Following the Oilers

In the midst of all of the losing and failed playoff attempts are questions from concerned friends and loved ones.

          Why do you still cheer for the Oilers?

          It’s the same thing every year. Aren’t you sick of it?

          Are you okay?

Surrounding those questions are taunts and ridicule, constantly reminding us that it’s been a long time since the Oilers made it to the playoffs. That the Oilers have only made the playoffs 7 times in the past 18 seasons is easy to showcase. And that any sort of memory of dynasties should be washed away with the tears of pain and disappointment.

So why DO we follow this team?

First it’s important to review how we got in this position. My own real commitment, when I had the attention span to watch games and follow the news, started well after the dynasty days. This goal right here from the 1997 playoffs. Game 7, Dallas, overtime.

I was hooked. And every year since, despite all of the losing, the attachment grows. I’ll try to explain.

The Oilers being terrible has led to some unintentional consequences. All of which have played a significant role in our personal attachment to the team. While famous research studies have pointed to basking in reflected glory, I would argue that Oiler fans are basking in an addiction to uncertainty.

From the uncertainty that stems from professional sports, we’ve created an excessive amount of discourse. Think of the message boards, the blogs, the comments, the tweets. All filled with speculation and the ensuing gossip, which serves as a bridging tool for strangers to connect, share ideas and build community. And built on the foundation of the speculation and gossip across these channels are the storylines. Think of any player drafted and their back story before coming to training camp. Or when a player is playing poorly, we ponder what changes are needed in the lineup.

And from the storylines, we build these unique characters. We develop these strong attachments to players in the hope that they succeed (or fail depending on your outlook in life). Each character carries traits and skills, creating numerous short and long compelling narratives that we want (or hope) to see the completion of.

And at the very heart of all of this is the community, which includes fans, writers, broadcasters, and anyone else watching the game. The stories need a medium to be exchanged and extended, and it’s the social aspect of fandom that drives the communal and individual attachment to the game.

Now if the team wasn’t terrible, I’d argue there would be less to speculate on. I can only imagine what it’d be like supporting the Kings or Bruins. I’m pretty sure the topics would not include fledgling 4th round draft picks and failed defensive systems. The Oilers being terrible really is why it’s hard to quit now. We’ve invested so much time and energy following the story, it’s hard to turn away from the uncertainty and the possibility that some sort of conclusion exists. Combine that with the community you’re a part of, and the regular discourse, there really is a social attachment to the game that’s difficult to break.


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 Reporting and Hockey Analysis

usb1Typewriter“We shape our tools,and then our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan


Influence of Technology on Sports Journalism

The impact of web technology has had a profound impact on how professional sports are consumed by fans. For example, fans have numerous options when they want to watch or listen to a game, including, among others, using mobile technology or data tracking software. Fans can interact and share content with others by publishing their thoughts and ideas about hockey on blogs and other social media platforms. To keep up with their loyal fan base, the NHL has readily adopted technology and software that helps their fans get closer to the game. Examples include providing detailed statistics available online or social media promotions to connect players to fans.

One area of professional sports that technology continues to strongly influence is sports journalism. Specifically, individuals who are employed by television broadcasters that hold NHL distribution rights, such as TSN or Sportsnet, newspapers and the NHL. These individuals typically have direct access to players and managers and are responsible for providing news and updates regarding NHL-related activity.

In the past, individuals who covered sports for the local news channel or newspaper were considered “reporters”. They would attend games and produce a story using the results of the event. Within the story would be quotes from players and coaches, a summary of key events within the game and maybe a preview of the next game. Since speculation is an important facet for professional sports, gossip regarding players and team could also be included, depending on the reporter.

Today, individuals who cover sports for mainstream media outlets are labeled all sorts of things. “Insiders”. “Analysts”. “Correspondents”. At first glance, they all appear to have the same role, which is to cover the game and provide some sort of content for fan consumption. But it’s the technology they use that differentiates them, as not all sports journalists produce the same kind of content. Understanding the tools they and what type of content they produce, can allow us to classify them and understand their roles and objectives.

Defining Reporting and Analysis

The technology sports journalists use differentiates those who report on the game, and those who analyze the game. Both “Reporting” and “Analyzing” are interchanged regularly, not only in sports journalism, but also other industries such as information management. While both actions produce content, they each entail different objectives.

I did a quick search online and came across this differentiation of Reporting and Analysis on a blog from Adobe, a major software company:

Report­ing: The process of orga­niz­ing data into infor­ma­tional sum­maries in order to mon­i­tor how dif­fer­ent areas of a busi­ness are per­form­ing.

Analy­sis: The process of explor­ing data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand and improve busi­ness performance.

So applying these definitions to sports journalism, I’ve come up with this:

Hockey Reporting: The process of coordinating data and information into summaries that describe hockey-related events. This is someone that summarizes current events, including games, player or team performance and current rumors.

Hockey Analysis: The process of exploring data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand the game and support further analysis and continue extending the knowledge surrounding the game. This would be someone that could summarize current events, but spends more time looking deeper into the data from hockey games to provide further insight.

These definitions need some work, so I’m hoping to get feedback from anyone interested.

Why the need to classify sports journalists?

It’s critical for fans to understand the roles and objectives of the contents’ producer. The present environment for hockey fans contains a lot of information, and it’s really up to them to filter through the noise to find value in the content available online, in print and on television. Fans do more than just consume the content as they have demonstrated their ability to extend the content by providing their own feedback and raising new, applicable ideas.

By understanding the producers role, fans can put the content into perspective before extending the content and building new ideas. This is not to say that what sports reporters produce cannot be built upon by fans. But a more appropriate response can be made after understanding what the producers objectives are. And it’s much more beneficial to the game if ideas are built on solid claims and information, rather than bogus hockey rumors, for example.

As always, feel free to leave feedback below or contact me directly!