A l'heure des blogues
By Jean-François Bégin
Originally published in French by La Presse
Translation by Pete Evans
Of all NHL owners, Ted Leonsis is the most web-connected. It's easy to see why: the Capitals owner made his fortune with AOL, where he is vice-president.
One shouldn't be surprised, therefore, that the Capitals were one of the first NHL teams to recognize the emergence of a new source of information for hockey fans: blogging.
In November 2005, Leonsis went as far as inviting a blogger, Eric McErlain, to watch a Caps game with him in his box at the MCI Centre. Hard to imagine Bill Wirtz or Jeremy Jacobs (or even the approachable George Gillett) make a similar overture.
Leonsis, who has his own blog (ted.aol.com) discovered McErlain while doing a Google search to see what was being written about the Capitals' young phenom Alexander Ovechkin.
McErlain wrote a lengthy post about his evening and his discussions with Leonsis on his blog (www.offwingopinion.com) which he's had for more than 5 years. He got media accreditation for Caps home games.
In a sense, McErlain profits from the mainstream American sports media's disinterest in hockey. "Washington Post coverage is in decline," the blogger told La Presse in an interview. "The paper didn't even send a reporter to cover the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Fans are hungry for info on their team and they know they won't get it from the traditional media."
It's a view Leonsis shares. "Traditional media are getting squeezed, because their readership is down and sales are plummeting. Meanwhile, blogs are getting bigger and bigger. Opening yourself up to new media just makes sense," he told Sports Business Journal a few months ago.
The hockey world is slow to wake up to blogging's power. "For a long time, there weren't many people blogging on hockey," McErlain says, whose blog was launched right before the Salt Lake City Olympics, in February 2002.
"The first sports fans to harness the power of blogs are probably baseball. Devotees of Bill James, people into sabremetrics, have been talking and discussing for years in discussion forums. They found, in blogs, a new way to express themselves."
Since the lockout that forced the cancellations of the 2004-2005 NHL season, hockey is playing catch-up. "Before I could count hockey bloggers on one hand. Now I can't keep track of them all," McErlain says.
The phenomenon first gained steam in the U.S. Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley was the birthplace, as early as 1998, of one of the first hockey-devoted blogs (www.sharkspage.com) which remains today the definitive model of the genre. But since, Canadian blogs have blossomed.
As a sign of their nascent credibility, certain people are starting to develop names for themselves outside the blogosphere. One noted blogger, Lyle Richardson, alias Spector, also posts to Foxsports.com. NBC Sports recently hired McErlain to write a weekly column on their hockey site. And at least five teams employ full-time bloggers, Newsweek reported in October.
In this expanding universe, there are good and bad blogs. The most well-reasoned opinions mix with rumours people pull out of nowhere, and statistical analyses bump up against pure partisan writing. But there's plenty of material to inform yourself with, to think about, and to occupy yourself with.