Former NYPhillyCombine blogger and good friend of mine Bobby recently wrote me in regards to the Flyers Ice Girls situation. He basically admitted to enjoying the eye candy but also was critical of the team’s response so far (Because this team doesn’t need another PR nightmare). Everything I would have expected from him, albeit maybe less profanity laden. The following is the diatribe I unleashed in response to him, not because he said anything wrong but because I just needed to vent and had been waiting for the opportunity to.
“I’d been seriously witholding giving you a difficult time on this because I seriously thought eventually Philly would get it right and it would go away. But, of course, in typical City of Brotherly Love fashion there’s no love.
At points this whole thing has just gotten silly, but I blame very little of the jackassary that’s come out of any of it on the media itself. When a franchise hands you the kind of material the Flyers are producing it’s impossible to not run with it, be it as a comedian or as a serious investigative journalist or even a bleeding fingered blogger like myself
It could have been preempted if the Flyers would have paid attention when the NFL and NCAA scandals regarding the treatment of cheerleaders occurred in the past. The exact same type of indentured servitude misogyny that the Flyers franchise was engaging in was previously exposed at a number of franchises and in a number of schools . It brought fines and other sanctions in some cases, along with the bad PR. It even drew the attention of the Simpsons which inspired the episode where Lisa helps the cheerleaders unionize. By being proactive in identifying it as a potential problem and putting common sense rules in place this would have never occurred, and I’m not saying having them wear less provocative outfits or anything too pro-feminist per se, more that you treat them with respect as employees in general.
Of course, the Flyers brass didn’t do this and ignored all the warning signs including complaints by the women, by others within the organization, by regional bloggers and so on, until it finally became an expose by a national media organization. Being aware of the criticism and turning a deaf ear to it allowed it to rise to the scale of a national issue and what’s more, the failure to actively address it once it did was an embarrassment not just for the Flyers, but I think to many, for the NHL as well. At a time when you have some very, very high profile misogyny happening in a rival league drawing scrutiny from nearly everywhere it was absolutely asinine to allow a women’s treatment issue enter into the conversation for the NHL.
Congrats to the National Hockey League and the Philadelphia Flyers franchise, your staff aren’t beating (or raping) their wives, girlfriends or women they picked up in a bar. But in all seriousness, that’s a pretty low bar to overcome in the proper treatment of women (even if the NFL can’t seem to get over it). Really, though, shame on the NHL for not pressuring the Flyers harder to avoid this kind of action as much as shame on the Flyers for setting the stage for the shaming in the first place. There’s really no excuse for any of it again, considering the media attention on how women are being treated, by sports teams and in general right now.
It’s not like they don’t have the resources to treat the girls better, which was all the problem really started off as – a simple labor dispute. Now, it’s become not just about wages, working conditions and so on, but what they wear and all the other stuff about them being demeaningly created as testostorone-inspired eye candy and a distraction to the sport being played itself.
Then again, given the nature of this particular problem and all sports league’s love of arbitration for dispute settlement one would have thought a mediation or two later and they’d have come up with amicable terms of employment and perhaps less lingerie on ice inspired uniforms but that’s not the route the Flyers chose.
While the solution obvious to everyone would have been just deciding there should be no squad because it’s unnecessary to the actual game of hockey or to create a multi-gender squad that was contracted with fair and equatable wages and working conditions the Flyers, being the Flyers did something wholely different as if actively looking for a way to exasperate the situation.
Since this is the Flyers and they are insane – as if completely in spite of themselves they went and fired ALL the women. Because you know, terminating the employment of those who complain ALWAYS solves the problem for starters. That drew both additional ire to the franchise along with greater sympathy for the women’s plight. And, like a tantrum prone teenage boy the Flyers did what they do best and were stupidly aggressive, and they spat in the face of everyone and went the complete opposite direction with an all-male squad instead, thus swinging the pendulum the complete other way. Again, nothing says we understand we were treating women like shit than by replacing them with men.
Of course this drew boos by pre-season attendees. Some were pissed they lost their eye candy. Some were pissed the women were fired and replaced the way they were. Some were pissed at how uninspired the all-male team was. Some were pissed that the actual working conditions hadn’t changed, only the sex of those being employed. And, some booed just because that’s what Flyers fans do. Now, of course, the tone deaf Flyers management first said there were no boos because, again, you know playing dumb always solves the problem. Then when it happened again and was dragging them through the media mud they attributed the booing to the most self-serving reason they could. They said they heard the fans (not sure what they heard, the team to my knowledge never said, only just that they had heard something) and were taking the appropriate action.
That action continued demonstrating the deftness the Flyers handle their mistakes… they went and fired all the men, because again, nothing endears you to critics more than rash, extreme, job-eliminating decisions. So, these guys essentially were hired as scabs and then unceremoniously fired which only serves to perpetuate how absolutely shitty the Flyers treat their people and does nothing to actually address the fundamental, underlying problem about hiring entertainment in-game (which is supposedly to both enliven a boring moment during the game and assist in ice maintenance, if you can call what they were doing either assisting and being enlivening)
So, having backed themselves into the corner several times over the Flyers did the only logical thing by announcing co-ed public tryouts for the team (which is probably where they should have started from originally). Of course, it wasn’t all that simple or noncontroversial. As only the Flyers could do, they threw gasoline on the already lit fire and made the casting call read like that of a pole dancer tryout for the local strip club (and lord only knows how many of those are across the river in the Camden to Pensauken area or up in North Philly). The press release announcing the tryouts got ridiculed rightfully so because it’s blatantly trying to attract the same kind of eye candy team they had before, specifically targeting a certain type of woman. Furthermore everything that’s been made public about the proposed new squad doesn’t seem like any real changes will occur in how they are treated by management. This is just set up to perpetuate the problem and make the beginning of the Flyers season about anything other than the actual product of Hockey – which might be all well and good because there are still huge question marks about the team’s ability to compete and those will be glossed over in the short run while the PR nightare about lingerie on ice continues.
Again, Philadelphia had every opportunity to circumvent the circus that it has become and chose/continues to choose not to. The mere fact that they continue to treat it as they do leads me to believe they still don’t see the kind of problem it really is which is pretty sad although perhaps not all that surprising. Sports leadership is notoriously tone deaf across the board when it comes to challenging what they perceive as the accepted status quo. It’s no excuse. We’re over 100 years from the last time women were explicitly allowed to be treated like a second class in this country (I’m well aware that implicitly many are still treated poorly) so there’s no good reason for it.
What stands out even more to me is I read somewhere recently that a review of season ticket holders put the number of females who’s name is the primarily one in association to the ticket purchase at over 40%. Although gender isn’t part of the turnstile count I also ran across a blogger who manually tabulated what appeared to be women at a few games through screen caps and came up with close to 50% of the visible and accountable attendees appeared to be women. Even when looking at Nielson data it’s obvious in their calculations women’s viewership is steadily increased. Women’s apparel continues to be the biggest growth driver for merch as well. Sports in general and more specifically hockey in this case is no longer dominated by men when it comes to it’s primary revenue streams. Advertisers have long identified the trend of higher female viewership and begin targeting women sports fans heavily across all mediums.
However, it’s moments like these that make you wonder why the league and the individual franchises appears to be ignoring the demographic. It’s about time teams began recognizing how their actions resonate with female fans, and potentially advertisers who depend on those female fans. It’s not a surprise that the NFL almost immediately following the Anheuser-InBev open letter about domestic violence announced they were forming a four woman executive group to oversee changes in the league being AIB is a top-tier revenue generator for the league and many of its heavily advertised brands skew to women right now.
To me though, this is a women’s issue to be sure, but it’s also a labor issue and one which we should be focusing on as the situation unfolds entering the season with the new squad. Regardless of what the gender identity is of those hired if the terms of their employment don’t improve this won’t be the last we hear about the problem. With labor increasingly under fire in all sectors and industries I personally find it very curious to see how companies react when employees rise up and make no mistake, this began as an attempted employee uprising due to shit working conditions. It may have become about what they wear at points but it will return at some point to ‘you can’t treat us like this and not expect us to complain’ if the Flyers don’t take seriously the initial allegations of being under paid, over worked and unfairly treated.
As if the Flyers needed anything else though, as you said. At least no one is talking about the Flyers LEAGUE LEADING 160 penalty minutes which includes a league leading 12 majors with 3 misconducts. Of course, when you’red tied for the most Goals Against with 23 so far in the pre-season because as a team you’ve given up a league leading 264 Shots on Goal which results in part in having among the worst goal differentials at a -3 because you’re generating at best a middle of the pack Goals For and mediocre at best estimated Corsi and Fenwick advanced stats maybe your only choice is to fight your way through games….”