I haven’t said anything here yet about Dave Berry’s little run-in the other night but, having heard Gregor’s subsequent interview with Alan Watt (Oilers VP of Communications, Broadcasting and Publicity) on his show, I’m finally moved to write something here about all of this that I think is something more than just some online complaining.
First of all, I’m amazed at how far this story has gone, what with it having moved from Covered in Oil, to local media members, to Finland (this link leads to an English translation, such as it is) and now, to Elliot Friedman. The Finnish translation is awesome:
Oilogosphere is a fairly sizeable one thing piled around a new media concentration. Full of potential to express the visibility and interest in Oilers about it – and now harnessing to tell about how clammy man Kevin Lowe is all about.
It was always about making sure that the Finns know the truth.
I’m not super interested in the specifics of Dave’s situation – he obviously broke their rules and I take him at his word when he says it was unintentional. The Oilers have enough of a reputation in terms of being heavy handed about stuff like this that the rest of his story strikes me as eminently plausible and, although I don’t know Dave, I know Mike and Chris and they seem like straightforward honest guys. I assume that Dave is the same way. I think he’s very funny writer, with a good eye for the game who apparently was kind of losing his zest for cheering for a large corporation and, when he got the stick in the eye, that was the end of that. Understandable.
The one thing that got me – and I mentioned this in a comment somewhere else – was that I can see another reason why the Oilers would be hostile to blogs, generally. In addition to providing a forum and a commentariat that they’ve got no control over (even in the limited sense that if I point out how painful it is to listen to Pat LaForge selling tickets on a PPV while everyone ignores the game that people, like me, paid to see, I don’t have to worry about getting dirty looks at the rink tomorrow), blogs are a form of competition in a way that the traditional print and electronic media aren’t really. Watt’s response today really drove this home for me. Here’s a rough paraphrase of Watt’s response to Gregor asking him about all of this on his show:
We spend $100MM more or less to put on NHL hockey in Edmonton. As a result of that, we own broadcast rights. When it comes to blogs we would like to think that edmontonoilers.com and nhl.com is the place to go for your e-information. What bloggers are is content people. When you have content and a critical mass of people, you’re selling stuff and you can charge for stuff.
Watt went on to spout some of the usual stuff about being unable to identify the good bloggers from the bad – the quote I wrote down was something like “How do you figure out who is a legitimate blogger with a critical mass and who is somebody who decided to be a blogger tomorrow and which one do you let in?” Man, if I was the owner of a $100MM operation and I thought that independent blogs were a media entity I wanted to court and this is what my (presumably handsomely rewarded) VP of Communications told me…I’d be wondering why a man who is unable to tell the difference between this and “somebody who decided to be a blogger tomorrow”, is the VP of Communications of my $100MM business. The issue here, I think, is one of where people online who are interested in Oilers information find that information.
In essence, I take him to be saying that the Oilers view online commentary of the team to be something different than newspapers, radio and TV, in that it’s a revenue stream that flows from the ownership of the hockey team that the team can capture just as readily as some unrelated person. They don’t need to own a newspaper, a radio station or a TV station, which they would to capture the revenue that flows from the reporting of all things Oilers in those mediums. With websites though, any idiot can set one up. As the Oilers already own a website that draws a lot of Oiler related traffic, they can capture the flow of traffic and attendant revenue themselves. It’s not like Darryl Katz needs to buy a TV station or a radio station or a printing press – make sure he’s got enough bandwidth and he can compete with any online content provider anywhere.
That, in my mind, more than tone of the content (although he mentioned that), more than this stuff about rightsholders (which I don’t recall him mentioning to Gregor) is what is really drives the Oilers position on blogs. The Oilers, it sounds like to me, view the various blogs around the Oilogosphere as competitors.
I can see why the Oilers don’t want bloggers in their press box because the type of content generated through access at the arena – namely quotes from players, embedded video and sound clips – is stuff that they can offer online themselves. I’d be interested to hear from the various media types who read this site (feel free be anonymous in doing so) whether there are any rules about, for example, someone like Brownlee just dumping the contents of his dictaphone (or whatever they use to record interviews) onto OilersNation or whether a Journal beat writer could record some video with a handheld and put it up at the Journal’s site. You can kind of see how they’re delineating an area here, one in which they have the resources to provide that kind of information and to generate revenue with it. From their perspective, why give it away for free?
Where I think Watt misses the boat is that he talked about content generally. There are lots of different kinds of content. In that narrow area, I think that their policy of “no blogs never” makes sense. With that said, and with the greatest of respect to the people there writing blogs who aren’t Edmonton Oilers players, I think that they’re going to have a hell of a time generating something like a lot of the stuff that gets published on your various Oilers themed sites. What the Oilers have a monopoly on is access to players and coaches and information of that nature. I’m hardpressed to think of any successful hockey blog that’s built on access to players and information. They’re built on offering interesting analysis, insight and writing that isn’t available elsewhere.
In terms of the MSM versus the blogs in the analysis/commentary/entertainment area, the difficulty a lot of sports media have in terms of offering analysis as good as that found on blogs is that, to be candid, they don’t have the background to deal with a lot of the topics that come up. It’s not the skillset that one acquires with a j-school background. The reason that I prefer blogs for analysis is that, depending on which site I pop into, I can draw on the benefit of Lowetide having known Howie Morenz personally or Fenwick being a guy with fantastic critical thinking skills. The training that MSM guys have doesn’t provide with the multi-disciplinary backgrounds that they can then bring to bear on various hockey related issues.
I can’t see how the Oilers will do any better in the analysis area because, to be honest, blogging is not an economically rational decision for those people. It’s certainly not for me. For people who can offer the really good analysis (and I’m not making a judgment on my own stuff there; I just put up stuff that nobody else does and have some expertise that sometimes lets me write about stuff with a background that MSM hockey writers can’t), they’ve probably got more lucrative things to do with their time. If the Oilers phoned me tomorrow and offered me a fulltime job producing analysis for their site, I’m sure it wouldn’t make economic sense for me to do. I doubt it would make economic sense for most of the people producing really interesting analysis to do so. In short, I don’t think that you can buy the really good interesting hockey writing, unless the author is willing to sell it at a price less than his or her time is worth. I would imagine that few people would be willing to make that sale if it comes with all sorts of restrictions on what you can say.
So on the analysis/commentary/entertainment side of things, I think that the Oilers are probably missing the boat if they realistically see themselves as competing with someone like Lowetide or Battle of Alberta or me or the guys at Covered in Oil. There’s a niche there that I don’t think that they can fill, unless they’re either willing to pay talented people market value for their time or give them the platform of edmontonoilers.com without restriction. I doubt that they’re willing to do either of those things. If you look at MLB.com, they’ve become a tremendously successful media operation, generating huge revenues for MLB. They haven’t produced any opinion writers or analysts that anyone takes seriously or who are must read guys though.
The really interesting implications, looking down the road, are in what happens when the Oilers start to see everyone who isn’t paying them for access as competitors. As more and more people get on the web, it would seem to me to make more and more sense to try and drive those people to edmontonoilers.com by having it be the only place you can go to find out what Craig MacTavish had to say about last night’s game or who’s expected to dress tonight. That, to me, is the logical terminus of the line of thinking outlined in Alan Watt’s interview on Gregor’s show. It’s a shame that he doesn’t talk to bloggers; it’d be interesting to ask him that.
Update – David Staples talks to Watt: One of the commenters seems to determined to argue against what I’ve said here on the basis that Watt is wrong or that I’m somehow misinterpreting him. I encourage you to go read David’s full post – I’m going to try not to quote too much here.
Part of the reason that no media outlets are allowed to blog live from Oilers games is that the Oilers want to have this kind of information only available on their own official website, Watt says.
Watt says many of the blogs are trying to get increased traffic so they can make money, but the Oilers don’t want to give up that traffic. “We spend $100 million a year to create NHL hockey in Edmonton and there are some things that we think we own. This is one of them (the live blogging rights).”
Perhaps some blog company will come along with $10 million a year for the exclusive rights to live blogging, then the Oilers would look at that. “That’s the business we are in,” Watt says.
Adds Hebert: “Why would we want someone go to another site to catch game updates when we want them to go to Edmonton Oilers.com because it’s going to generate bigger numbers and, in turn, generate money?”
Watt says that when it comes to interviews with the players, the Oilers now want to go direct to consumers. “We would like our website and NHL.com to be places where people can find that information exclusively as possible, and as a result of that, traffic, and as a result of that, monetization.”
That’s pretty much exactly what my interpretation of his comments to Gregor was. Like I said, I have no problem with that and it’s a fair explanation. I don’t think he comes off very well in the rest of it. I think he comes off as a grandfather who doesn’t know how to set a VCR, to borrow Mike W.’s phrase, who has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about when he makes his reference to threesomes in the basement.