When the New York Islanders announced in June that they would be creating a "blog box" and provide press passes (with limitations, of course, and with definite critics) to hand-picked but still independent bloggers, the hockey blogosphere erupted in applause. When Ted Leonsis of the Capitals recruited local hockey bloggers and sent them overseas to cover the World Championships, the hockey blogosphere raised their hands and bowed their heads in awe. Leonsis had been giving local bloggers spots in the Capitals' press box for months before that. Finally, teams were starting to embrace the future of online sports media! No longer would the bloggers, those important sports media gap-fillers, be shut out from access to the teams they covered so passionately.
Well, that's not exactly true. While the Capitals and the Islanders are great examples of teams trying to open up to the reality of online media---if only half-heartedly, in the Islanders' case---most other teams in the NHL have absolutely no interest in doing so. At least not for a long time.
As quoted by Christy at Girl With A Puck, Ducks GM and man of questionable character* Brian Burke carefully qualified his comments about bloggers:
With a journalist, I know they’ve had some training. I know there will be a fact checker and an editor to keep them accountable. I will know what to expect from [journalists] because if they take a bribe or report false information, they’ll get fired. With bloggers, there’s no safeguard and no guarantees. That will change when one of them gets hit with a libel lawsuit, because one blogger is going to be careless with the fact and they’re going to get nailed. A lot of people will cite the first amendment and call blogging "freedom of speech," but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a responsibility to be factually correct.
Ignoring the fact that only one hockey blogger (Eklund) actually makes it his goal to be "factually incorrect," Burke's overall statement is clear in that he's not really concerned about the poor, naive bloggers getting libel suits thrown at them. What he's worried about is that he can't control the messages they broadcast on the web. And he doesn't really need to, because even in California his team gets decent press coverage. Combine the recent Cup win and they're doing okay in Anaheim.
The Capitals and the Islanders, on the other hand, are media punching bags. They get routinely bashed in their own local media outlets, and practically have to beg for coverage from local papers and TV news stations. Their reasoning is that if you can recruit the bloggers, you can recruit some favorable attention and court the fans more directly.
Andy at the Battle Of Alberta sums it up nicely:
The only reason we are seeing teams in the U.S. move to embrace the non-MSM blogs is because they have no choice. They have no other media partners. That's not to slight the work being done by the guys and gals running those blogs. They are doing some fantastic stuff. But if they were in any of the six Canadian cities with an NHL franchise, they wouldn't be getting access to the teams. There's little incentive for the Canadian teams to provide that access when every newspaper in town wants to cover them extensively, even to the point of attempting their own, mostly tame, mostly leashed, and mostly derivative blogs. Simple, yes, but true.
Where media coverage is weak or unfavorable, the teams are starting to embrace fan blogs, albeit slowly and with hesitation. In cities where the teams are beloved and/or heavily courted by the local media, there is zero talk of opening the hallowed confines of the press box (or even a separate "blog box") to anyone without legitimate mainstream press credentials.
The Avalanche is no different, and is probably worse than most others. The reason: Altitude Sports & Entertainment. Billionaire Avalanche (and Nuggets) owner Stan Kroenke created the network to promote his Denver teams throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region. If you've ever watched an Altitude broadcast of an Avalanche game, you know they are unashamed and unabashed homers of the very worst sort. There is absolutely no confusion of what the role of announcers Mike Haynes and Peter McNab should be. They are salesmen for the team, plain and simple.
Combine that with the heavy coverage of the team by the Denver Post (Yo Adrian!) and the Rocky Mountain News, and you realize that the Avalanche is in no dire need for more media exposure. Blogs, I'm sure, are a complete afterthought to team management. I can assume this because I've never been contacted by the Avalanche organization ever, for any reason, and most of my fellow Avs bloggers can attest to this. Outside of a general fan survey about whether or not the Pepsi Center should replay opponents' goals on the Jumbotron, there is no blogger outreach at all.
And this will not change as long as Kroenke owns both the team and Altitude Sports. What would be his incentive to change an established, profitable setup? Remember, you never know what bloggers like me could say next. We might say something like, "Coach Q finally got bit in the ass by playing Jose Theodore one too many times," or, "the Avalanche played horribly last night and should be ashamed of themselves." And we just couldn't have that, could we?
*Don't forget Steve Moore.