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Promoting the ‘arriviste’ city: Producing neoliberal urban identity and communities of consumption during the Edmonton Oilers’ 2006 playoff campaign

In the spring of 2006, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Edmonton Oilers made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 16 years. Predictably, hockey fans and media pundits responded enthusiastically to the one-time return to glory of their men’s professional hockey team. Drawing from threads of political economy, historical analysis, cultural studies and queer critique, we read selections of the print media coverage of the Oilers’ 2006 Cup run ‘against the grain’, juxtaposing the neoliberal strategies utilized to promote Edmonton with some of the lived realities in Alberta’s provincial capital. We argue that the discourses of community reiterated in the city’s main newspaper mobilize well-worn tropes of sport and civic boosterism through championship inspired communitas (Ingham and McDonald, 2003) with updated contemporary neoliberal twists. Specifically, the new stories contribute to the promotion of Edmonton as an arriviste city (Hiller, 2007): a mid-sized, intermediate city ready to shed its regional identity and compete on the national and indeed world stage; a city which continues to privilege affluent, white, masculinist elites, but does so in this early 21st-century iteration by incorporating and accommodating a variety of social identity-based groups. In particular, we focus on a discussion of how professional hockey and its print media representations can incorporate ethnic difference and queerness as civic elites strive to showcase Edmonton as a diverse and welcoming cosmopolitan centre.