Superheroes on Skates

As the (arguably) number four sport in America, hockey has always had to try just a little bit harder for attention and recognition. Relegated now to Versus and the rare NBC Sunday game for national television coverage, the National Hockey League constantly fights to keep its product in the spotlight with a variety of gimmicks.

Few sports fans could forget the happily discarded glowing puck during the NHL’s seasons on Fox, and there has been a lamentable trend of late towards “ice girls” who skate skimpily onto the ice during stoppages in play to shovel up ice shavings around the creases. The recently completed all-star game featured a fantasy draft format, where the teams were picked by their respective captains rather than representing a conference or a country as in years past, an innovation that garnered a fair bit of press. And one could make the case that the shootout used after a five minute overtime period has failed to find a winner is a similar gimmick designed to produce a fan-friendly winner rather than resulting in a drab draw.

In that vein of attention-seeking, then, one must consider the Guardian Project:

The Flyer Strikes!

In collaboration with Marvel Comics, the NHL has created a superhero based on each team’s logo. From the Red Wing to the Capital to the Canuck, each superhero defends his team’s town, using lots of very specific locations and references—the Predator, for instance, chases bad guys to John C. Tune Airport, while the Flyer has a pet bird named Wanamaker.

With a six page comic for each Guardian and animated shorts, it’s obvious that quite a bit of work has gone into this project, with the usual Marvel quality, but to what end?

In my samplings of the comics, there’s little to no connection to ice hockey in the stories themselves beyond the anthropomorphizing of the NHL logos. What seems to be occurring is an attempt to develop brand affiliation amongst a younger demographic. Too, the heroes represent qualities that the NHL would like to have associated with itself: durability, honor, bravery, strength. Kids like the comics, become fans of the hometown hero, and go to see the logo on the ice.

It’s easy to knock the Guardian Project as silly, but it’s not for me or about me. I’m already an established fan and perhaps a good thirty years past the target demographic. If the Guardian Project gets even one more hockey fan in each city, that’s good enough for me. Just don’t bring back the glowing puck.

(Image from the Guardian Project.)

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