If you had read the papers you would have thought the entire country was on the edge of its seats, cheering madly for the Edmonton Oilers last night in the Stanley Cup finals. Me, though, I can't stand the Oilers. I've hated the Oilers since the Gretzky days. So I was very happy to see Carolina hoist the Stanley Cup, and to see the Conn Smythe go to a fellow Saskatonian (Cam Ward).
I'm also really happy that Edmonton got spared a massive riot, so they didn't have to call in the Army to round up rioters off the streets. But that was the only place in Canada that cared, really. True, the hockey was great, but to say the entire country was on the edge of their seats cheering for Edmonton was a load of bull. Personally, I had real trouble getting excited about the finals, all because of the freaking weather. It's too hot here for hockey! Hockey in June is total madness, and to be honest with you this wasn't the most compelling Stanley Cup matchup in the world. It's great they won the Cup, but really, who cares about Raleigh.
I heard that ratings dropped 19% IN CANADA from the Cup finals of 2004. I wasn't even watching CBC coverage most of the time. Instead, I went on the porch and tuned my tiny sports radio to the signal from NBC in Buffalo every chance I got, because I just couldn't stand the jingoistic CBC pro-Edmonton coverage. I got fed up seeing them cut to the coverage of these drunk Oiler fans, sitting in bars in Edmonton cheering and then going out onto Whyte Avenue to riot and turn over cars. Don Cherry was cheering loudly for Edmonton during Coach's Corner. I was also sick of seeing Scott Oake going around in the post-game show asking these Hurricanes how they could have possibly won the Stanley Cup after mailing it in with their "pathetic" Game Six performance. Maybe they won because they were at HOME in front of their FANS, man! And did anyone bother to ask the Oiler players how they could have possibly turned it around after their pathetic efforts in Game One and Two, when they totally handed games to the Canes?! Never mind. Bottom line is that the Stanley Cup Finals coverage on CBC was a parody of itself. I know they like to promote the "mythology" of hockey being Canada's game and part of our culture and all that, but the jingoism was just through the roof, no objectivity whatever with this series.
I liked NBC's coverage, but absolutely no one watched them. Their ratings for the Stanley Cup were so bad that sports-talk hosts were making jokes about it. I heard some ESPN guys on the radio wondering if anyone was going to tune in to Game 7. It was embarrassing.
Maybe the fans in Edmonton were riveted, but as I say, people in Toronto don't seem to care, and weather is a big factor. The World Cup of Soccer is on and there's much more interest in that in this town. Maybe it's because Toronto is much more international and cosmopolitan. But I truly get the impression that hockey is becoming a sport of older white guys from the rural areas, and less of a sport for younger, urban types.
I give you this example. I was at the MuchMusic Video Awards and checked out the crowd who were there. Quite a few were wearing sports jerseys and you'll be surprised what kind they were wearing. There was only one single, solitary person there at the Video Awards who wore a hockey jersey, for the Edmonton Oilers. On the other hand, so many people were wearing soccer jerseys that it was a joke. You would have thought we were living in some soccer-mad country like Germany or Italy, there were so many.
For you international viewers of THE CAIRNS BLOG, keep in mind that soccer traditionally has never been as popular as the Big 4 North American sports. But having said that, Toronto is getting an MLS franchise next year and a soccer stadium, and fans here certainly follow the international leagues and are definitely interested in the World Cup. The World Cup frequently dominates the sportscasts here and the TV coverage has been extensive from Rogers Sportsnet, TSN, and OMNI TV.
At the MMVAs I saw people wearing stuff for Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Italy, France, you name it. And so many watering holes have signs up which say "Watch Soccer Here" that it's a joke.
Maybe the rest of the country still cares about hockey and packs the bars for those silly games, but at least in Toronto, and with a young crowd at that, soccer is taking over. Just confirms to me that Toronto is in a lot of ways less of a die-hard hockey town than everyone thinks it is.
I think the arrival of the MLS next year is going to be a turning point in this town. The MLS has credibility with people, so I think that franchise is going to do very well with fans here and be a big success. I also know a lot of people from politics who are big soccer fans who never miss a game. So I think soccer is moving up with Canadians, especially with young fans. And of course there are plenty of hoops fans in Canada, and auto racing fans who want to see NASCAR in Montreal next year.
Anyway, just want to make the point that there are other sports, there are Canadians who have other interests. Hockey doesn't rule everyone's lives here; not everyone is crying in their Molson's, or Labatt's or whatever they're supposed to be drinking these days.