Every Monday morning The Ice Sheet will take a close look at everything that's happened in the NHL since Friday night at 5:00 p.m. To read them all, click here.
Over the past two weeks, the hockey blogosphere has been ablaze with talk about how the Edmonton Oilers booted blogger Dave Berry from the press box at Rexall Place when his observations about the team veered into territory that was decidedly off-color. For me, it was impossible not to watch the story in a combination of anger, sorrow and bemusement. The reason: Like it or not, my blog, Off Wing Opinion, first broached the issue of bloggers finding a place in the press box when I asked the Washington Capitals -- specifically majority owner Ted Leonsis -- for a single game press pass during the 2005-06 season after I had watched a game as a guest in his box.
What's happened since then is pretty well known here in Washington and elsewhere in the hockey blogosphere. After getting that single game credential, I suggested to Leonsis that he afford that same privilege to other local bloggers who covered the Caps. He agreed, but asked me to put together a "blogger's bill of rights," to help smooth the process. As a result, I created a set of guidelines to help bloggers and sports PR professionals to help understand one another better.
Since then, the Caps have credentialed 25 bloggers to cover the team, and Off Wing has been along for the ride the whole way. I've had a season credential since the start of the 2006-07 season, one that's been renewed each season since. In the interim, with the help of Ellen Blanchard and Allen Clark, I started Off Wing Photo, a blog dedicated to shooting sporting events in Washington, D.C.
Besides having a seat on the glass for every Caps home game, our photography staff -- which now counts five photographers in two cities (Washington, DC and Seattle, Washington) -- has also shot DC United matches, MLS Cup 2007, and the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. To see our latest pics, click here. And I shouldn't forget to mention that I also have an intern, Joe Dumas, a student at Catholic University here in Washington. He's been in the box to cover games too, something few prospective 20-year-old hockey writers can boast these days.
Better yet, we've managed to do all this with nary a complaint. In all my time working in the box, I've yet to have even one heated heated exchange with a member of the PR staff. They know me and I know them. They know their jobs, and I know what's expected of me when I show up for a game -- which is a big part of the reason why I can't understand why in the world the folks in Edmonton decided that they had to strong arm Dave Berry into not only stopping his live blog, but throwing him out of the box and threatening to banish him for all eternity.
Folks, that's just not how professionals act. In all my time in the box, there was just one moment I was asked to remove something. One evening last season before a preseason game, I absentmindedly shot some digital footage of the Caps during pregame warm-ups, a short clip I posted to my Daily Motion page. The next time I showed up in the box, Kurt Kehl, the team's VP of Communications told me that footage wasn't covered under my credentials, and I removed the clip.
There were no threats, there was no yelling and no strong arm tactics were involved. It was just two professionals dealing with one another calmly, but directly. Call me crazy, but it works. We've even managed to do some mighty interesting stuff along the way:
Best of all, while my badge might say Off Wing Opinion, nobody gets their knickers in a bunch if I do any work for any of the other outlets I'm affiliated with. During one recent home game I live-blogged for AOL, filed a story about Alexander Semin for The Sporting Blog while one of our photographers was down at ice level shooting the game. Somehow, the earth kept spinning on its axis and nobody got hurt.
As this story has unfolded, I'll admit to being a tad reluctant to weigh in. After all, I've been at this blogging thing for better than seven years now, and it was hard not to look at the latest argument and see a battle that I thought had already been fought and won. Then again, it always seems like someone hasn't gotten the memo, so I'll write it out again: The old media landscape established over the past several decades is being remade. If you're a PR person, especially a PR person in professional sports, the universe of voices you need to pay attention to has exploded.
This is a development you should welcome. Indeed, it is a world that is often confusing. After all, after knowing for a couple of decades that you only needed to pay attention to one or two dailies, a couple of radio stations and local television, you're now faced with dealing with a multitude of voices. Yes, it means more work. But more work also means more opportunity -- more opportunity for your players to talk to fans (in many cases your most passionate fans) and that means more opportunities to sell tickets, memorabilia, merchandise and pay-per-view packages.
In the end, it's time to get busy listening to, but also talking with the sort of folks who promote your product without any expectation of realizing a financial return. And to quote one great American comedian, if you're not careful, you might learn something before its done.
The Ice Sheet: Reflections from a Hockey Blogger (With Access) originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on 2008-10-27T10:10:00+00:00. Please see our terms for use of feeds.