Before I write the rest of this post I have to say I am a hockey fan and I want the NHL lockout to end. I want to watch top-level hockey sooner rather than later.
But this post is about the power of social media and how it has changed the world, especially in sports and its coverage. The lockout is a prime example to show how things have changed.
I’ve been through three lockouts as a fan — the one that erased half of the 1994-95 season, the one that canceled the 2004-05 season and the current lockout. The 2004 lockout doesn’t seem that long ago, but in the world of journalism and social media it was.
I was still a reporter at a daily newspaper that barely had a website in 2004. Facebook was around, but I didn’t have an account. You still needed a school e-mail address to be part of Facebook then. MySpace was the rage. Never mind Twitter. News could be covered on a 24-7, but it was more for the top national brands and cable news networks.
In other words: We didn’t have the access to news quite that we have today.
So the news of the lockout came slower than it does today. There was no one live tweeting a press conference with the NHL or NHLPA. There weren’t people posting constant observations from outside the negotiating rooms.
I went to a lot of AHL games back then, but that’s how you knew what was happening with the team’s prospects. Fans didn’t have the access quite like they do today to the information and news about those teams. You had to rely on what people who went to games thought, and many times you were relying on people who weren’t watching hockey for a living.
Of course fans came back after the lockout. We didn’t have reason to be angry about things that were said or done because we didn’t have the access to what was being said like we do now. There was no social media campaign by the players or owners to make the other side look evil.
Fast forward to today. Now fans have unbelievable access to news, information and even people because of social media and the way news is published. Video of games and players is everywhere and quickly. We know what is being said by the commissioner and the head of the players union as soon as they’re saying it, even if we’re not next to a TV carrying Canadian sports channels. Someone tweets what’s being said and that’s retweeted and then retweeted again and again. On top of that players are on social media expressing their feelings about the lockout and, in some cases, engaging with fans about the lockout.
It shouldn’t be a shock the level of frustration and anger from anyone who loves the NHL is much higher than it was in 2004-05. Social media connects fans. They have started protests and expressed their anger. People frequently will respond to the NHL’s Twitter and Facebook account about the lockout, saying they need to fix it now. And with the number of fan blogs today, there are plenty of places for fans to express their opinions on the lockout.
The result? A study found the damage to the NHL’s brand because of the lockout is at an alarming level. From the article:
A disastrous map would be the one Level5 created following the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It was the worst the company had seen – until it got around to the NHL this month.
But I wonder if the NHL and the NHLPA is listening or even realizing how the world has changed in the years since the last lockout. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the owners, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the players are taking a gamble on the fans returning. ”We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” Bettman said last summer.
But that gamble is a losing bet. It’s always been a losing bet. It’s worse than spending $50 on Megamillions tickets expecting to win. All they had to do is look at the reaction on social media and compare the climate from 2004-05 and today. But it appears all involved had, and still have, their heads in the sand, not listening to the fans (aka the customers) and even the experts who say the lockout is killing the brand.
I can’t say I won’t be back as a fan. I know I will be even as I’m frustrated and angry with the current situation. One friend professed to me the other day he’d immediately buy tickets. But there are plenty of other people I know, passionate fans, who are angry or are disinterested. It’s going to be a hard sell to get them back and it’s going to be an even harder sell to get back the fans the league has gained in the last couple years.It’s not unreasonable to think the NHL will go from record highs in attendance and revenues to record lows. It could hurt some teams significantly, some of the same teams who are endorsing the lockout.It’s easy to say the lockout ending and saving some of the season would fix some of the damage, but I don’t know how much it would help now. So much damage has been done.The lesson here for everyone — whether you’re in journalism or you’re a brand — is that you cannot ignore the outside world. You have to adapt to changing technologies and news cycles. If you don’t, you are doomed to failure.