The Calgary Flames recently implemented a new weekly web program that caters to the Punjabi community called Flames TV Punjabi. Flames TV Punjabi was the brainchild of Harnarayan Singh, who is also the commentator for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi.
“Based on the popularity of hockey within the community, the Calgary Flames organization realized that there was a certain appetite out there and it appealed to them to grow the fan base and the sport as well,” said Singh.
Implementing this unique cultural experience into hockey programming was a concerted effort by Flames management to provide the best possible sports experience to their fans.
“Flames management was very familiar with the Punjabi community in terms of watching who attends the home games, and so they know that there is an existing population in the community that is already Flames fans,” said Singh. “To tap into that and a grow it was a way to cater to a niche market.”
Punjabi is now the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French. There are close to one million people in Canada who speak Punjabi.
“Calgary often gets a bad rap for not being as diverse,” said Singh. “I think for the size of the city it’s a welcoming place. When you walk around downtown, you can see a lot of diversity.”
Singh is also really excited about the opportunity that Flames TV Punjabi has to spread awareness of the Punjabi community and its culture.
“On one hand it spreads awareness of hockey and the Flames organization amongst the Punjabi community,” said Singh. “Some of the Flames players themselves have mentioned that they were not aware of how big the community is. Something like this is making them realize how vital it is for their future to do stuff like this. The team is really proud to be the first.”
The inception of Flames TV Punjabi has been met with very positive reviews from fans.
“We showed some behind-the-scenes stuff like what the dressing room or press box looks like,” said Singh. “My latest video has gone viral within the local Calgary community. We had a few Flames players try to say a few Punjabi words — so it’s not the average thing that you could find in an article or by watching the game, and people loved that.”
Calgary Flames management were eager to be the first NHL team to offer content in Punjabi.
“From the team perspective, they love that there is a lot of potentially new fans that are logging onto their site and potentially could become hardcore Flames fans,” said Singh. “That is a good thing for the future of the team in a growing city like Calgary.”
Regardless of the language they speak, sports commentators often use many sports cliches to add excitement and flavour to the television broadcast. Singh likes to think outside the box and adds his own cultural style to the mix.
“We add a bit of the curry sauce to the commentating and it has more of the masala and spicy flavouring to it,” said Singh. “For example, if the Flames are having a great second period after having a lackluster first period, I’ll throw in that they had a great cup of chai in the intermission. We throw in a lot of cultural aspects and stuff like that.”
Hockey in Canada has seen a lot of growth among the Punjabi community, which can be partially attributed to the success of the Indian national team’s success in field hockey, which mirrors the rules and regulations of ice hockey.
“In India, field hockey was very popular in Punjab,” said Singh. “When India won their gold medals in field hockey at the Olympics, at that time 85–90 per cent of the team were players from Punjab, and so the Punjabi people began to love the game. They began to learn how the game works, as there are overlapping similarities and rules.”
The majority of people who have immigrated to Canada from India are from Punjab, the northwest part of India.
Singh was pleased that Flames TV Punjabi has been able to bring families closer together.
“One of the biggest pieces of feedback that we have received is that it is uniting families,” said Singh. “Kids who are born here are automatically immersed in hockey culture — they love hockey. As far as their grandparents, they do not have as much in common and it is harder for them to relate. But hockey provides that common ground between the generations.”
There are other benefits to the community with the implementation of multicultural programs such as Flames TV Punjabi. It can be easy to get lost in the multicultural sea of Canada, however, hockey has the ability to act as a cultural broker.
“I would say that it bridges the gap,” says Singh. “That is what sports can be — it’s so universal. It does not matter where you are from, or how you look, everyone can all cheer for the same team. You really see that sort of thing in the Olympics.”