This news, delivered last night by AOL Fanhouse, incensed me. In the epitome of Neanderthal progressivism, the NHL, beginning this season, is going to implement a ban on access by bloggers to visiting locker rooms at all arenas. Because you know, the collective work of hockey bloggers the past five-plus years has been, on the whole, so counterproductive, so destructive for the league, generated so precious little additional interest in the sport.
To be clear: personally, I don’t have a real big dog in this fight — my coverage of hockey here requires precious little access to visiting teams and their environs while visiting. Although I will say, one of the more enjoyable moments of 2009-10 for me was spending a quality 10 minutes with Ottawa Senators’ general manager and former Capitals’ bench boss Bryan Murray after a Caps-Sens game here. Murray gave Ed Frankovic and me a tour de force of a stroll down Memory Lane of his days in D.C. then. Interestingly, there was no traditional media interest in so engaging Murray that night. Murray’s a historic figure in Washington hockey. Of course Ed and I would want to talk to him.
Was our community of puckheads — our sport even more broadly — better or worse served in that instance for the initiative that Ed and I executed?
Beginning this hockey season, Ed and I can conduct no such interviews. But Glen Sather will be happy.
One or two teams are uncomfortable with new/emerging media, clearly; therefore, all others must wallow in the discomfort, individual market success with a broadened branding — generated in part from digital upstarts — be damned.
In the debate over media access as envisioned by Ted Leonsis versus that of Glen Sather, the league has sided with Slats. Really, you just have to chuckle at the idiocy.
You might argue: what has worked in Washington isn’t necessarily appropriate in all other markets. Indeed. Member teams need flexibility in branding strategies. And some are going to be on the move soon because that branding ain’t working so well. The NHL’s new new media policy strikes a blow at such flexibility. It’s a one size fits all blanket policy on access. Moreover, in its spirit, it’s malignant.
That’s the real travesty with this decision: What’s so harmful — pernicious, really — with this decision is that it casts a suspicious eye on a benign entity.
The overwhelming majority of new media product is constructed in quality, by volunteers, and now the thankless NHL wants to give the creators a good smack in the face for their efforts.
Serious hockey fans — of which there are now many in Washington, thanks to the broadened coverage — do not segregate among media as the NHL now will. Such fans consume traditional and new media and arrive at the rink better informed, more passionate. What’s the harm in that?
The NHL has never been regarded as visionary in its marketing missions. This new policy is in keeping with that heritage.
But also you ought to ask of the league this, in its 20th century allegiance to 20th century media: Just what has it achieved by putting out in this wandering-eye alliance all these years? For all of its partnership and assistance with Big Media the past quarter century plus, the NHL brand today sits perched behind televised poker in popularity. The greatest hockey player in the world is forging his career in the American capital, and he’s an afterthought of an athlete by the biggest paper and television outlets here. Hockey was a C9 story in the New York Times 25 years ago, and it’s C9 still. But Warner Wolf will still be there two nights a year to bring it to you, New York hockey fans.
This “Scarlet Letter” approach by the league toward new media is, ironically, somewhat pointless: You may deny a blogger access to a specific arena room, but National and American League players in no small numbers today are engaged in social media, engaged there with fans and with new media personalities. Fresh new stories and angles are unfolding in this sphere. It is vibrant and it is healthy and there isn’t a damned thing the league can do about it.
When word of this policy broke last night a Big Media reporter credentialed by the Caps for the upcoming season emailed me this: “it’d be an honor to get quotes from the visitors for you guys.” I may or may not attend the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. This buddy of mine in Big Media, however, will, and he’s pledged to feed me insider stuff during the entire weekend via his hand-held whether I’m there or not. So the NHL in its new policy, if you can imagine it, is just a wee bit behind the technology of the times.
OFB is by no means a significant player in interacting with athletes and officials in this sport. We enjoy the best access any professional sports team has ever accorded new media, and that access has been replicated by the Capitals’ American League affiliate in Hershey, and over the past four years we’ve made friends within both organizations and markets, ones who’ve played key roles in upgrading the quality of our content. Other new media outlets of far greater influence have enjoyed markedly broader access to key insiders. Identify for me the downside in this development for the sport? Where’s the smoking gun?
Last I checked, no hockey blog of note was apologizing for reporting the premature death of a prominent hockey figure.
Then there’s this: up and coming players — the future faces and ambassadors of hockey in the sports world — have very much grown up with new media, and most enjoy the engagement. During Capitals’ Development Camp this past July I kept reminding Joe Finley that when evening fatigue overwhelmed him he was under zero obligation to file a camp diary for me. But he never failed to file. He had a blast sharing his perspective with OFB readers. The number of players like Big Joe will only increase in the years ahead, which means the NHL, absent a revision of this terribly misguided policy, loses message control. Actually, it lost that long ago. What if the Capitals had had to seek league approval for adopting the blogger access they’ve pioneered?
And there is a sour context for this news in Washington early in the new hockey season. One Big Media outlet is not, shall we say, playing so nice with their junior coverage partners. Again.
That’s a shame, because everywhere else you look on the hockey beat in D.C. there is conspicuous collegiality and respect among media new and old. That collegiality indisputably benefits coverage of the team. This could be a powerful force for good if it were replicated across the league. It’s Leonsis, an indefatigable proponent of new media coverage, who has succeeded in filling nearly 20,000 seats nightly — and created a waiting list for them — in this unlikeliest of hockey markets. Conversely, it’s the NHL that wants to take the league’s story back to the evening newspaper era.