NHL playby-play in Punjabi score bigtime
NHL play-by-play in Punjabi scores big time
Hockey Night in Canada experiment so successful it's likely to be expanded
Feb 16, 2009 04:30 AM
Saturday is Hockey Night in Punjab at the Sonds' Malton home.
A half-hour before the first game of the night begins, Navdeep Sonds, 27, switches on the TV and stacks pop and munchies on a table next to the couch. As the game begins and the two Punjabi hosts start announcing, his parents also join him.
"I watched hockey regularly but since this started, I don't think I've missed a day," said Navdeep, a software developer.
"I wish they could announce more games," he said.
Navdeep will soon get his wish.
Hockey Night in Canada's weekly Punjabi broadcast started in October when the CBC, picking up on a brief experiment from last season's Stanley Cup, brought Parminder Singh of Toronto and Calgary's Harnarayan Singh to call the game online and on some channels.
It has been so well received in the Punjabi community that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is considering Punjabi broadcasts of Leafs games two to three times a week, and even the Raptors.
And on Feb. 21, when the Leafs play the Canucks at the Air Canada Centre – Mats Sundin's first game against his former team – the morning practice will be opened to the Punjabi community and the two hosts will announce from the arena for the first time.
"CBC has been working on this for a while and we are extending it to other Leafs games and we are excited about it," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. "It's all about extending hockey to a variety of different communities and engaging kids in a variety of different ways. We'll see how it goes."
The logistics of additional Leafs or Raptors games are still to be worked out, said Shannon Hosford, senior director of marketing, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. "But we are thrilled the hosts want to do it. Toronto is changing and people are not from the traditional hockey backgrounds. But they like hockey and we want them to connect with the Leafs in their own language."
Punjabi, spoken by immigrants from north India, is the fourth most-spoken language in Canada after English, French and Chinese.
"I knew there is a huge Punjabi-speaking population but never thought the response would be so good," said host Parminder Singh, 27. "We were surprised, too."
A day after they announced the first game in Punjabi, a Facebook group dedicated to Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi sprang up and within hours had a few hundred members.
After the first two games, Rogers and Bell picked it up in Toronto and Shaw did in Vancouver, and the Punjabi broadcast got its own channel.
That's when the two hosts realized they had stumbled onto something really big.
The viewership has since multiplied many times over. "I would say we have close to a hundred thousand viewers in Canada," said Parminder, adding the Punjabi diaspora is one of the largest in the world.
"We've been getting amazing feedback," said host Harnarayan Singh, 24, a reporter for CBC Radio in Calgary. He's heard how families, including grandparents, now watch the game together. "Many parents and grandparents would earlier watch the game but they mute it because they don't understand what the commentators are saying. Now, they are much more involved."
But before they could engage the community, they had to come up with a proper lexicon. Some terms are easily translatable from field hockey, so "stick" is "soti."
"He shoots, he scores" became "mahriaa shot, keeta goal."
The real challenge was to find a word for "puck." The two settled on "tikki" based on a puck-shaped potato appetizer. But they started calling it puck after a few games when viewers told them they understood what it was. Another term they struggled with was icing. Ice in Punjabi is "barf." "Barfed" the puck sounded ridiculous and so they stuck to the English term.
The pair announce two games back-to-back, analyze and interact with viewers on a Facebook group. They also ask game-related questions and give out prizes.
The idea is to get the community as involved in hockey as it is in basketball. "Leafs have not been (as) able to tap into the (South-Asian) market as Raptors," said Parminder. "We want to change that. Having more games in Punjabi will definitely help connect people to the game, and especially the Leafs."
In four months, the two hosts have also become celebrities of sorts. When they go to the gurdwara (Sikh temple), children surround them, asking about their favourite players. "It feels good to have brought hockey closer to these children," said Parminder, a part-time host for Omni TV and a graduate student at the University of Toronto. "We've been told how this has made them feel more Canadian than ever before."
The two are always looking to introduce new elements into the show – one segment may be a Punjabi take on Don Cherry's Coach's Corner. "We'll have our own Don Cherry with colourful turbans and kurtas," the traditional long shirts worn in parts of South Asia.
For Toronto's Harminder Kaur, 23, watching the Punjabi broadcast unites the family.
"My parents were never hockey fans but now they won't leave the room while the Punjabi show is on," she said.