NHL to New Media: Go Fly a Kite

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.

This entry was posted in Edmonton Oilers, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, New York Rangers, Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals, Washington Post. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to NHL to New Media: Go Fly a Kite

  1. bhrome says:

    This news is just…tiring. It’s a shame the league continues to be so backward to the point of kowtowing to the most reluctant and dinosaur-y of owners in the dawning of New Media. I’m fortunate to be able to mix with my fellow bloggers in the booth last year and look forward to it again. While the visitor doors may now be closed (a damned shame, really), I’m still highly appreciative of how accommodating the Caps are to us in general.

    And I’ll be at the Winter Classic for sure – without NHL access, but it’s not going to stop me from blogging about the experience on WLDC by any means. The NHL needs to grow up or it’s never really going to be more than a 5th-rated sport (if that, even) in the US.

    I could go on more of a rant, but I’ll defer to John’s better spoken words above. See ya rinkside, OFB!

  2. David McGraw says:

    While I agree with your commentary, I don’t agree with your stance bloggers are the same as journalist. Your blog provides traditional journalistic qualities, but many others do not. I’m a blogger. I tweet about this team. I attend practices. I’m a season ticket holder. I know this team as well as most. Does that qualify me for a press pass? I think not! The line must be drawn somewhere to avoid a free-for-all.

    OFB falls into the gray area of this definition and IMO represents the future of journalism. My suggestion is to stop calling yourself a blogger and accept the title of freelance journalist. Acquire the traditional press passes. I’m not up of all the required guidelines, but if it is something you really desire, then you can find a way to get it.

    Good luck!

  3. WashCapsRock says:

    The NHL just doesn’t get it! As a hockey fan, I read news and stories from all media types but I always start with the blogs such as OFB. They generally have broader coverage and link to other blogs. And frankly have a better sense of humor! 🙂

    OFB – I’ll be at WC (as well as the 3 HER games before and after WC). If there is anything I can do to help you out just let me know!

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Heather says:

    It really seems to me that with this position, the NHL is continuing to screw itself out of fans. I NEVER say to myself, “Hey! I wondered what happened at Caps practice today. I’ll go check WaPo!” Heck no. Why? Because the coverage isn’t the same. It’s not the nitty-gritty details and information that I want to hear. In my opinion, it’s the boring sing-song questions after every game and before the season starts. The bloggers have a recipe that works – get the goods and present them in an easy to read format that readers enjoy.

  5. David, you clearly don’t understand the issue. No one is saying that someone that doesn’t want the credentials such as yourself or someone that is not worthy of them should receive them.

    OFB just wants to be judged on their merits and not lumped in with, as you noted, a vast and varied group of writers.

  6. Over_head (Rob) says:

    Anyone have a link to that might explain to me how one goes about getting a credential? Is there a “standard” teams usually follow or is it up to the individual teams to decide?

    If the NHL allows each individual team to set their own policy than it would only make sense they allow that team to use that same policy when visiting other teams. That is not to say I believe it is wise for a team to deny blogger access, only that I think it is reasonable that a team be able to make that decision for themselves.

  7. Caps Fan says:

    I would argue that the Caps actually being a good team has a bigger role in filling seats than the bloggers.

  8. Geo says:

    Re the AOL piece:
    >>>Starting this season, “bloggers” will only have access to the home locker room unless they make prior arrangements with the visiting team (and considering some of the positions taken by teams like Edmonton and the New York Rangers, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an easy proposition in some cases).

    By “they,” do they mean the bloggers have to make such arrangements, or could the Caps media relations guys check with other teams beforehand? Is there any impression about what other teams (beyond Rangers, Oilers) likely wouldn’t give permission for bloggers to be in the locker room?

  9. muddapucker says:

    I have two comments:

    The first is that prior to the advent of blogging, traditional sports journalism, for the most part, had gotten lazy. It was all about what was said in the post game interviews. The same read in every paper because it was based upon the same “made available” interview. If you watched the the interview you didn’t gain much by reading the paper.

    Blogging changed that… All of sudden there were bloggers talking about all kinds of statistics, cap space, interviews outside beside of the postgame interviews, real research being done and bloggers being called to task by readers when they disagreed with their numbers or conclusions.

    It really opened things up. It added an energy that was previously absent.

    My second point is that if it were such an unsuccessful medium, why are the traditional news media sources employing the format in their newspapers? Newspaper writers are engaging the public as never before and vice versa. It just doesn’t add up.

  10. David McGraw says:

    @Pension Plan Puppets

    I don’t want to debate whether or not you think I understand the issue or not. You don’t know my experience and I don’t know yours.

    This discussion is a larger discussion that will not be solved on these message boards. If it was a matter of OFB being accepted for their own merits, then there would be no discussion. But its not. Even journalists face a credibility issue.

    The media industry is in a state of flux. Old ways are counter to new ways. New ways have not been wholeheartedly accepted.

    The media industry is a struggling to figure out the best way to shift to new ways of doing things. Some have been forced into new thinking because of expense concerns. Some are still kicking, screaming, and clinging to old business models.

    The only way I know to remove impediments to access is to get credentialed.

  11. Gretz says:

    Re: Geo

    The blogger himself/herself will have to make the prior arrangements with the visiting team.

  12. Pingback: Hockey should beg bloggers to go to visitors’ locker rooms « The Buttry Diary

  13. warren says:

    This issue is the “gays in the military” of sports media: the bloggers are here to stay. Put up whatever walls or rules you might want, in the end what’s right prevails.

  14. RinkJerseys says:

    Short-sighted by the NHL. Some of the biggest voices in the sport are bloggers. Puck Daddy is a prime example. Bloggers and message boards are now my prime source for hockey news. Hopefully they will reverse their stance in short order.

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