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How Hockey Night in Punjabi Connected with an English Audience

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The goal was a regular playoff winner except the announcer was excited. BoninoBoninoBoninoBonino he cried. It was a rare display of emotion from a broadcast team that made everyone pay attention. It was what hockey has been missing for years when it comes to presenting the product: emotion and joy.

Hockey Night in Punjabi has long been available, but somewhere along the line the broadcast has become a favourite for many who do not speak Punjabi. The broadcasters have emotion when they call the game. They allow for excitement to creep into their voices. Their emotions dictated the way they called the game. Whether it was the now famous BoninoBoninoBoninoBonino or poking fun at English broadcasters still calling Sidney Crosby “Sid the Kid” by calling a goal by him with “Sid the Former Kid”, there is some child-like excitement in the broadcast that is missed elsewhere.

Hockey is a game and like any game it should be all about having fun. Broadcasts get in the way of this by offering up opinions that are not relevant to the game or that are so poorly researched there is no reason behind them. Mike Johnson might make many keen observations and be able to explain why zone entries are so important, but the majority of broadcasters do not add much to the conversation and that is a problem. To compensate for their shortcomings, emotion is needed by the play-by-play men. The type of emotion that can parlay the excitement of the game is lost by many. There is a reason why Bob Cole is an icon and beloved by many even as he struggles to get names correct; when the game is in complete chaos he simply says “everything is happening” after struggling to explain the chaos because everything is happening. It allows for the viewer to enjoy the moment. This is a lost art.

This brings up back to the wonderful Hockey Night in Punjabi crew. They are wonderful not because they reach a newer audience in Canada or because they allow for a group of Canadians to interact with hockey in a way that is both new and comforting all at once. No, they are wonderful because they can connect to an audience in a refreshing way. People who do not speak Punjabi are drawn to their broadcast because their voices tell us when to look up because something exciting is happening.

While fans might have started to watch Hockey Night in Punjabi to escape Glenn Healy. It is so much more than that though. There is the idea that there are people who genuinely love doing their job because they love it. They are good at it too. There is another layer though: the fact that they have to fly to Toronto to broadcast it every week and yet they choose to live across Canada where their families are.

Hockey Night in Punjabi is a way to help new Canadians connect to their country and learn a new sport. Hockey Night in Punjabi has morphed into something more than that though, it has morphed into a broadcast that has captured an unexpected audience by being genuine.

This is something that Rogers should look at as viewership goes down. If people prefer to watch a broadcast where they understand very little, they should question what they are doing wrong with their flagship broadcast. The answer is simple, but the solution is quite complicated in some ways. Because this is a piece celebrating a niche broadcast that is fun, I will leave it at that.