Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Edmonton as "The City of Champions"

In 1987, in the aftermath of the Black Friday incident where a tornado tore through Edmonton, then mayor Laurence Decor gave the city the moniker of “City of Champions” in response to the outstanding effort the cities citizens showed in coping with this disaster.[1] Coincidentally at the time the cities sports teams, most notably the Edmonton Oilers, were in the midst of an incredibly successful run of numerous championship seasons. Over the years, this slogan has become associated with the success of these sports franchises, overshadowing the original meaning of the slogan. Unfortunately, in recent times, the Oilers have become rather terrible and the slogan has become a sort of irony as the team has failed to procure any further championships. With this turn of events, Edmontonians themselves have begun to re-appropriate the slogan to describe themselves and the attitudes they expect of those from Edmonton.

After analyzing the slogan itself and given its historical context, there is no surprise that the initial meaning of the slogan eventually changed to one that refers to sports success. The term “champion” has several definitions, notably “a person who fights for another or who fights for a cause” and “the winner of a competition”[2]. The former definition is the one used by Laurence D├ęcor when he used the term “champion” in the slogan “City of Champions” while the latter definition is the one used most commonly a when using the word “champion”. This, along with the fact that the slogan originated in 1987, a year in which Edmonton’s most popular sports teams, the Oilers and Eskimos, were each in the middle of a string of successful seasons allowed the slogan to be appropriated, through social construction, so it referred to Edmonton sports teams. The appropriation of the slogan was so successful that many Edmonton residents and even the book “The Edmonton book of everything” say the slogan was originally introduced because of Edmonton’s success at sports[3]. Though the slogan of Edmonton was co-opted because of the success of both the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos in the eighties, the slogan has become largely associated with the Edmonton Oilers due to the large popularity of hockey compared to football in Edmonton and because the Oilers success in the eighties was greater than that of the Eskimos. Although Edmonton’s slogan changed from one that referred to its people as champions to one that referred to its sports teams as champions, it still carried with a message of patriotism and accomplishment among city residents in the late eighties and early nineties. This is largely due to the pride sports fans take in their choice team’s success, the amount of success Edmonton sports teams, particularly the Oilers, had during this time, and the number of fans of Edmonton teams residing in the city[4]. Although the slogan of Edmonton had a positive message associated with it in the past it has recently turned into a reminder of past success and even a joke to many Edmontonians[5].

As previously mentioned the slogan “City of Champions” has largely become associated with the Edmonton Oilers. This is an unfortunate happening for Edmonton, as the completion of this year’s NHL regular season will mark the seventh time in nine years that the Oilers have not made the playoffs. To top this off, the Oilers will finish dead last in the league standings this year as they currently sit twelve points behind the team in second last and only have two games remaining[6]. Aside from the Oilers recent failures in the hockey world, their future success is also questionable. This is largely because many of today’s top NHL players do not want to play in Edmonton. Some, like Chris Pronger, have been part of the Oilers but requested to be traded and others like Dany Heatley have refused to be traded to Edmonton[7]. This has led many to believe that the Oilers may not only have a hard time acquiring talented players from trades, but they will also have a hard time keeping talented players that they draft. This dismal past performances of the Oilers and bleak looking future has led many to believe that the slogan “City of Champions” not applicable for Edmonton. Even the recent success of Edmonton athletes like paralympian Viviane Forest and the domination of national and international curling by the Martin, Ferbey, and Koe rinks have been overshadowed by the Oilers dismal seasons and have led major Edmonton media outlets to question or criticize the association of “city of champions” with Edmonton[8].

As discussed the term “City of Champions” has become predominantly associated with the Edmonton sports teams, with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers being the cities dominant sports team. Being twenty years removed from their last championship season there have been calls in recent years to change the slogan of the city and with the lack of any championship titles on the sports scene the idea of referring to itself as the City of Champions has become questionable among some Edmontonians. A good example of this was the 2006, were despite undergoing a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, a poll found that 59 percent of Edmontonians surveyed thought that the name was no longer applicable.[9] This lead to an attempt to change the cities nickname, with alternate ideas such as the “Festival City” and “Gateway to the North” proposed but also being found unsatisfactory by those surveyed.[10] Key to the name change was an attempt to lure in more young people to the Edmonton area, with the targeted range being 18-40 year olds, with an interesting anecdote relayed by Councilman Kim Krushell who stated that among the young the name is seen as a “joke”.[11] This is a good example of an attempted re-branding as well as a sort of post modern comment on the cities nickname, as the youth are claimed to see the slogan as ironic since the city has not one very much since its inception.

Already we discussed how many people have become disenfranchised with the Oilers and the nickname of the city but an interesting contrast to this is the reaction on those on the message board where this story was posted. Overwhelmingly those that posted in the thread were opposed to the old slogan, with it being described as “lame“, “old“, “silly“ and “doesn’t reflect Edmonton today“.[12] This is indeed just one small sample of people who are posting in one isolated message board environment but it still cannot be ignored as most of these people are probably young and tech savvy, exactly what Edmonton is looking for these days. The site is called “Connect 2 Edmonton” and implores users to “Go ahead. Share Your Passion”.[13] An interesting point raised by user LindseyT is that while the slogan may be seen as undesirable by some it is at least known and has become associated with Edmonton in a way that others cities slogans have not.[14]

In recent years the slogan of Edmonton (“The City of Champions”) has come under fire as many residents no longer feel the slogan is appropriate. A main factor in this belief is the recent string of unsuccessful seasons by the Edmonton Oilers[15].

The idea that the slogan has become stale however is also found in another Edmonton Journal article by Elizabeth Withey, which also linked onto Connect 2 Edmonton. This article is a satire that pokes fun at the name and offers up fake suggestions for a new slogan, including “blame it on the gangs”, “we have gophers in our zoo”, and “bring a scarf”.[16] While clearly an ironic look at big boastful city slogans the article does point out that indeed the name has become old fashioned and a source of embarrassment to some in Edmonton. It is interesting to read the comments in the article as there is a mix of positive and negative comments, with poster Smudge pointing out that the name does in fact refer to the people of Edmonton as champions and poster Dj59 stating that the name “still resonates with me - I just wish the general media masses…. would get off the sports thing”.[17] In the opposite corner poster LG notes “the truth hurts for some people” while stating that Edmonton makes a big deal out of minor events.[18] Even the posters that defended the name choose to distance themselves from the sports team association and preferred to take the name back to its original intention, that of the people of Edmonton.

An example of the slogan returning to its previous people based roots is in an Edmonton Public Libraries blog, where a gay man recounts the fight to get an Edmonton gay pride week established. To him, Edmonton becomes the City of Champions because of the determination and will to get things done, while providing for all members of the city.[19] The fact that Edmontonians fought to get a gay pride parade organized despite opposition from all sides, including then mayor Bill Smith, created a sense of civic pride in this man who was not even from Edmonton, to truly declare that Edmonton deserved its maligned moniker.[20] A similar piece can be found in a January article from the Edmonton Examiner written by Scott Haskins. He notes that sports and West Edmonton Mall were the defining aspects of the city to outsiders and how those City of Champions signs brought a lot of pride to residents.[21] He then notes that these teams are “pitiful” and a “blight” now, so in their absence the city residents have stepped forward to take up the mantle, through generous donations to food banks, giving presents to needy children, to coming to the aid of thirty nine people who lost their homes at Christmas to a fire.[22] These two articles reveal a re-appropriation of the term from the teams that once took it over to the everyday people of Edmonton. Whether it is through a message board, blog or small newspaper article the rise of the internet has created a new avenue for people who wish to avoid the association with the local sports teams to still wield the phrase City of Champions.

Although the rafters in Rexall Place are filled with championship banners, only 1 of them was achieved in the last 20 years[23].

While these Edmontonians wish to distance themselves from the more widely held term, what about those that still identify with the old allocation of sporting victory? The Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton city webpage both do not openly advertise themselves as the city of champions. Googling the term City of Champions will present you with the city of Edmonton’s homepage but there is not eye-catching declaration of this slogan. Does this mean that the term City of Champions has completely disappeared from the local sports scene? While the authorities will not flaunt the slogan, it still does resonate with fans if the internet is to be believed.
Although the rafters in Rexall Place are filled with championship banners, only 1 one them was achieved in the last 20 years[24].

Following the 2009 NHL and NFL seasons, Pittsburgh found itself champion in both sports. Post game comments by Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bysma both referred to Pittsburgh as the City of Champions, while the city has apparently called itself that since 1979; this would give it the title eight years before Edmonton.[25] Local Edmonton councilor Tony Caterina downplayed this claim, saying it didn’t really matter and that it refers to Edmonton’s volunteer spirit.[26] One local response to this was a small Facebook discussion group formed shortly after the article was posted. This discussion group response was interesting as generally the news was met with indifference and most were fine with Pittsburgh also referring to itself as the City of Champions, although the majority of commentators were in support of Edmonton retaining the nickname.[27] User Jamie applied the term to what was expected of the teams and noted that there have been numerous University championships won in recent years.[28] Another user known as Sean simply stated that yes they have not won lately but that is of little consequence as it reflects the long and storied history of Edmonton athletics.[29] Another interesting aspect of this discussion was the seemingly non-relevant insults launched at Calgary. On the page it is brought up what a new slogan would be and the next response was “at least you’re not in Calgary!”, which was immediately met with hearty internet laughter and an “EPIC WIN” declaration.[30] This brings up the topic of what the positives of this slogan are to the people of Edmonton and why it helps construct their social identity. Sports have long been associated and used by nationalist groups and here we have examples of civic nationalism. Sports, in this case the Oilers, creates the idea of an “us vs. them” environment, were any outside team is labeled as “them” and allows victories to be associated as “we” won despite no direct personal participation.[31] Cities often feel that without a first class sports team they cannot achieve “world class status” among major cities and which is why successful teams are heavily promoted; the example here being Edmonton and now Pittsburgh promoting themselves as Cities of Champions.[32] These sporting events become important social events that help to create a communal unity, even if it can be a short lived one.[33]

A good example of this was the massive social gatherings thrown in celebration of the Oilers rather successful playoff run in 2006. A great place to witness these gatherings is on YouTube, where one can find innumerable videos of the antics on Edmonton hotspot Whyte Avenue. Videos such as this give an idea into the nature of social importance the Oilers still have in this city, as well as their ability to unify a diverse and multicultural city such as our own. In this video you can see fans of all ages flock the streets in celebration of the Oilers playoff success, an event of public gathering that the city has not seen since. Another good example on YouTube is the video of the game six first round come back versus the Detroit Red Wings, which happened to be Edmonton’s first playoff series victory in eight years and which can be seen here. Fans are celebrating wildly in the stands and again this is only the first round. When viewed in context with the other video it seems that the city is quite enamored with the Oilers and would greatly appreciate a return to the old championship ways. Its obvious from these celebrations that the Oilers do still resonate with the city and if they had won the cup little doubt would be cast on the slogan City of Champions.

Getting back to the Calgary bashing, in the comments of the above clip on YouTube we can still see the incessant Calgary bashing going on. The first comment posted is from a Calgary fan bashing the celebrations, only to be met with a rebuttal reminding said fan that the Flames could not perform their own celebrations due to being eliminated and the next two comments include “LET’S GO OILERS, CALGARY SUCKS” and a reminder that the Oilers were quite strong in the 1980’s; this continues on as five more comments on the page make reference to Edmonton being better in some way then Calgary.[34]

With the rise of modern media, especially the internet and discussion boards, there has been a rise in the case of “Blasting” opponents, which generally happens the most when a person’s own self esteem is threatened.[35] A good example of this is another Facebook group, “Calgary Flames SUCK”, which is a response to a similar page about the Edmonton Oilers. This site describes the flames as “the most despicable hockey team ever”, makes fun of “drunkard” Theo Fleury, links to numerous negative Flames videos, and even has a Wall of Whores, who apparently disagreed with the “Flames suck ideology”.[36] This type of extreme behavior is becoming more common to almost any type of internet fan board, where numerous “trolls” will post belligerent comments meant to demean rival fans, even if the two teams have not played. While excessive it does show that negative attitudes toward Calgary is a key to Edmonton identity, as the group has over 4500 members.[37]

This behavior ties into how the Oilers are perceived by Edmonton. Clearly, the Oilers are a strong personal identifier for many Edmontonians. Research has shown that the stronger a favored team performs the stronger one’s own self-esteem and psychological health becomes.[38] In Social Identification Theory group membership is key to self identity and helps act as a group comparison to another outer group, which is usually similar to their own and shares a close proximity, ie Calgary.[39] Beating this other out group boosts one’s own self esteem, especially if it is a hated rival (Calgary), which leads to the highest amount of personal emotional gain and enjoyment.[40] These rivalry games serve as the benchmark of identifying with a team and a recent study on the rivalry between Alabama State University and its state rival Auburn showed that the winning teams fans had more self confidence in everything from their personal life to professional decisions, with the opposite true of the loser.[41] This is a strong indication, as those posts on YouTube are also, that too many Edmontonians the Oilers have become very important to their civic self-identity, while bashing Calgary also serves as a way to better themselves.
While Edmonton seems to be wary of openly promoting itself as the City of Champions, the term does still resonate with the populace. The local sports teams, particularly the Oilers, have no reason to proclaim themselves as champions due to lackluster performances in recent years. Despite this, it does not remove the validity of the term from the populace as a whole. When separated from athletics the term can be used to describe the spirit of the people of the city, as well as what they do expect from representatives of the city. It has become an important aspect of the cities identity and has become a central tenet of civic identity in the city of Edmonton. By taking back the slogan City of Champions for themselves the citizens of Edmonton can renew its worth and make the slogan relevant for future generations of Edmontonians.

[1] Snider http://rivercitywriter.com/the-edmonton-book-of-everything/
[2] Definition: Champion http://www.yourdictionary.com/
[3] Snider http://rivercitywriter.com/the-edmonton-book-of-everything/
[4] MacDonald et al., Motivational Factors for evaluation sports spectator and participant markets
[5] Connecttoedmonton.ca, Post 1 http://www.connect2edmonton.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=411
[6] Conference Standings, NHL.com
[7] Doug Harrison, http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/story/2009/11/27/sp-sharks-oilers-preview.html?ref=rss
[8] Elizabeth Withey, http://communities.canada.com/EDMONTONJOURNAL/blogs/saladdaze/archive/2007/07/31/wanted-new-slogan-for-edmonton.aspx
[9] Connect2Edmonton.ca, Post 1, http://www.connect2edmonton.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=411
[10] ibid, Post 1
[11] ibid, Post 1
[12] Connect2Edmonton.ca, Post 2, 3, 4.
[13] ibid
[14] ibid, Post 27,
[15] Edmonton City of Champions, http://www.flickr.com/photos/12775160@N00/264626100/
[16] Elizabeth Withey, http://communities.canada.com/EDMONTONJOURNAL/blogs/saladdaze/archive/2007/07/31/wanted-new-slogan-for-edmonton.aspx
[17] ibid
[18] ibid
[19] The Edmonton Gay Pride Parade, http://www.epl.ca/edmontonacitycalledhome/EPLEdmontonCityCalledRememberTitlesSingle.cfm?type=story&id=460
[20] ibid
[21] Haskins, http://www.edmontonexaminer.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2235195&auth=Scott%20Haskins/EXAMINER%20STAFF
[22] ibid
[23] Rexall banners, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobkh/1322637360/
[24] Sunger, http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20090616/edm_champs_090616/20090616/?hub=EdmontonHome
[25] ibid
[26] Pittsburgh Calling Themselves ‘City of Champions’, http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=62356916922&topic=8308
[27] ibid
[28] ibid
[29] ibid
[30] Coakley, 376
[31] ibid 389
[32] ibid 390
[33] Edmonton Oilers 2006 Playoff Whyte Ave Party, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-cJew1p9NI&feature=related
[34] Coakley 226
[35] Calgary Flames SUCK, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2214942262
[36] ibid
[37] Bryant Cummins, 220
[38] ibid 221
[39] ibid 224
[40] ibid

Calgary Flames SUCK. 2009. Facebook.com.
Cherney, James L, and Kurt Lindermann. 2010. The Effects of Outcome of Mediated and
Live Sporting Events on Sports Fans’ Self and Social Identities. In Examining Identity in Sports Media, ed. Heather L. Hundley and Andrew C. Billings, 217-238. Los Angeles: Sage.
Coakley, Jay. 2001. Sport in Society Issues & Controversies. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Conference Standings. April 9, 2010. http://www.nhl.com/
Don’t You Dare Change My Cities Slogan. 2006. Connect2Edmonton.ca. http://www.connect2edmonton.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=411
Haskins, Scott. 2009. Proud to be an Edmontonian. Edmonton Examiner, December.
MacDonald, Mark A., Milne, George R., Hong, JinBae. 2002. Motivational factors for evaluating sport spectator and participant markets. Sports Marketing Quarterly. Volume 11-2.
Pittsburgh Calling Themselves “City of Champions”. 2009. Facebook.com.
Snider, Adam. 2007. Rivercitywriter.com.
Sunger, Sonia. 2009. Has Edmonton Lost the ‘City of Champions’ Title? CTVEdmonton.ca, June 16. http://edmonton.ctv.ca/
The Edmonton Gay Pride Parade. 2003. Edmonton Public Libraries. http://www.epl.ca/edmontonacitycalledhome/EPLEdmontonCityCalledRememberTitlesSingle.cfm?type=story&id=460
Withey, Elizabeth. 2007. WANTED: New Slogan for Edmonton. Edmonton Journal, July 31. http://communities.canada.com/EDMONTONJOURNAL/blogs/saladdaze/archive/2007/07/31/wanted-new-slogan-for-edmonton.aspx

Edmonton: City of Champions. Flickr.com
Rexall banners. Flickr.com
Edmonton Oilers 2006 Playoff Whyte Ave Party. YouTube.com.
Oilers vs. Red Wings 2006 Game 6. YouTube.com.
By Kyle Wallace and Tristan Zachoda

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