September 06, 2011
Think about the night of June 15, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Think about the cars smoldering in the streets of the city. Think about windows being smashed and stores being looted. Think about the clashes with police.
Think about the disgust you felt as the chaos spread.
Now try to remember if, even for a moment, you blamed the National Hockey League for any of it.
Because the city of Vancouver does.
Its report on the riots doesn't scapegoat the NHL but clearly accuses it of having no plan to prevent them during the playoffs. From the Globe & Mail:
"In spite of four Stanley Cup riots in the last five years, [the NHL] has no approach, no policy and no apparent strategy to work with host franchises and municipalities on this issue," says the lengthy internal report to be debated at a special council meeting on Tuesday.
"[This] clearly … threatens the value and perception of their brand."
Yes, clearly. Which is why the Canucks should be relocated to Seattle ASAP, because the NHL is doomed, doomed, doomed as a brand.
Wait, what? That's absurd, you say? C'mon, it's not nearly as absurd as blaming the NHL for the embarrassing failures of local bureaucracy to protect its business community and citizenry from predictable pandemonium.
Here are some fun facts about the Game 7 viewing party on June 15:
• The event itself was co-produced by Brand Live Group, a company that was hired just two days before the Stanley Cup Final began. Not, you know, by the NHL.
• The four large LED screens in Vancouver that broadcasted Game 7 were provided by Fresh Air Cinema, which advertised the event on Facebook. Not, you know, by the NHL.
• As the crowds grew during the Stanley Cup Final, going from a then-record 70,000 for Game 2 to 155,000 for Game 7, police underestimated the size of the crowd for the series finale despite the city (and its mayor) encouraging its growth through hype and street closures. Which is something the NHL, you know, didn't do.
• In addition to that: Didn't Vancouver's own police chief say the riots were the work of "a number of young men and women, disguised as Canucks fans, who were actually criminals and anarchists"? And the NHL is supposed to have a policy in place for this?
What the city is arguing here is that any entity that encourages masses of people to gather in the city — not directly, but by simply holding an event — should be responsible for that crowd's action. Which means that, in theory, if civil disobedience arises during an Olympic ice hockey viewing party for the 2014 Sochi Games, it's the IOC's fault.
The city of Vancouver's internal review recommends the Canucks be part of discussions, along with the NHL and local business groups, to create a "community-based organization to plan, raise money, and oversee any future Fan Zone activation sites."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said leagues like the NBA and NFL take an active role in working with host cities at major events. "I'm very hopeful we see a positive response from the NHL and the Canucks in the event we are in this situation maybe next year," Robertson said. "I'm hopeful we have a real pro-active role coming from the league and the Canucks so that we don't see this kind of situation again."
If the city wants the Canucks to issue a bunch of public service announcements telling their fans not to burn and loot local businesses after playoff games … sure, why not? It's really just those Jumbotron announcements about not throwing garbage on the ice on a grander scale. Maybe there's some cashew-brain who's deterred from turning over a cop car because of it. Not really a big deal.
But the NHL? Riot control is not the league's problem, and the issue here is that Vancouver seeks to make it the league's problem so the blame can be shared if this crap happens for a third time in the city during a Cup Final. "Hey, thanks for pumping millions of extra dollars into our local economy for three months … can you handle crowd control, too?"
There's really nothing the league can do. Or the team. Listen to how LAPD chief Charlie Beck talked about the Lakers' championship "riots":
"I will deal with people who come in and vandalizes and act foolish and take advantage of crowd situations," said Beck. "The reality is we need to change the way people think about how to celebrate. That's the lesson."
The after-event analysis is currently under way, but as Beck indicated, unless people change their thought processes about celebratory activities, events like Thursday's riots will continue to happen even in the face of police efforts.
Yet the NHL needs to get more involved?
Actually, based on the city's findings, there's really only one sure way to prevent rioting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Not allowing Canadian teams to participate in them.
The report reads "four Stanley Cup riots in the last five years"; what it meant to say was Edmonton (2006), Montreal (2008), Montreal (2010) and Vancouver (2011). So yes, the NHL can take a very active role in preventing Stanley Cup rioting by not allowing Canadian cities to have nice things.
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