Checking in on the Oilogosphere

One thing I’ve enjoyed writing about on this blog is the link between hockey fans and communication technology. It was the basis for my research project in school, and it’s been a while since I really paid attention to the current Oilogosphere landscape. So reading Wanye’s latest post on OilersNation conjured up a lot of ideas. Here goes:

  • While it’s true that many blogs have gone by the wayside, the majority of the content that these websites published is still available. Ever wondered how bad it was in 2008? There’s some great articles that summed up the team, the management and of course the general consensus of fans (man, we were an optimistic bunch back then). Even though these blogs aren’t active, there’s some excellent archived material that the current crop of bloggers could potentially build off of.
  • Fans have definitely embraced Twitter. It’s a fantastic tool to connect the Oilers fan community and the hockey world at large. It’s a great people connector. Blogs on the other hand, are more of an idea connector that facilitates a tighter, and more fluid discussion. Done right, blogs can still serve as a fantastic tool for information sharing and knowledge development.
  • There’s also a lot more people commenting on blogs than there were in years past. The comment section isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there are a lot of people who commit a lot of time and energy, the same amount they would have committed on their own blog, to contribute to the overall discussion. Commenting rather than blogging just works better for some.
  • There’s a very clear meritocracy at work in the Oilogosphere. Bloggers are differentiated by the quality of their work rather than their job titles or financial backing. This is a good thing when a community is growing and developing. But eventually the gap between the content produced by top bloggers and the rest increases. This has happened gradually over the past 9-10 years within the Oilogosphere. It can be awfully intimidating now for new bloggers when the Oilers fan community already has a lot of heavy hitters. Many just simply comment or focus their attention elsewhere. I will say that the Oilers fan community in general is very receptive to new or emerging bloggers, so if you have new content or want to build off older stuff, do it now. There’s always something to create or build off of.
  • If you’re interested in making money from blogging, treat it like an actual business venture. It’ll become pretty apparent that the financial rewards are very low. Blogging is about developing new information and sharing ideas. And many of the bloggers that have gone on to do big things were not focused on the money when they started out. They were instead very intrinsically motivated, focused on the quality of their work rather than the potential ad revenue.
  • The value of a press pass has decreased significantly over the past ten years. You can get live press conferences, post game scrums and every single quote in real time and on your phone these days. Giving a blogger a press pass would be nice so they can ask questions directly and possibly enhance their work. But the reason why bloggers have done so well is because they work outside of traditional media rules and standards. Instead they’ve focused less on what player’s say and instead pushed the discussion on things like analytics to focus on what players actually do. The lack of direct information from players has pushed bloggers to analyze the game more creatively, relying on a more collaborative approach to information and knowledge development. They’ve carved out a nice niche in the overall coverage of the Oilers, while those that do have access to players are somewhat floundering in their positions.

Again, if you haven’t read Wanye’s post, it’s here and well worth a read: Oilogosphere Down

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Potential Jobs in the field of Hockey Analytics

The recent NHL hirings are a good indication that there will be more jobs out there for hockey bloggers, especially those who have a good understanding of analytics. Analytics really is a continuous discussion, so following the flow of information that comes from the process can shed some light on what areas of the game will likely hire more individuals.

So far we’ve seen a few bloggers get hired to work on the analytic departments of NHL clubs. My assumption here is that they’d sift through all the of the available data and provide recommendations on things like player personnel and possibly game tactics.

But as we’ve seen the Leafs do, recently hiring Darryl Metcalf, there’s also a need to collect data and then publish it in an easy-to-use, dashboard format for management and coaches to access. As we’ve seen online, there are a lot of fans who have developed tracking software and reporting tools, like Super Shot Search, Player Usage Charts and Shift Chart, that might be of interest to NHL clubs

Taking it one step further, teams will likely need some in-game analysts who can gather and share information to fans and the media. Teams typically provide some sort of game file with an assortment of stats and other information. These types of communication pieces will now likely include some high level stats that could be of interest to the public.

Teams may also look for people with coaching experience, who might have experience applying the analytics to coaching tactics. For instance if a club is finding that their defenceman is struggling and the opposition has been found to be strategically attacking his side of the ice, how does a team respond?

Teams may also want simple data trackers, and could rely on external companies, such as the one in Europe that specializes tracking soccer games

And of course, like in any professional sport, there are many, many people outside of the league who want to dissect the play of a team and players, including journalists, broadcasters and of course fans.

There will definitely be a huge demand for writers, specializing in data journalism, as major sports websites will want people who understand the full spectrum of analytics and its application to the game. But tv and radio broadcasters (in-game color commentators, talking heads, etc) will also have job openings, as there will likely be more discussion pertaining to the new questions from viewers about what impact the analytics will have on team success.

Following the flow of information, there will be a very high demand for hockey analytic expertise outside of the game. This would include groups involved in fan engagement such as video game developers, fantasy league service providers and even gambling sites. These external groups have always relied on hockey information to supplement the fan experience, and will likely look to expand their operations to include additional advanced stats (if they haven’t already).

And keep in mind, others that you may not expect to care about analytics just might be looking for some help to understand teams and players. Maybe there’s an advertising company out there that wants to align itself with a team that will  have a talented young core (that gets lots of ice time), for branding purposes. It’s a stretch, I know, but analytics really is a continuous discussion that can lead down many different paths.

Any job that is related to hockey analytics will require an individual to possess more than an understanding of analytics. Taking a step back and following the flow of information that can come from analytics, there will be a growing need for individuals with various backgrounds and experience. Organizations will likely search for people with information technology, broadcasting, or communication skills, among others, to really solidify their approach to analytics. The good news is, anyone who is interested in working in this field can begin honing their skills online using blogs and other publicly available applications.

Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com

620-eakins-dallas2-thumb-620xauto-329706Happy to see the Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of, the now defunct, mc79hockey blog. Tyler’s been blogging for years about the Oilers, focusing on hockey analytics and recently applying his findings to game footage. The blog was a fantastic source for analysis, really pushing the discussion on hockey analytics, and will definitely be missed. Sounds like he’ll be joining the Oilers hockey operations department and reporting to Coach Eakins.

Related: On Tyler Dellow, his role, and what this can tell us about Eakins – Copper & Blue

I’d love to point out some of the work he’s done including his dissection of Taylor Hall’s Corsi stats and the Oilers performance following defensive zone faceoff losses. But I guess it’ll have to wait until someone can uncover that hidden treasure. A lot of his work picked apart the Oilers and did show some of the weaknesses in their tactics, so I guess it makes sense for the Oilers to ask him to remove the content. His blog was also one of the few sites where the comments section was just as  valuable as the actual post. I found it a little troubling that Tyler was able to wipe out the work of others who trusted that their contributions would be always be accessible. I’m sure most of the commenters are supportive of Tyler’s move, so maybe losing their work was just a necessary trade-off.

Those who have read my work know that more than hockey analytics itself, I’m interested in the social, online environment that fosters the development of hockey information and knowledge. So as much as the growth of analytics interests me, so too does the network and the collaboration of fans.

I think Tyler would admit that a big reason for his success in analytics is the open environment that he was able to work in. He received regular feedback both on his blog and on Twitter, which played a big role in the direction he took with hockey analytics. He’s obviously a bright guy and will more than likely carry on with his ideas and insight as a member of the Oilers. However, the corporate culture that the Oilers have is far different than the interactive environment Tyler has grown accustomed to. Online, Tyler has been extremely open with his data, which makes him open for feedback and criticism. Now that his work will only be reviewed by a select few, I’m curious to see what impact it might have on his own critical thinking. There’s a much different working-dynamic when you’re sealed off with a select few. Biases, groupthink, politics, etc., are all the things that tend to creep in to any bureaucratic system.

It’s almost as if the Oilers should actually hire a few more bloggers that Tyler’s work can be tested by. The good news is, the Oilers do have an analytics working group that can really challenge his work. But it might be in the Oilers best interest to add additional bloggers, or some sort of external advisory group, with little social or financial ties to the team, who can provide Tyler with feedback.

Oilers4Life

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Derek Zona of Copper and Blue posted an interesting question for Edmonton hockey fans: Why haven’t you quit the Oilers?

It’s a fair question that I’m sure most Oiler fans have thought about. The team last won the Cup in 1990. It’s been eight years since the team made the playoffs. And since Daryl Katz took ownership of the club, the Oilers have been the worst team in the entire NHL.

For an outsider who may not value sports fandom, this may seem like a bizarre scenario: sports team keeps losing, yet the fans keep coming back for more. So here’s my response to Derek’s question.

Being a fan doesn’t follow the same traditional model of consumption that other products rely upon. It really functions in a unique ecosystem that has all sorts of weird norms and values. It’s tough to rationalize a lot of what happens in a cartel like the NHL and compare it to other consumable products.

A key element of being a fan of sports teams is continuously extending the product, before, during and after any game. Think of the conversations you’ve had about the Oilers with others, the articles you read, the stats you’ve glazed over, the digital artifacts you may have created (i.e., blogging, Youtube, etc). I don’t think there’s any other product for humans to consume that involves so much time and effort.

All of this continuous extension really engrains the fans deeper into their team. Quitting the team means you leave behind the continuous extension, a lot of which is spins off some extremely positive stuff that probably gives fans some relief from the losing. A lot of the positive relationships built, whether it’s at the game or online, keep fans following the shared product. And having a shared product like the Oilers also gives us a vehicle to connect with others and share our own ideas and values….all the stuff that’s critical for community building.

Trying to calculate your sunk costs like they do in the Freakonomics podcast (“The Upside of Quitting”) Derek links to is tougher for sports fans who consider quitting their teams. It’s tough to put a number on the emotional and intellectual investment you put into following the game and extending the content.

So good luck to the Oiler fans who want to quit now. Especially the bloggers and hockey analytic folks who have made valuable contributions to the game. Your creativity and intellectual contributions have you got you all in too deep. 😉

Related: Hockey Gossip and Blogs (2012, February 1)

Hockey Fans and the Leviathan II: All Three Zones Tracking Project

Yochai Benkler

Yochai Benkler – Author of Penguin and the Leviathan

Corey Sznajder of The Shutdown Line is seeking funding for a project that will collect very unique hockey data.

Here’s a short description of the All Three Zones Tracking Project:

I am tracking zone entries & exits for every game of the 2013-14 NHL season and making the data available publicly through either an e-book or an online database. What I end up doing will depend on how much money is raised through this. In addition to this season, I may also track previous years and include playoff data.

If you’re at all interested in supporting Corey, follow this link.

A couple things to note:

  1. Corey is going to manually collect data that isn’t available anywhere else. It’ll be interesting to see how others will use it to develop new ideas and information.
  2. It’ll also be interesting to see what other projects focussed on hockey analytics and data collection could pop up that will utilze crowdfunding/crowdsourcing.
  3. Even if you’re not into analytics or you don’t think you’ll use the data collected by Corey, knowledge and information about the game will grow because of this project. Fans/bloggers will use this data to create new ideas and add to the current discourse that surrounds the game.

Related Links:

Hockey Fans and the Leviathan – The SuperFan

Hockey Bloggers with Press Passes

Without a doubt, a tension exists between hockey bloggers and those who work as members of the mainstream media (MSM). The lines that separate the two groups have blurred as both fans and those with official press passes to cover the game interact and participate online. Communication tools and software have become more readily available and easier to use, allowing anyone with a basic understanding of the technology, and an interest in the game, to participate online.

In the past few years, bloggers have made the jump to more mainstream platforms and  we’ve also seen those with press passes, such as fomer Edmonton Journal writer Robin Brownlee, get into blogging. In his latest post for OilersNation, “Deep Thoughts XXIV: Ties that bind”, he had this to say about the current state of hockey coverage: Continue reading

Between World of Warcraft and Fantasy League

Through different tools and applications, the space between fans and professional athletes has diminished significantly. The conduit between the two parties has been removed as social media replaces traditional media outlets as information distribution platforms. A new relationship exists between fans and professional athletes as the rules of engagement are still being worked out.

Recently, a blogger compiled some statistics to examine the amount of chances a team creates when a certain defencemen are on the ice. Using both traditional hockey stats and advanced statistics, Dellow pointed out how Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney struggled in comparison to his teammates. Dellow then posted his findings on Twiiter, much to the chagrin of Whitney.

Not surprised the blog post upset Whitney. Reputation is critical for professional athletes and their market value. But the work of hockey bloggers is becoming more and more engrained in the mainstream information surrounding the game of hockey. Fans are analyzing the game and using various communication tools to create, develop and share information that reaches professional athletes and managers.

Whitney’s tweet was trying to reduce the significance of the blogger by portraying the individual as someone who’s distant from the game. I do agree that bloggers are similar to World of Warcraft and fantasy league fans as they all engage within a participatory culture. All three categories include fans who do more than just consume, but also produce new, creative content.

But it would be in Whitney’s best interest to see fans more than just passive consumers of the game. Rather than mock the blogger, Whitney would be better off either ignoring the critique completely or raise counter-arguments. The last thing he should do is mock fans who participate as contributors to the information surrounding the game.