When it comes to new media and its coverage of the NHL, Ted Leonsis is both visionary and trailblazer, and so it should come as no surprise that his thinking on the matter is anything but static. When “Hockey Night in Canada” came to D.C. a couple of weeks back and profiled the Caps and the team’s bloggers, television viewers caught some snippets of the owner’s new age rationale for embracing the blogosphere. Now there is available the full 18-plus minutes of Ted’s exchange with HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman. [Follow the link to "Hockey Night in Canada," then "Interview," then "Ted Leonsis"] His sentiments are sprawling and savvy and at times startling, and once again, the owner is looking forward:
“We have to be the most new media savvy league and go to where the puck is going to be. I’m not interested in being where the puck is — it’s not that impressive.”
He sets the sporting scene in D.C. in appropriately daunting fashion: “We all live under the spectre of the NFL and the Washington Redskins. We have to find our place. We have one reporter that follows us from the Washington Post. He does magnificent work. I wish there were ten of them, but he’s the only guy.”
“[Tarik] can cover the news, but now having this network of blogs, all of them coming from a different perspective, it helps us sell the game.”
The NHL, with its numerous and ill-fated experiments at improving the televised experience with hockey, must embrace new technology. “Television was our concern 20 years ago,” and it still is today, Leonsis noted. “We’re not going to make it on television.”
Friedman’s piece was well researched. He surveyed all 30 NHL clubs for their respective policies on bloggers. Turns out five or so have blogger friendly policies in place. Three more are considering them. But 17 to 20, Friedman reported, have reviewed the issue and for now have said “no way.”
Leonsis isn’t concerned about the editorial liberties bloggers enjoy or their presumed “lack of accountability.”
“I’m concerned about being ignored,” he told Friedman. “We worked with Off Wing Opinion to craft a Blogger’s Bill of Rights. I take exception [that] there aren’t any standards.”
“I keep hearing we’re going to get burned by a blogger. Oh, like we haven’t been burned by the Washington Post!”
“[Blogs] have become a legitimate media outlet.”
Leonsis emphasized that embracing new media is for the league merely an extension of the relationship its fans have already cultivated, passionately. “All of our fans are wired. They spend most of their time on broadband. They have their mobile devices.”
“People have underestimated the importance of search. They’ve underestimated the influence of Facebook. Facebook has a $15 billion valuation — more than every NHL and NBA team combined. What did they do? They brought a big audience of young Web-savvy customers. We have to look at our business in the same vein.”
So what’s ahead? For starters, the owner contends, increasing acceptance of bloggers and the blogosphere. Additionally, individual blogs that are likely to surpass The Hockey News in popularity and influence. Their quality, he said, “is better than the copy you see in the newspaper.” Then next up comes a very new age role for NHL players.
“Players actually own more of the NHL than the owners do — they get fifty five percent of the revenues. We need to turn players into their own media brands.”
He envisions an NHL with every player on Facebook and Myspace and operating “homesteads” from which they actually sell tickets to the game!
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