February 25, 2009
We mentioned this in the Puck Headlines last night, but now it's all over the place thanks to the Associated Press: The Washington Capitals have created Club Scarlet, which the team claims is the NHL's first female fan club. The site is live now, promising blogs and meet-up events and galleries of glamour shots like the one of defenseman Mike Green above, doing his best Mark Wahlberg.
Here's the thing: The Capitals have been using these beefcake photos (Jose Theodore looks like he just stepped off the set of a Mexican soap opera) on their Jumbotron all season, during player intros and after goals. They've also had a burgeoning female fan base building around this team for the last two years, buoyed by "Hockey ‘N Heels" nights and "Hockey 101" events that brought them closer to the game. Club Scarlet would seem to be the natural progression of both the team's marketing and its market.
But the club, in its infancy, has already sparked some harsh criticism for its approach and its very existence. Evidently, sipping cosmos during Southeast Division games and treating Brooks Laich like Zac Efron is an offense to the hockey gods.
Wrap Around Curl is a blogger that's been on the NHL's case for its approach to female fans before, and this Club Scarlet is apparently Exhibit Q why it just don't get it. She's not pleased. At all:
At the end of each bio I was surprised there wasn't an eHarmony link so they could match the dudes with someone who looks like their sister and then they could get married and talk about their dog and how they love doing Sudoku together for a Friday night date. No really I "get" the concept of catering the game to the ladies but for those of us who already are fans, it feels like a smack in the face. I understand the need for chicks to feel some comfort in the sport. But the eye candy pics and ridiculously girlie wallpapers. I am half surprised the site doesn't have sparkles and My Little Pony. It's all so Chippendales, minus the tearproof G-strings. C'mon NHL, treat your dames better...
The Puck Huffers blog felt much the same way: "Why are so many players peering from under the collars of their jackets? Is that something we missed in 'Being a Woman 101' while we were too busy watching hockey?"
... I never understood the concept that you have to have a certain ethnic/racial/socioeconomic background to play the game, and people like my mom and my female friends in high school dug hockey, so I've never believed that what one's hockey pants protect determines whether that person's fit to follow hockey as passionately as those who pump out testosterone like it's going out of style.
I've hung out with the same group of Red Wings fans online for the past ten years or so, and the vast majority of them are female. They know just as much about the game as I do, and they see things I don't and set me straight on a regular basis.
I have to admit that the all-female hockey fan club, and its presentation on the Club Scarlet Web site, struck me at first as being a Puck Bunny-ish insult to the female fans George talks about above -- the ones we pigheaded males believe don't know the game until they talk us (and, usually, drink us) under the table.
But that was before I spoke to a half-dozen female Caps fans at the game last night, off the record and about the Scarlet Caps club. While some of them were wary about it descending into giggly Bunny-ism, the majority were rather excited about the idea for a very good reason: It's a chance to carve out their niche in hockey fandom.
They're the wives and girlfriends of hockey fans. They're a group of college friends that like to hit the bars, then the game and then the bars again. They're fans of hockey, but some of them would rather know that Boyd Gordon's favorite movie is "Gladiator" than what his plus/minus is.
And that's OK. Because this club is an entry point to the sport for women whose interests in hockey go beyond a left-handed shot on the power play. If that means a Web site with muscle-bound beefcake, so be it; it wouldn't be the first time women flocked to a sport because they're less interested in the logo on the uniform than what's under it. (See: NFL.)
There's a big difference between the NHL selling a high-end team purse and an NHL team reaching out to its female fans (besides, you know, about $325). One assumes to know what lady puckheads want; the other is allowing them to create something of their own. There's nothing wrong with that.