How to Make the
Media Cup Crazy
The Ducks have won the Stanley Cup, but how many mainstream
American media outlets even noticed? TFP Columnist Greg
Wyshynski speaks with some newspaper editors about hockey
coverage and reveals his plan for NHL media domination.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Please grab onto the nearest
immovable object, something that could steady your fall
should your heart flat-line upon reading the following:
The night the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup, hockey
was the lead story on ESPN's SportsCenter.
That's right: No Pronger elbows or Simon baseball swings
or prolonged labor disputes – just one solid hockey team
winning the ultimate prize.
The Ducks were a great story with great storylines, from the
Brothers Niedermayer to Teemu Selanne's first taste of glory
to J.S. Giguere's emotional rollercoaster off the ice. These
are the types of human interest stories that cross over from
hockey's conversational circles and into the mainstream,
enticing previously apathetic sports fans into checking out
the NHL's climatic playoff round.
Unfortunately, there's been no one to tell them.
As the Associated Press reported, out of 21 markets in the
U.S. with NHL teams only nine were represented at any of the
first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals this season; that
includes the Los Angeles market, which had to be there. Most
major metropolitan newspapers are covering the Finals with AP
game stories and small briefs in their round-up sections,
right next to waiver wire transactions and sailing news.
To call this coverage pathetic would be an insult to the last
decade of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. No profiles, no
notebooks, no inside info from well-schooled beat writers —
just the same AP game stories that can be found on AOL Sports
five minutes after the game ends. And if one of the stud
general sports columnists does find the time to opine about
the NHL, it was undoubtedly another boring laundry list about
why the league is a broken mess and why the masses are
apathetic towards hockey on television. None of them know how
to actually break down a series or cover the sport, so they
turn the NHL into a puck piñata and start whacking away. We
know the score, we've heard it all before...
Gary Bettman, which is why his comments about print
media coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals weren't
surprising. The commissioner of a league starving for
attention isn't going to take the knives out on media
that aren't giving it any, so he focused on the root
of this lack of coverage:
"The newspaper industry is in a very challenging
period," he said. "Editors, particularly sports
editors, are looking to cut expenses every way they
can. We are in changing and challenging times."
The question now becomes whether the league is willing
to change with them.
I contacted two sports editors in NHL cities — Nick Pugliese
of the Tampa Tribune and Howard J. Smith of The Buffalo News —
whose newspapers have not staffed an entire Stanley Cup Finals
series in either of the last two years. My initial motivation
was to ask if having "small market" Canadian teams in the
Finals against "non-glamour" American franchises in the last
three championship series affected their decision to not staff
this year's Final. According to both of these newspaper men,
their decisions have less to do with the "who" than the "where
"We are not covering the whole series and didn't staff any
games last year for the following reasons: Money," said Smith
in an e-mail. "To fly from Buffalo to Anaheim, to Ottawa, back
to Anaheim, back to Ottawa, back to Anaheim and back to
Buffalo is prohibitive. Way too expensive, especially making
reservations on short notice. Not gonna happen."
"The only way we would have staffed the Finals is if the
Lightning made it or a team located in the Southeast, making
the travel a bit cheaper. Major markets [being involved] would
not have swayed us," he said via e-mail.
Both of the editors proposed the same solution: That the NHL
should consider implementing a 2-3-2 series format to reduce
travel costs. Not exactly a revolutionary change for the
league, considering that just 13 years ago the NHL allowed
Central and Pacific Division teams to opt for that format in
earlier rounds to reduce travel.
Pugliese also suggested the league consider buying charters
for the media to get reporters from game-to-game. (Hey, why
not use some of those salary cap savings!)
Smith would like to see not only the format change but the
games start earlier for the benefit of the East Coast papers.
"That would allow us to cover the games and not break the
travel budget," he said. "I don't think either one is going to
It’s a delicate balancing act for the NHL: appeasing the
mainstream media by changing the format, look or feel of the
game. Sometimes you end up with legalized two-line passes and
cameras inside the goal cages; other times you get a cartoon
comet tail on the end of a glowing puck.
But there are different ways to appease and attract the media
to your product. One way is to bring the coverage to them,
like a youth soccer coach who calls in his team's scores to
the local weekly. The NHL has done some of that this
post-season, with conference calls and interview notes and
other outreach to media not in attendance for the playoffs.
It's worked to a point, but it's not nearly enough. I think
Pugliese's onto something: Start with paying for media charter
flights, and then go 10 steps further and turn the Stanley Cup
Finals into an all-out Hollywood-style press junket.
Do you think entertainment reporters seriously want to write
about the latest Tim Allen film? Do you think there's an
audience clamoring for coverage of the live-action "Underdog:
The Movie?" Of course not. But the slickest marketing minds in
the business get positive coverage for their products by
hopelessly pandering to the media — and sometimes even paying
If I'm the NHL, I'm flying in a few writers — the hockey guy,
a features guy and at least one big stud columnist — from
every major metropolitan newspaper that isnt covering the
Stanley Cup Finals. I'm putting them up in a great hotel, and
giving them a tote bag full of food, booze and hockey swag
that'll make them the envy of the newsroom. ("Hey, check it
out Tony — I have my own Ottawa Senators jersey with 'Wilbon'
on the back!") I may do this before the series, or I may do
this during the "three" of the 2-3-2 format.
I'm making every single player, coach, executive, girlfriend
and mascot available to them in a press junket throughout the
series — giving these general columnists human interest
stories and conveying in a basic, Hockey 101 way what might
happen over the course of the next several games. I'm bringing
in every hockey-friendly celebrity to rub shoulders with the
media masses, from Jack Bauer to Rod Tidwell to the future
Mrs. Sean Avery. I'm doing every single whore-riffic thing I
can to try and get the Stanley Cup Finals covered in an
in-depth way inside major American newspapers, and I'm sparing
Oh, but what about those papers that are already covering the
Finals, or those smaller dailies that will feel spurned by
this bias towards the big boys? I think they'll understand;
it's not like entertainment companies haven't been bending
over for the New York Times and the Washington Post since
Christ walked the Earth.
I'm not saying this is a guaranteed cure-all — I'm pretty sure
those Tim Allen movies still get royally shredded by critics
even if there's a fabulous press junket involved. I'm saying
the league should try this for the next few years, as the NHL
continues to rebuild after the lockout washed away its sand
castle; if it doesn't result in better, more sustained
coverage, reconsider the tactic.
Hopefully, the coverage will have helped create the only thing
sports editors pay attention to: an audience that's asking for
more of it.
Fly 'em in. Foot the bill. Wine them. Dine them. And if the
coverage still stinks, never mind them.
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.