Bill Clement on the relationship between the NHL and ESPN prior to the lockout

We always tried ways, so many different conversations, meetings; we wanted to improve the sport and it was really difficult. We wanted to do so many things that the NHL just said nope, nope, nope, nope, nope to. Access, interviews, cameras here, there. I prayed for linkage during the lockout. In other words, I wanted salaries to be linked to revenue. Because I knew if they were, then the players and the teams would have incentive to help us grow the sport. We felt like a network at ESPN trying to grow a sport without any cooperation from the different constituents within the sport

From ESPN: Those Guys Have All The Fun

I've been completely absorbed in this book for the past week. From its start as the dream of the fired communications manager of the Hartford Whalers to where it is today, the story of ESPN (and truly the story of the rise of the multimedia sport journalism world we live in today) is rather compelling.

While the particular passages that apply to hockey are sparse, what is said is intriguing. The collapse of the relationship between the NHL and ESPN is placed mainly on the shoulders of Mark Shapiro, a former Executive VP of Programming for the station. Also interesting is the subtext weaved in that it was in ESPN's best interests (and those of their parent owners in Disney) to have the NHL succeed, not just because they held the broadcasting rights, but also because Disney owned the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim franchise at the time. By the time the league came back from lockout, Disney had sold the Ducks.

Another revealing tidbit is the fact that nothing that Clement says above is that revolutionary or particularly new. A lot of it boils down to the same things that outside observers have been clamouring for since at least the lockout. But slowly, the league has been relenting and allowing more access.

According to the book, Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney at the time, met with NHL owners and presented them with a list of ten ideas on how to market the game better and attract more viewers, including strategies to market and develop star players better. Those ideas were rejected at the time.

When read in context, with these stories appearing after pages talking about how ESPN's work helped really market the NBA in the post-Jordan era and before that, how ESPN is directly responsible for the rise of NASCAR, one has to wonder what shape the NHL might be in if it didn't take them ten years to listen to proven advice.


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Puck Drop

On September 16, 2010, various news outlets ran with the story of Pat Burns' death. The only problem was that the legendary coach was still very much alive, only succumbing to cancer two months later.

On August 31, 2011, some family members learned of Wade Belak's tragic death via news reports.

On September 7, 2011, Pierre Lebrun went on TSN Radio to urge his colleagues in the media to show restraint and act sensibly when reporting on the fatal plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club. Using the Pat Burns gaffe of the previous year as an example, he observed that details were not known officially and presenting unconfirmed rumour as fact was careless reporting. In the meantime, reports flew that hockey players such as Ramzi Abid and Riley Armstrong were on the plane (they were not) and Ruslan Salei was due to meet the team in Belarus (he was in fact on the plane and lost his life).

It is within that climate of immediacy, that I am launching my own contributions to the fray.

Since the NHL lockout and the raise of first, blog culture and now, Twitter, there seems to be a driving thought from all forms of hockey media that being correct isn't as important as being first.

Each spring on trade deadline day and again on July 1st for the beginning of the free agency period, hockey outlets compete with each other to be the first to break the news of player trades and signings, sometimes even being the one to inform the player in question that he's on the move before his team has the chance.

And with more and more access being allowed in the interest of growing the sport, that spotlight of attention has often led to embarrassing situations like the ones detailed above, with journalists throwing ethics out the window to focus instead on breaking the next big story.

These missteps reflect the changing face of media. Now anyone with a keyboard (present company included) can report half-truths and rumour as fact without much in the way of venues for recourse or accountability.

Examples like the mythos known as Eklund and the lessons of Dallas Dave are testaments to the voracious appetite for the smallest tidbit of news that passionate hockey fans have and how hockey media is desperately trying to step up and fill the void.

Personally, most of the above bothers me. I love hockey and for almost ten years now, I've been covering the sport in a relatively minor fashion, but as the hockey media landscape continues to evolve, I've opted to throw my stick into the middle and join the larger conversation.

In the words of Wilfrid Laurier, "We are, it is true, in an era of transition and there is a fair field for anyone who will take the trouble to strike out on his own path."

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