May 11, 2007
The player we loved, and now love to hate
Augustana prof probes fan reaction to the Chris Pronger affair
by Ileiren Byles
Chris Pronger - for many Edmonton Oilers fans the name still provokes feelings of anger, bitterness and betrayal.
When the Oilers' defenceman requested a trade last summer following the team's inspirational 2006 Stanley Cup playoff run, the towering hockey star went from civic hero to Public Enemy No. 1 overnight.
Dr. Bill Foster, a professor of economics and business management at the University of Alberta's Augustana campus in Camrose, says Edmontonians' response to Pronger's actions struck him as a worthy topic for academic investigation because it was so unusual.
"What really prompted me to do this research was that I was very interested in what I was hearing fans say about the trade - about the effect it was having on the Oilers and the effect they perceived it to have on the city," said Foster. "I had never really seen that reaction to a player's decision before."
Foster, whose area of specialization is the strategic management of professional sports organizations, decided to investigate. He began monitoring web boards at the Hockey's Future website to examine and analyze the Pronger backlash.
"From what was written on Web boards and said on radio shows, Pronger's inability to explain himself was seen as a huge slight against the city," Foster said.
As was well documented in the media last summer, Pronger and his agent were less than forthcoming about the motives behind the trade request, citing only "personal family reasons."
At one point, frustrated with relentless questioning by reporters about why he'd requested a trade, Pronger blurted: "I've been asked that question a million times and I've answered that question a million times and my answer's not going to change - it's personal family reasons."
As with any good mystery, the rumours and speculation began to swirl. Foster doesn't claim to have special insight into Pronger's decision, but does know more than most people do about why Oilers fans reacted as passionately as they did.
The trade was seen by many as a slap in the face not just for fans, but for the city of Edmonton itself. Foster believes that followers of the copper and blue felt jilted and disrespected. In their eyes, the way the story played out in the media outside of Alberta suggested that this hockey town, which had embraced Pronger so enthusiastically, was boring, provincial and unworthy of big-name players and their families.
Foster recently presented his initial findings at Canada and the League of Hockey Nations, an international academic conference held in Victoria, B.C. His paper, titled A One-Pronged Attack, was part of a conference session devoted to the topic of the Chris Pronger trade.
Today, less than a year after Promger was traded from Edmonton to Anaheim, the talented and much-maligned defenceman is in the playoffs again. Hockey pundits believe Anaheim is a strong contender for Lord Stanley's cup and, Foster says, "Pronger plays a strong role in the team's success."