Chatterbox: Social Media in Hockey

How Social Media Is Connecting Hockey Fans On All Levels

Are you tied in to Twitter? Finding friends on Facebook? Lost without Linkedin?

If so, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans, young and old, are tuning into a new way of communicating with friends, family and even strangers through the ever-evolving world of social media.

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It’s changing how people share and receive information, everything from family gossip to international news, all in real time. And it’s altering the sports information landscape, delivering athletes and teams off of the sports page and into a three-dimensional world of interactivity and connectivity.

More than any other sport, the hockey world has taken a firm grasp of social networking, making new media a 24/7 all-access pass to the game from the youth level to the pros, a global chat room on steroids, bringing the term “one-on-one” from the ice to the stands faster than you can tweet about it.
 
“Fans have always wanted to get as close to the athletes and know as much about the athletes and the sport as they can,” says Mike DiLorenzo, the NHL’s director of Corporate Communications.

“I think many of these services allow the fans to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be an insider, and that is really the perspective we’re trying to give to the fans so it’s more fun to be a fan.”

The NHL has been at the forefront of the professional sports leagues in terms of embracing social networking and the various ways it can be used to provide otherwise nonexistent opportunities to fans. Some teams are hiring dedicated social media coordinators to keep them in touch with their fans, and many NHL officials are on Twitter, including DiLorenzo, who spent a considerable amount of time tweeting during the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, exposing fans who weren’t at the arena to the thrill of playoff hockey.

The NHL has also used social networking to bring NHL fans together from around the globe by hosting a gathering of people organized completely by Twitter, also known as a “tweetup.” The idea came from a fan in New York who wanted to get a few people together to watch the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at a local sports bar. With a little extra organizing, it grew to become an international event with 1,200 people in 23 cities all coming together in the name of hockey, and tweetups continued through the playoffs.

Teams within the league have also hopped on this new information highway, each finding new ways to engage their fans in ways previously not possible. The New York Islanders have used YouTube as an extension of Islanders’ TV, allowing fans to post their own videos, and have used its Facebook page, which has more than 8,400 fans, to host live chats with its players.

“It’s unrealistic that fans are going to walk up to players on a regular basis and have a conversation with them. What Facebook allows them to do is really bring a one-on-one relationship to the fans, which they’re not going to be able to find any other way,” says Brett Topel, manager of Web and Publications for the Islanders.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, social media platforms began as a way to get fans news and information as quickly as possible, and transformed into unique opportunities for fans, such as Blackhawks’ wallpaper available only on Facebook or free tickets to a playoff game by entering a contest on Twitter. With the resurgence of hockey in the Windy City, there has been no shortage of participation from fans.

The Detroit Red Wings have taken things a step further, going as far as hiring someone specifically to manage its social media initiatives.

“We like to be out in front of trends and push things into the market,” says Mike Bayoff, Detroit’s director of Publishing, New Media, and Alumni Relations. “Research shows we have a lot of fans that live outside of our market, so the social network is an important element.”

The benefits of using social media go beyond just the NHL. The Ohio State University has been the standard for colleges using these platforms. With more than 100,000 fans on Facebook, the Buckeyes’ athletic department has used the tool to sell hockey tickets and even organized a white-out, encouraging students and fans to wear white when Michigan came to town for a weekend series.

Even youth organizations have found ways to make it work, using it more as a tool to keep parents and players informed on practice times and important offseason information. The Tri County Penguins, a Southern California Independent youth hockey club that finished up its inaugural season, is doing just that, going beyond a Web site that posts just a roster and schedule and trying to get its members involved while fostering growth.

For an equipment retail company like Total Hockey, social media provides a way to get immediate feedback on products, offer added customer service options and filter people to their store.
 
“You don’t know when someone picks up the yellow pages and is looking for you, or you don’t know when they’re entering words in Google,” says Total Hockey’s Vice President Rob Bowers. “It’s [social media] just more immediate.”

In this advancing age of technology, where what’s hot one day can be ice cold the next, the long-term sustainability of all these social media tools is unknown. Some think they will one day become obsolete, and others think they will continue to evolve and weave their way into the fabric of our daily lives.

Neither of those outcomes changes the fact that no matter where you are right now, social media is being used all over the hockey map. Fans might be wise to jump over the boards and into the conversation.

 

 

Photos - Getty Images, Ohio State University
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2009-08

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