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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“An NHL Touch”: Transnationalizing Ice Hockey in Sweden, 1994–2013


During the 1994-95 ice hockey season in Sweden, one of the teams in the highest division, Luleå, treated fans to an innovation: instead of merely entering the ice as in years past, players flew out of a gigantic bear maw, to the accompaniment of a pounding rock beat. The idea was not original, however; as a newspaper columnist noted, it had been copied directly from the National Hockey league in North America. Luleå’s new entrance concept was part of a concerted effort by teams in Sweden’s highest ice hockey division, Elitserien, to emulate the NHL to make the sport more popular with young fans. This paper examines how and why that attempt was made and why it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Using newspaper articles and ice hockey association materials and examining comments made by fans in online fora, the study recounts that the change involved creating an “event” atmosphere around games, making symbols more NHL-like, and adopting names in English. Reaction from both media commentators and fans was clearly negative, mainly because the changes were seen as gimmicks and because they had been imposed on team supporters without prior consultation. In the end, most teams quietly ended the use of both names and symbols.

The last point is interesting, the study argues, as it has implications for discussions of Americanization. The case of Swedish hockey in the 1990s suggests that there are instances when American influences are rejected by recipients in other countries.


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