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Another NHL Team Misses a Chance to Embrace the Future

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Wow, I go a couple of days without clicking over to read the Battle of Alberta blog and find myself behind the curve on the latest development in the NHL's relationship with bloggers. Blueland Chronicle has a post about this with links to key parts of the story. The very short version of this is that one of the authors of the blog Covered in Oil had a press pass from another media organization and was also using his time in the press box to do a live blog. The Oilers discovered this and summarily revoked his press access because they "don't credential bloggers". In fact, the Oilers do credential bloggers--but only those who blog for print or broadcast outlets. I'm not sure that I have anything new to say about the Edmonton situation that hasn't already been spoken more eloquently by others such as PuckDadddy.

Eric McErlain lays out the case for NHL teams taking a more progressive approach to independent digital media. Atlanta's situation is rather similar to the Capitals. In Washington DC, the NHL team must compete with more established (and more popular sports) for attention in the print, radio and television press. The Capitals realized they were unlikely to suddenly win that battle and they expanded the Capitals-related content for by encouraging and facilitating blogs about their team.

Here in Atlanta we have what may be the largest press box in the NHL. You can look up there on any given night and the upper press box looks like a ghost town. That sure looks like a wasted resource to me. Why not fence off one side of that and create a Blogger Row? Here is a team that gets precious little coverage and fans have little to read in the mainstream press. Often the mainstream press is very negative (which is fair when factual, but that has not always been the case in my opinion). Why not encourage more fan blogs and websites by setting up something to facilitate them?

One argument I hear against this is that people will only blog to avoid buying tickets. Well here's a news flash--I know multiple people who sit in press row on a regular basis who produce ZERO THRASHER CONTENT and simply use their press passes to attend games. Basically if you work for a media outlet at some point in your past you can get a press pass and do NOTHING and still watch NHL hockey for free. I understand why individuals would take advantage of the Thrashers organization, but I don't understand why the Thrashers organization allows itself to be taken advantage of.

On the other hand, bloggers who do create Thrasher content are turned away because we don't work for professional news organizations. Look, if you're worried about a Blogger Row becoming a cheap ticket alternative, then establish some ground rules to weed out the slackers--you have to publish regularly or loose your spot--"publish or perish"--seems like I've heard that one before.

The other objection that is frequently tossed out is that bloggers are unprofessional. Fine, establish ground rules and have Blogger Boot Camp during Training Camp in which any blogger must learn and consent to basic journalistic rules before receiving a credential. At the risk of offending my journalist friends--we are not talking about learning how to split the atom here. Eric McErlain has already created a Code of Conduct statement which the Thrashers could modify to their satisfaction.

The day is fast approaching when there will be no more print newspapers in Atlanta or other US cities. The future is digital. Newspaper circulating is crashing. Advertising is going digital. The readership of newspapers is overwhelming older people (who have money) and the future belongs to young people (who don't read newspapers).

The next generation of Thrasher fans will learn about their team via blogs, message boards and websites. They will not be reading a newspaper but free digital content on their Iphone or Blackberry devices. The NHL and the Thrashers need to go to where their fans are already headed--the digital media age which is dominated not by large media conglomerates but independent authors writing about things they are passionate about. Look at the areas of music and politics--both fields have embraced digital media such as bloggers precisely because opinion and passion are integral parts of their business. The NHL is also a business where opinion and passion matter a great deal.

The Thrashers should embrace the digital media age now. If they act now they could establish ground rules and shape the culture of local bloggers and instill good journalistic practices. The longer they wait the less influence they will have over developments.

To their credit the team has hosted two events for bloggers in the last two years. That's a good first step, but it is nothing more than a first step. If there is no second or third step then it is largely an empty gesture. If the team is nervous about this new digital media then take make gradual adjustments. What is the next step? Have one game a month with a designated Blogger Row access. If that works well then the following season expand it to more games or perhaps the entire season. I think the team might be pleasantly surprised at some of the positives that could result from such a policy step. Don't be another Edmonton, embrace your future.