Calgary, Canada

Hockey Night In Canada – In Punjabi!

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

February 23, 2009

Multilingual sports commentary brings hockey fans together

The show that keeps getting cancelled gets another reprieve! Multilingual sports commentary brings hockey fans together

Many Canadians view the sport of ice hockey as more than just a national pastime. They see it as an essential aspect of the country’s identity and part of the fabric of Canadian culture. Across Canada, there are leagues for boys, girls, men and women. After school kids play pick up games at skating rinks in their neighborhoods and in the summer, they switch to road or street hockey.

And on Saturday nights, for the past 56 seasons (or since 1952) families and friends gather to watch the game with “Hockey Night In Canada”. The tradition of “Hockey Night In Canada” actually goes back even further, to 1931 when Saturday night radio broadcasts of the game first began.

“Hockey Night In Canada” consistently remains one of the highest rated programs on Canadian television (and is also the worlds oldest sports related television program).

Hockey Reaches Out
On Saturday May 24th 2008 viewers of the National Hockey League (NHL), Stanley Cup finals had the option of watching the nights hockey game in both of Canada’s official languages of English and French – and for the first time ever, in Punjabi!

Joel Darling, director of production, Canada Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Sports, “This is a great opportunity to introduce new audiences to the excitement of the Stanley Cup.” The response was so great, that from this pilot project is has now become a regular feature of the hockey broadcast.

Commentary on the games is done in Punjabi from Calgary by Paraminder Singh, a local Punjabi television host, and Harnarayan Singh, a CBC Reporter. “The community response has been fantastic!” said Parminder Singh. Previously, grandparents and parents were often hesitant about joining their children for the Saturday night game. “A lot of the community was watching the game (ice hockey) but on mute since they didn’t understand what the commentators were saying.”

The Punjabi broadcast is making the game accessible to new audiences and increasing the reach of the CBC’s most valuable franchise. It is also building the fan base and potential ticket revues of the home team, The Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to the business benefits, Punjabi Night In Canada is providing a way for new immigrants to culturally connect with the mainstream. Hockey fan, Raj Singh emigrated from Delhi three years ago and now works at a small IT manufacturing plant in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. For Singh, “Watching and understanding the Saturday night hockey game gives me something in common to talk to my colleagues about on Monday mornings – it makes me feel more at home and a part of the group.”

The last official census found that Punjabi is the fourth most spoken language in Canada after English, French and Chinese.

The success of the Punjabi broadcast has led to CBC deciding to expand out its audience reach even further and so “Hockey Nigh In Canada” is now also being televised in Mandarin.

Jason Wang, who provides the hockey commentary in Mandarin, remembers how, newly arrived from Taipai at the age of 9, he used to watch “Hockey Night In Canada” to improve his English. Now he will be the one helping new Chinese-Canadians improve their knowledge of hockey and become better acquainted with a national pastime. “Its all come full circle,” says the 24 year Vancouver journalist.

[November 1, 2009]

After the success of Punjabi Hockey Night in Canada announcers Parminder Singh and Harnarayan Singh will now be calling National Basketball Assocation (NBA) games for the Toronto Raptors – in Punjabi.  As they did with hockey, the two plan to weave in Punjabi phrases and terms to make it colourful and entertaining for all age groups.  This strategy has resulted in Punjabi Hockey Night In Canada now entering its second season with a regular audience of about 10,000.

Update #2
[October 20, 2011]

CBC Television has cancelled Punjabi Hockey Night in Canada after failing to find a sponsor to cover the show’s production costs.

Update #3
[December 7, 2011]

Punjabi Hockey Night in Canada returns to the air after a campaign by the Punjabi community across Canada and a new sponsor is found. This is the second reprieve the telecast has received.

Making it Work for You:

  • The cultural reach of popular television can help connect new immigrants and an often excluded older generation to the the mainstream of their new community
  • Sports and related popular pastimes can bridge generation gaps by creating common ground and helping an older generation connect to its second generation
  • Use the second generation to help bridge communication and cultural gaps in your community. Is there a way that you or your organization can leverage this group to help promote more successful integration?
  • Be creative about how to build new audiences for your products and services. Think about how you can eliminate language and cultural barriers to increase participation rates and approval ratings for your services.

For this Good Idea contact:

Joel Darling
CBC Sports
250 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada,
416 318 32223
M5V 3G5