This past week Nike Hockey released this uber-patriotic commercial feat. P.K. Subban, Mark Scheifele, Tessa Bonhomme and Steven Stamkos. Amidst the lockout blahs came the real reason Canadians look forward to the holidays: the world juniors, and just in time, Nike hand-delivered this attractive piece of patriotism to the True North, strong and free.
I’m trying to figure out what the message of the spot is. When you strip it down, it seems that Canada at its core is being, I don’t know, threatened. The question posed to the actors and players is essentially “what would you do if they took away hockey?” Uh, what? Who’s they? Why is someone taking hockey away? Sure, some bad men took away the NHL for a bit, but hockey is still being played in this country and all around the world, every single day. I get they’re just being facetious but they could have captured the spirit of Canadians love for the game without insinuating a possibility of it being taken away.
And timing is everything. The winner of the world juniors gives fans the so-called right to claim dominance in hockey, at least for a year, anyway. It’s a lockout year and more than ever, Canadian fans aren’t willing to accept anything but gold at the tournament. But Russia also has a great team and are our true rival, now and probably for all eternity. So what I’d like to know is whether the “they” are in fact the Russian national team. Or are “they” hitting us from all angles, all over? Perhaps the commercial isn’t meant to be dissected, or even understood, because as it stands, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Commercial aside, I’m having most difficulty with their entire ad campaign and I’m not the only one. You see, there are hockey fans who happen to live outside of Canada and they seem to be pissed off.
They used the commercial as a vessel to kick-start this “Hockey is Ours” campaign, geared towards hockey-obsessed Canadians through social media. Hey, you know what’s interesting about social media? It targets people by interest, and not necessarily by country of origin. So here we have “Nike Hockey”, based in Canada but not limited to Nike Canada, spreading the love to their Canadian followers and fans. But that’s it. Not their fans and followers worldwide, just one country, large in mass but small in population.
The idea of ownership is where I struggle with this the most.
Nike’s running wild online with this campaign that says it’s our game, we own it and that’s that. It is, though? Sure, it may have been invented and perhaps even perfected within our borders, but is it actually ours to claim? You know what else we invented? Basketball. Should Canada claim ownership of that too? Wait, why not? Oh yeah, we suck at it. But so what? What’s the real distinction here? It’s a sport that anyone, anywhere can enjoy, as stated by Andrew Stone (above). And imagine what fucking lunatics Nike Basketball would look like if they ran a similar campaign geared to Canadian basketball fans.
What’s the real issue here? Are we suddenly afraid the sport is slipping through the cracks in this nation and as a result someone at Nike felt it necessary that we must stand up and claim it as our own? Is it because we have nothing else worth claiming? I ask so many questions because I’m puzzled. Are we back to the days of the fucking Cold War where we fear another country’s dominance in our beloved pastime?
The message is strong, captivating even. For a hot second I thought it was genius. I suppose it is, if your brands only wish is to claim dominance in one territory and alienate everyone else. Doesn’t seem like a strong move, but if you think it is, please convince me otherwise.
Nike is feeding into the idea that hockey IS our identity. It isn’t. I have plenty of friends who don’t give any shits about this sport they’re apparently supposed to love. Numbers don’t lie – Canada loves hockey. But it doesn’t define us and no one owns the rights to it. To suggest anything else is reckless.
If you’re a kid in, I don’t know, Ohio, who loves the game but already feels a bit ostracized for playing such an unpopular sport, and you’re bombarded by this campaign, how do you feel? It’s safe to assume that some kids in America or anywhere else for that matter, use Nike products. So do you think they’ll continue to support the brand that makes them feel less worthy of enjoying the sport? It’s a strange place to put so many people. Canada is big but it’s not America big. There’s always the potential to grow the sport in America, and now you’re alienating countless fans and young players by simply stating that they can’t have a piece of the game because of where they live
I have no qualms with the correlation between this country and the sport we obsess over, but when you get into ownership territory, you begin to sound xenophobic. And also, really stupid. I applaud Nike for going balls out and trying to bring together hockey fans online, (in truth, working for Nike Hockey in their digital department would be a dream) but maybe they could put a minute of thought into the repercussions of claiming hockey belongs to Canada. This country boasts enough meathead fans and we don’t need a corporation like them justifying their backwards mentality.