May 9, 2024

Elks’ Punjabi broadcasts aim to grow CFL fandom

Photo supplied by MyRadio 580, Edmonton

As Gursharan Buttar watched things come together last year with the Edmonton Elks and radio station MyRadio 580 for its Punjabi broadcast of a game, he saw a world of possibilities.

Buttar, the general manager and a journalist at the Edmonton-based station, (the man in the blue shirt in the picture above) saw the game reach established Punjabi-speaking Elks fans and a new audience alike. For those new fans, there was an easy connecting point with football.

“We have a very popular game in India called kabaddi. There are so many similarities between two games,” Buttar said.

“People are charging, other people are stopping. This is the most popular sport in Punjabi culture and there are so many similarities. The physique (of the athletes) is even similar.”

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It makes for an easy bridge for a potential audience that’s steadily growing in Canada. In 2021 the CBC listed Punjabi as the second-most spoken non-official (English and French) language in Canada. That same article cited Alberta as one of two provinces where Punjabi was the most-spoken non-official language at home.

Based on the success of last year’s single broadcast in Punjabi on MyRadio 580, the Elks and the station recently announced a multi-year deal that will see all of their home games broadcast in Punjabi.

“People feel home (seeing football),” Buttar said, noting the similarities to kabaddi. “They thought, ‘We know this, this should be our game, we should be participating in this.’ And this is how we came across, there was a huge demand and we approached the Edmonton Elks and we told them the story. The interest grew from both sides and then we ended up signing this contract.”

The broadcast was a chance for the Elks to build on last year’s initial contact with MyRadio 580 and to bring their game day experience to more people.

“I would say that the thing that really started initially for us was a conversation around wanting to use the broadcast as a tool to reach new audiences,” said Evan Daum, the Elks’ vice president of marketing and fan engagement.

The team had success with its Cree broadcast in 2022, which opened the door for MyRadio 580 to reach out last year.

“From our standpoint, I thought the energy and the passion and the joy of the game really came through when they did that one game,” Daum said of the initial Punjabi broadcast. “I think that’s really what you want to try and share with new fans to football is the emotion, the passion, the energy, that is a football game. So that broadcast in my opinion, really brought that through and allowed us to be here today talking about more.”

The radio, Buttar suggests, is a fantastic way to reach Punjabi-speaking football fans. He notes that with so many new Canadians arriving, many are working class.

“Either they drive trucks or they drive Uber or they drive taxis, or even if they’re working somewhere, even in construction work the radio is always going with them,” he said.

“The listenership of radio, people like entertainment and when they heard that Punjabi commentary the first time, they were amazed. They want to be involved in this game.

“I’ve already had so many calls, ‘Is there anywhere we can learn this? Are there practice games going on?’ I have no doubt in my mind in the next year or so we can develop practices in Southeast Edmonton where people are practising this game in the near future for the South Asian community.”

“Language is a big part of culture. It allows you to open doors. When things are accessible and familiar, it allows for new people to be brought in.”

— Evan Daum, Elks’ VP of marketing and fan engagement

Whether it’s new Canadians, or one of the many homes that have Punjabi as their first language, having an Elks game broadcast in the language that people are most comfortable with can help to grow the team’s fan base.

“Language is a big part of culture. It allows you to open doors,” Daum said. “When things are accessible and familiar, it allows for new people to be brought in. So using language and using these broadcasts as a way to speak to the Punjabi community, both literally and figuratively, is really important to us. We just want to make sure that Punjabi speakers and new Canadians in general understand that football is for everyone. And that Commonwealth Stadium is a welcoming place.”

The finer details on the broadcast, including the people that will make up the team, will be announced soon, Buttar said. The Elks host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their season opener on Saturday, June 8. Hearing the game called in Punjabi and seeing the Elks kickoff their 75th season will provide a special moment for him and the team at the radio station, which has worked hard to bring this to life.

“I’m excited for community, as well as my team who did this work, they’re excited,” he said.

“Our community is supporting. We already have sponsors coming in, coming along with us and we love that idea. They love that idea. We’re already planning with the touchdown, who will be the sponsor for the touchdown, what kind of music we’re going to play once the touchdown is scored.

“Those things are so exciting, the way that we’re working and the way that it’s coming along. I’m glad that we have signed this contract.”

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