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.
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:
- Continue to post unedited news conferences in their entirety (yes, even the inane media questions) on the Leafs Web-site.
- 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).
- 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
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.”
- Quietly seek extraordinary rendition for any writer, blogger, copy desk editor that uses a plan the parade joke.