“Two Types of Fans”: Exploring the Relationship between the Edmonton Oilers and their Supporters

Source: Yahoo! Sports

Source: Yahoo! Sports

By Sunil Agnihotri

As the Oilers headed into their seventh straight off-season without a playoff appearance, the Edmonton Oilers announced the replacement of General Manager Steve Tambellini with former Oilers captain and coach, Craig MacTavish. At the press conference, John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal pointed out that the same management team that was in place before Tambellini’s dismissal was back in charge.

“How are fans going to be reassured that the group that left the mess that Tambellini couldn’t quite clean up is now going to be cleaned up by the guys who left the mess to begin with?”

Kevin Lowe, President of Hockey Operations for the Oilers, clearly irked by this question, responded with this:

“…fair question. We have two types of fans. We have paying customers, and we have people that watch the game that we still care about. But certainly the people who go to the games and support, we spend a lot of time talking to them, delivering our message. I would, uh, I think it’s safe to say that half the general managers in the National Hockey League would trade their roster for our roster right now. And in terms of the group that messed things up, you’re talking about the group that had the team one period away from winning the Stanley Cup.”

What comes across here is the fact that the Oilers’ management team does consult their fans when making key decisions. Unfortunately, it looks like they only consult those that attend the games or are season ticket holders. I understand their rationale: get feedback from the paying customer, and, since they’re in your shop, engage with them directly. Understandable business practice for any company looking to improve their product.

Fan Studies

The majority of fan research has moved past the consumption model analysis that depicts fans as being passive observers. Instead, research studies typically explore what fans are doing, including what they are producing. More recent research explores active fan participation and uncovers numerous examples of hockey fans getting more engaged with the game. From video games, to hockey analytics, hockey fans are definitely doing more than attending games or watching the game from home.

The comments made by Lowe gives the impression that the Oilers still view their fans as passive consumers that follow the traditional consumption model; fans either watch the game live or from home. Secondly, the Oilers appear to want feedback, but only from those that attend the games live. In both cases, the Oilers have chosen to ignore the active fans who continuously develop and share knowledge that surrounds the game.

The Third Type of Fan

Kevin Lowe did publically apologize for distinguishing the two types of fans, but did not recognize the fact that a third type of fan exists. A significant number of Oiler fans spend countless hours analyzing the game, and publishing their ideas online for others to build on and extend. They may not attend the games, or even watch every minute from home, but they are creating their own experience as a fan of the game by generating new ideas and knowledge. One can hope that the Oilers are doing something to tap into this collective intelligence of fans. This doesn’t mean that they just let any fan into their hockey operations meetings, but at least find a way to involve fans regardless of how much they spend attending the game.

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