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This article was published 18/5/2018 (616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you’re watching hockey these days, you’d be hard-pressed to feel lonely in Winnipeg.
When Ashley Richard wears her new white sweater or ball cap in public, strangers take note.
"If I wear a (Winnipeg) Jets sweater or a Jets hat, random people will just start talking to me about it," Richard says.
She attended her first playoff viewing party at Bell MTS Place Wednesday, a raucous affair where thousands of fans wave white towels like would-be helicopters poised to take flight.
Having grown up in a hockey-loving household, Richard says she’s always enjoyed the sport, but been "indifferent" when it comes to following teams.
"There was a lot of buzz going around about the Jets doing really well in the playoffs. And I grew up in Toronto and the Leafs never do really well in the playoffs," she says with a chuckle. "So I was kind of like, ‘Oh, well maybe this is a thing.’ And then when they won the first series (against the Minnesota Wild), that was when I was like, ‘Oh, this could be something really good.’"
Richard is one of countless new Jets fans who’ve jumped on a burgeoning bandwagon as the hockey team has advanced deep into the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Jets have made believers out of more than a few hockey neophytes, including Sijo Joseph, who had never watched a hockey game prior to last month’s Wild series.
Now, he, his wife and two sons call themselves "hardcore fans," rattling off all the players’ names and the game’s rules.
Joseph moved to Winnipeg from India 12 years ago for school and now works as a research scientist with Agriculture Canada. He says he feels a new sense of belonging in this hockey-mad city now that he’s tuned into the Jets, plus a stronger kinship with his colleagues.
It’s a time for us to be proud and celebrate the city we come from... We have a bit of an inferiority complex, and so I think that we take a lot of pride in the fact that we are successful. — Adrienne Leslie-Toogood
"I started watching it, just for that sake (to bond with co-workers)," he says. "But later on I realized that I’m into it because it’s so fast, it’s lots of fun; it’s a different type of game."
Joseph is a longtime cricket fan, but says those matches can take eight to 10 hours to complete. Hockey’s pace and Jets’ fans spirit have him hooked. He’s been to a few Whiteout parties and his family now gathers with four to five others on game days.
"I started realizing the game has a lot of things to offer to the city. It’s not just a game. It is tightly associated with the culture, with the spirit, with the economy — lots of things," he says. "Just last month I started watching, but now I can see why people are into it."
As it turns out, the Bandwagon Effect is a psychological term, not just a snide poke from a team's committed supporters directed at fair-weather fans.
According to Psychology Today, it occurs when "people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override." And it isn’t exclusive to sports.
"Jumping on the bandwagon" references online point back to when circus producer P.T. Barnum would parade through towns with his bandwagon back in the 1800s, catching folks’ attention before shows went up.
Later, politicians took note of the power of those bandwagons and started taking their own contraptions on the campaign trail to lure potential voters to, literally, get on board.
The phrase has taken on a more metaphorical meaning recently, but speaks to an innate yearning to belong. As Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, director of sport psychology at the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba, points out: "Everyone likes to be part of something, especially when it’s something that’s successful."
Sports offer an opportunity to get excited about something that, in the grand scheme of things, is pretty low-stakes, she says. But a hockey matchup can mirror real-life struggles and provide some catharsis for viewers.
"I do think that sports are a bit of a microcosm for society; a lot of the things you see play out on the fields of play and on the ice are things that we also deal with in our day-to-day lives, whether it be dealing with failure or having the courage to come back strong," she says. "Refocusing, resetting, supporting our teammates, conflicts.
"I think a lot of the things we see out there are things that we experience in our daily lives and… although it feels like everything’s on the line, there’s no real consequence to it."
Psychologists and sociologists have coined a couple terms to describe stereotypical fan behaviours: BIRGing and CORFing.
Clemson University professor John Spinda helped unpack both acronyms in a 2011 article published in the Journal of Sport Behavior: Basking In Reflected Glory and Cutting Off Reflected Failure.
He wrote that fans of a winning team are more likely to BIRG out — brag about their team's success in person or online, search out highlight reels and media mentions of the team, socialize with friends and family and, curiously, eat healthier, citing a 2013 Psychological Science study of football fans.
And when a team is losing, fans often veer into CORF territory, isolating themselves, staying offline and eating more saturated fats. Go figure.
Pronoun usage is also apt to change depending if a team is winning or losing. Jets won? "We" won! Jets lost? "They" lost.
Sports historian and University of Manitoba associate professor Russell Field researched hockey spectators' behaviour in Toronto and New York during the 1920s and '30s, when the sport began gravitating more toward theatrics with stadium-style seating.
In those days, watching hockey was seen as a distinctly male activity and team owners grappled with how to make stadiums "respectable" places for women to watch games, Field says. So they brought in tiers of comfier seats, better washrooms and (much later) luxury boxes.
"I think some of that (research) is relevant today in the sense that the fan experience is very much on the mind of teams these days... what I found in the 1930s was a variety of things, but that spectators formed very much a community," he says.
Now that the community is spilling into the streets surrounding Bell MTS Place, Field acknowledges the rallying is about more than pucks and pints.
"I do think there’s probably an element of people who are excited and want to be a part of what’s going on on Donald Street because of 'what' it is, rather than because of 'who' it is," he says.
Leslie-Toogood watched a playoff game inside the arena and another at the Whiteout street party. She smiles when recalling fan-demonium in those packed areas.
I started watching it, just for that sake (to bond with co-workers). But later on I realized that I’m into it because it’s so fast, it’s lots of fun; it’s a different type of game. — Sijo Joseph
"It’s a time for us to be proud and celebrate the city we come from," she says. "I think maybe Winnipeggers, in general, are notorious for feeling like people look down on us, especially other parts of the world, like Toronto. We have a bit of an inferiority complex, and so I think that we take a lot of pride in the fact that we are successful."
White-clad Richard also mentions how hockey is putting Winnipeg on the world stage.
"I feel like having a really good NHL team puts us on the map for some people who kind of overlook Winnipeg or the Prairies," she says. "The Jets right now are the Canadian team in the playoffs and I see people across Canada saying that they’re supporting the Jets.
"It’s really awesome."
Winnipeg pharmacist Luigi Mingo admits he catches a game once in a while and isn't a "rabid hockey fan." But he jumped at the chance to attend Friday's game in Vegas with a friend and his son.
"It’s going to be an expensive few days, but you know, it’s once in a lifetime," Mingo said before leaving for the desert. "The Jets are so close and they have the possibility of being there right at the end. It’d be kind of nice to be part of history.
"I’m 64, right? It may never happen again, You never know — look at Toronto (the Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967)."
Mingo describes some of his customers as "little old ladies who are just jumping on the bandwagon."
"They’re just so hyped up... and it’s such a great feeling for the city. Everybody’s just gotten into it and it’s a great thing for spirit."
It seems everyone — young, old, rich, poor, hockey buff or neophyte — is welcome on the Jets bandwagon. The city is revelling in Whiteout fever.
"If they win Stanley Cup, oh that would be a big, huge celebration," says Joseph, the new "hardcore fan" planning to take his family to Portage and Main if there's something to celebrate.
They won't be alone.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.