A photo of the 2011 Vancouver riot. A photo of the 2011 Vancouver riot after Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Elopde on Wikipedia.)

Back in the summer of 2021, the existence of some level of ESPN project on the 2011 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver was revealed. At that point, all that was known was that a local art installation on the messages painted after the riot was accepting new messages around the 10th anniversary, and that local filmmakers Kat Jayme and Asia Youngman were involved “in collaboration with ESPN.” But it wasn’t clear if that was for a featured segment on an ESPN show, or an E:60 special, or a full 30 for 30 feature documentary. Well, almost two years later, it’s been revealed to be a 30 for 30 called I’m Just Here For The Riot, with ESPN Films (which executive produced the project) announcing the completion of production (but no air date yet) Friday. Here’s more on that from a release:

ESPN Films today announced that production has completed on “I’m Just Here for the Riot,” a 30 for 30 documentary about the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot. On June 15, 2011, the Canucks’ Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Boston Bruins sparked a massive riot in downtown Vancouver. Police cars were overturned and burned, windows were shattered, stores were looted, and waves of young people were caught up in the mayhem. From directors Asia Youngman (“This Ink Runs Deep,” “N’xaxaitkw”) and Kathleen Jayme (“The Grizzlie Truth,” “Finding Big Country”), “I’m Just Here For The Riot” chronicles the aftermath of the event captured on hundreds of cell phone cameras, with the rioters outed, shamed, and their lives altered forever. From the mob mentality in the streets to similar vengeance in the online hunting of those responsible, it was a dark moment in the city’s history – one that raised deeper questions about fandom, violence, and the shocking power of an angry crowd.

“Taking a subject like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the ensuing riot – and using that event to tell an even bigger story about society – is what makes 30 for 30 so special,” said Marsha Cooke, Vice President & Executive Producer, ESPN Films and 30 for 30. “The filmmakers had a clear POV: they wanted to explain not just what happened, but WHY. Why do we get so caught up in the emotions of winning and losing? Why do normal people sometimes run amok and do things they regret? And in a world dominated by cell phones and social media, why do we feel compelled to capture everything, no matter how destructive it might be? It is a story about regret and shame, but profoundly, it’s also about how you rebuild, forgive, and try to find something meaningful in the aftermath.”

That riot (seen above) was certainly a memorable experience for many. And there were a lot of different ways people experienced it; that game (a 4-0 Bruins’ win) was in Vancouver, so some saw it live in the arena, but there were also large outdoor street events in the downtown with viewing screens, with some of the riot events starting around those (and that connection sparking a lot of further debate in Vancouver and elsewhere about city-permitted sports viewing parties).

Beyond that, there were many people downtown at bars, restaurants, or their own residences, some of who weren’t even interested in the game and still got caught up in the aftermath of violence and the police response. And then there were those further away in the Vancouver area following it on TV, and then many across the continent tracking it on then-still-nascent Twitter. Back in 2021, around that 10-year anniversary and the revelation of this project’s existence, Youngman spoke to Rob Williams of The Daily Hive on her own 2011 experience:

“I think everyone in Vancouver can remember exactly where they were when the riots happened. It’s always just such an interesting conversation that comes up,” Youngman told Daily Hive.

While Jayme was watching the infamous game at home with some friends, Youngman watched on a big screen in the street outside the CBC building.

“I just remember so vividly, just that energy that was in the air. It was a really scary moment. I chose to leave pretty quickly. I went down to Dunsmuir and my dad and my brother picked me up and we fled before they shut down the downtown area,” she added.

It’s interesting to see a 30 for 30 on this for a couple of reasons. For one, while the very first film in the series to be released (way back in 2009) was the Peter Berg-directed Kings Ransom (on the 1988 Wayne Gretzky trade), there hasn’t been a ton of 30 for 30 hockey content. While there have been 121 released full-length 30 for 30 projects to date (that doesn’t count separate-but-related series OJ: Made In America or The Last Dance), the only other one completely on hockey is 2014’s Jonathan Hock-directed Of Miracles and Men (on the Miracle on Ice, from the Soviet perspective).

Of course, there have been some mentions of hockey elsewhere. June 17, 1994 includes the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup win (also against the Canucks in a Game 7) as part of its sports-crossing story, and there have been hockey-centric 30 for 30 Shorts (Cutthroat and Our Tough Guy), and a Mighty Ducks-focused The Legend Of The Flying V special promoting the Disney+ The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers series. And ESPN did air outside documentary Willie (on trailblazing Bruins’ player Willie O’Ree), and they did their own E:60 Unrivaled on the Detroit Red Wings-Colorado Avalanche 1990s rivalry. But it’s rare to see a full 30 for 30 hockey documentary; the hockey documentaries have usually been elsewhere, including NHL Network and Netflix. (And yes, ESPN signed a deal for NHL rights in March 2021, before this project came to light, but they don’t do documentaries on everything they have rights to, and hockey certainly hasn’t permeated the entire network or anything.)

It’s also notable that this is a 30 for 30 with a large focus on off-field events, and specifically on a riot around a sports event. There have been many 30 for 30 projects with a strong off-field focus, from Without Bias to The Two Escobars to The Price of Gold to OJ: Made In America to The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius (and many more). But the main ones so far to focus on crowd violence that specifically happened around a sports event are two soccer stories, Hillsborough and Ceasefire Massacre. So it’s interesting to see that explored further. And we’ll see how this project from Jayme (well-known to Vancouver/Canadian sports audiences already for Finding Big Country and The Grizzlie Truth, the latter of which just premiered on Canada’s TSN earlier this month) and Youngman turns out.

[ESPN Press Room; riot photo from Elopde on Wikipedia]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.