Tonight is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins. I am tense, as are millions of my fellow Vancouverites, all of whom have hinged their emotional well being on this deciding match. When I think it about it too much, I find it difficult to breathe.
I also find it puzzling, sometimes not recognizing myself. I am not what anyone would call a huge hockey fan. I love going to a game when the opportunity arises, but I hardly follow the Canucks (or any professional sports team for that matter) through the regular season. But somehow over the course of these Stanley Cup Playoffs, I have become a rabid Canucks fan. I analyze past games with friends; I scream at the TV when the Canucks are losing and from my balcony when they win; I even made my mother watch a game while visiting her and was able to explain what icing is. She looked at me at one point and asked, “What’s happened to you?”
I’ve caught Stanley Cup fever, that’s what.
As a citizen of a hockey town, I don’t question it much; but as a brander, a marketer and strategic storyteller, I’m fascinated by what’s taken hold of me. It wasn’t until I had to prepare for an interview with the CBC National on the legend of the Stanley Cup that I came to recognize how unique this sporting event is and how effectively it pulls people into it.
The Stanley Cup brand—like any professional league sports playoff series—is both a thing, the trophy and an event, the playoffs. The two are inextricably linked. But as my friend Cookie Boyle pointed out to me (yes, that’s her real name), the Stanley Cup is different in that the trophy almost takes precedence over the event. It’s all about winning that trophy, taking possession of that 35 pounds of silver, holding it, kissing it, hoisting it over your head, getting it all to yourself for a day and getting your name engraved on it for eternity. People talk about winning the Super Bowl, not the Vince Lombardi Trophy. They talk about winning the World Series, not getting the Commissioner’s Trophy. But with the Stanley Cup, the focus is on possessing that cup. The playoffs is simply a means to getting to it.
Beyond this, I think the NHL does a brilliant job of democratizing the Stanley Cup, making it a brand that is truly “of the people.” Everyone on the winning team gets the Cup for 24 hours to do with what they may (e.g. baptize babies in it, eat ice cream out of it, etc.). Rather than being some precious thing sequestered behind glass, the Cup travels among us, showing up in our living rooms, our churches, our schools, our weddings, our bar mitvahs, even our strip clubs. It’s been drop-kicked into a canal, left on the side of the road and around the world more times than any pope or president.
Simply stated, the Stanley Cup has lived. And more importantly, it’s lived with us not apart from us. In fact, in some ways, we live through it, which is why we love it so much, and why we covet it so greatly. Whether the Canucks win or lose tonight, I am all the richer for having had this experience. I feel a part of something bigger than myself, and there is comfort in that feeling, as well angst. As a friend said to me last night when I was talking about my emotional roller coaster over these playoffs, “Welcome to the life of a sports fan.” How bittersweet it is.