Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Maple Leafs: Are the Fans to Blame?

There’s an interesting cross-post up between Pension Plan Puppets and Down Goes Brown regarding an abominable article by Howard Berger (I’m not sending any traffic to the Bergermeister Meister Berger's blog so you’ll have to locate the article yourself. Hint: it’s really not worth giving him the page views).

Here’s the money quote from Working Class Howard:

“Leaf fanatics constantly bitch about the likes of Damien Cox and Steve Simmons, only to make them the most widely-read columnists in the city… The same Leaf zealots that call me a rotten bastard in e-mails are the first to wonder where my blog is if I skip a day.”

I don’t know what’s happened to Howard, if it was the Avery Cancer thing, his having to buy a ticket to a Cowboys game with his own money while the team he covers for a living – the horrible terrible no good loosing Leafs, millionaires all of ‘em, were treated to a luxury box or if the rise of user-created content, such as blogs and message boards, has resulted in an increased scrutiny that’s too much for the error-prone radio man to bear.

No matter the cause, someone has poisoned the water in poor Howard’s well.

It’s the Love of the Team, Stupid.

Howard's certainly right in that there is an insatiable demand for all things Leaf. And he’s also right in that it’s Leaf fans that make Cox and Simmons two of the most read columnists in Canada.

Where he’s wrong is in implying that the likes of Simmons, Cox and McCown are the most read/watched/listened to because of any special skills or abilities or even their penchant to stir the pot.

These guys are widely read because they file on the Leafs.

Full stop.

If it was Cox and not the content that pulled in readership, his Wimbledon columns would be among the most read at the Star. But when he files on tennis or the Argos you can hear the crickets chirping between his paragraphs.

If it was Berger and not the leafs that drove the numbers, Howard could blog about Montreal limousine companies day and night and still get 200 comments a post.

It's a tough question, but where would Berger be without the Leafs?

Turning the Sites on the Fans

This is where it gets a little tricky.

It was one thing when the mediots went after Ballard, Stavro or MLSE – targets that were (and are) clearly worthy of media scorn - from Ballard’s personal vendettas to Stavro’s cash crunch dismantling of the team to MLSE’s alleged meddling and hiring of JFJ (ugh).

But it’s another thing entirely to go after Leaf fans.

Let’s be clear about this.

The fans have nothing to do with how sports teams ultimately perform (Coyotes, Predators, Capitals, Black Hawks, Islanders and hell, even Jays fans, are staying away in droves. How’s that working out for them? How many Championships have they lined up in the past decade or two?)

The fans don’t make bad trades for questionable goaltending.

The fans don’t decide who gets top minutes on the PK.

The fans don’t sit at the draft table or have input into player development.

And the fans don’t have much of a say in how the media covers the team.

As far as I know, Leaf fans also don’t have editorial positions at any of the major media outlets in this country.

The fans don’t write the articles and columns praising the team when it goes on a middling win streak and the same fans don’t write the columns and articles claiming the sky is falling when the Leafs go on their annual losing streak each January/February.

The fans don’t program the radio stations around call-in shows.

The fans don’t file blog posts based on emails read after a weekend away in Niagara (nice job, Howie).

There’s a great quote from political circles: “Any party that takes credit for the rain, ought to be prepared to be blamed for the drought.”

When the Leafs finally win a cup (and odds are that they will – eventually, maybe not for 100 years, but eventually) will the media let Leaf fans take the credit after decades of blame?

I doubt it.

Re-shaping the Leafs Media Environment

Howie’s bizarre-o world rant brings to mind the whole issue of information dissemination in this age of blogs, discussion boards, media convergence and really good artisanal salami (sorry, my mind drifted there back to my brief holiday in Seattle).

Given the craptacular job done by most of the media contingent following the Leafs, you'd think that fans would be flocking to the official leafs site. They may be, but the blogs I read aren't, I'm not, and I've never had a water-cooler conversation where someone referenced the Leafs web-page (Cox, Simmons and Berger - yes; TorontoMapleLeafs.com - no).

So, in the spirit of Berger’s odd-post, my rather boring communications consulting day job and the fact that no one I know, including MLSE, is properly using the Leafs web-page, here are ten ways the Leafs could revamp LeafsTV, update their web-presence and easily provide more viable, unfiltered and interesting alternative information for their fans and reduce/supplant the role of the increasingly adversarial, cranky and ineffective media:

  1. Continue to post unedited news conferences in their entirety (yes, even the inane media questions) on the Leafs Web-site.
  2. Increase the amount of first-person reporting on Leafs-TV and cross-post it to mapleleafs.com. Why not a weekly (or better yet, every other day) news interview with one of Fletcher, Jackson, Nieuwendyk, Gilmour, scouts, new players, coaches, assistant coaches, capologists, trainers, equipment managers – you name it (Steve Paikan is a big Leafs fan and a great interviewer – let’s give him the part-time gig).
  3. Conduct more round-table discussions on Leaf topics with players, coaches, reporters, authors and hockey “experts” to be carried on Leafs TV and cross-posted to mapleleafs.com
  4. Revamp the “Leafs Insider” newsletter to provide balanced informed insightful content and strive to make it more timely (the Leafs dealt for Hollweg and announced their intention to add two more players yesterday, yet I’ve got nothing from my Leafs Insider email newsletter. Nada. Zilch.)
  5. Cancel the “Leafs Nation” magazine and put the resources into real-time electronic coverage of the team (was anyone out there aware of this magazine? Any of you ever read it?) News cycles are way too short for a long-lead magazine to be relevant or of interest to today’s fans (case in point: you can read about Paul Maurice and get tips from Kyle Wellwood in the latest issue - for those who are interested, Mr. Wellwood's advice is on how to take a pass, not the secrets of a successful all-you-can-eat buffet).
  6. Get rid of the cronies. Want better coverage on Leafs TV? Fire/ reduce the number of former Leaf players/ barbie-like hostesses and add more insightful/ neutral commentators.
  7. Hire better bloggers. This is what MLSE is offering fans? Really? That's an official TML blog? Cripes. Has no one at MLSE read Mirtle, MC79, Behind the Net, Fire Joe Morgan, Basketball Jones, Pensblog, etc.
  8. Take advantage of digital media and make it entertaining. These guys have got it figured out – why can’t MLSE do something like this at the prospect camp? Who wouldn't want to see Luke Schenn take on Kulemin at Jenga or Hungry Hungry Hippos?
  9. MLSE should be considering the power of Open Data Exchange - opening, hosting and reflecting (and very carefully filtering/refining) the flow of Leafs information that's out there. To wit: "“The winners won’t be those that control the most data — the winners will be those that channel the most data — and those that create the most value on top of the data flow.”
  10. Quietly seek extraordinary rendition for any writer, blogger, copy desk editor that uses a plan the parade joke.

13 comments:

  1. Right on.. Forget a MLSE boycott, how about a boycott of all of the goofball media types who enjoy provoking honest fans?

    Perhaps with some cross promotion on the various TML blogs and a well named Facebook group this thing could take off..

    Ah, screw it. Let's just let the air out of Cox's Buick!

    ~LeafFanInVan

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  2. Air out of the tires, that is. I'm drunk.

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  3. great post, MF37.

    I work on Paikin's show. I'll run it by him. Have you read his recent book on the NHL post lockout?

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  4. Anonymous12:40 am

    as a displaced torononian living in new jersey halfway between philly and newark i observe that a.nj media does not care about the devils and b. philly will deify the flyers as long as they revert to '70's style (read any of panacio's columns for the inquirer). that said i am dismayed by the dichotomy of the toronto press alternately blaming the management then the fans-
    it is the ultimate BIZARRO hockey world!

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  5. Thanks for the comments...

    Eyebelief - Way off-topic here, but I'm a huge fan of the Agenda.

    The panel this week on strong mayor/municipal government was great and the one a few months back on ugly buildings/development in Toronto with Rochon, Hume, Ute Lehrer and others was fan-f*n-tastic.

    Ever thought of trying to resurrect the old studio 2 sports panel for his new show?

    I haven't read his hockey book, but I'm pretty sure my wife worked on Paikin's first book (we went to the launch party...)

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  6. Nice job. You make some really good points. Thinking about the Blackhawks, the Habs, the Blue Jays, and then thinking about the Leafs again, it does make me wonder how ordinary fans can contribute to winning or losing. If we all hated Apu maybe the Simpsons' writers would get rid of him, but I don't think our opinion effects the success of the show from one season to the next. It's because we like the show that we have opinions about it.

    eyebleaf: My wife is a huge fan of Steve Paikin. She calls him "the hardest workin' man in showbiz", and calls his show "Paikin it with Steve". What's the title of his book, so I can get it for her?

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  7. MF37 delivers the shot heard round the world in the upcoming Barilkosphere vs. MSM showdown.

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  8. Interesting insight as far as the Leafs web site.

    I'm really shocked that they haven't done more from a community/social web perspective. They still have a very web 1.0 site. With such a diverse fanbase, they really are perfectly positioned to build something that goes beyond a few canned blogs and some forum software.

    The NFL has an interesting approach to its team web sites. Many (maybe all, not sure) are basically treated as separate media venues, with access and the ability to report and comment without a team filter. At one point, the Bengals web site was breaking news that the team front office didn't want public.

    By giving up some control, to your web team and to your user community, you gain enormous credibility. In a web world where everyone is connecting with everyone else, having the rights to a brand name and a nice TLD won't guarantee that you'll be the destination of choice.

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  9. Anonymous10:18 pm

    wow .. bang on. Nicely done!

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  10. MF37: I'm glad you enjoy the show. Those of us who work there are bias, to say the least, in that it's one of the best current affairs programs out there.

    I really enjoyed the strong mayor program as well. And I think you're talking about the Pug Awards show, and I enjoyed that one too.

    I think we did two sports shows last season - gays in sports, and Stephen Brunt on Bobby Orr. I wish we could do a bit more sports, but I doubt it. And with the American election coming up, getting back to work is going to be interesting to say the least.

    If you ever have any show ideas that you'd love to see, don't hesitate to let me know what they are and I can pitch 'em to Steve and the crew at our meetings. We try to do as many shows as possible from viewer ideas.

    General B: Steve's most recent book is called "The New Game: How Hockey Saved Itself" and it analyzes the game, post-lockout. I haven't gone through it yet, but hope to do so soon. And Steve def. is one of the hardest working guys out there, but he's so humble. He's a stand-up guy, 100%.

    Cheers fellas.

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