Categorizing Sports Blogs

From what I’ve seen, sports blogs can be seperated into different categories.

1. The fan blog – Exactly what it sounds like, but with no affiliation with any major sports networks or sites.

2. The MSM blog – Blogs hosted by mainstream media networks such as TSN, Sportsnet, The Score or Edmonton Journal etc. Blog writers are employees of the major network.

3. Network Blogs – This is when fan blogs join a network of other blogs. This would include SB Nation, The Nation Network. Blogs that started small and grew to join a network of other blogs.

Social Media Manager in Professional Sports

Professional sports has really embraced social media to promote its product, connect with fans and release news and updates regarding teams and players. Of course there’s a trade-off to the information that they, being the league, teams, and players release online. Professional sports entities also use the online fan community to gather information about their clients and keep tabs on what’s being said and done.

Realizing how important it is to interact with fans and utilize the information available, professional sports teams want to maximixe the opportunity.

The Edmonton Oilers are looking for a manager of social media. Job description and requirements are below:

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Advanced Statistics and Hockey Analytics

Traditional hockey statistics have been around since the birth of professional leagues. The NHL’s first game was on December 19, 1917, with the Montreal Canadiens defeating the Ottawa Senators 7-4. According to hockeydb.com, the Canadiens went on to win the league championship that year after winning 13 games in a 22-game season. Assists were not tabulated, but Joe Malone did score 44 goals. The accuracy of these stats is sketchy, but there is evidence that basic stats were tabulated early on.

Today, the NHL publishes hundreds of statistics. Aside from goals, assists, penalties and shots in a game, the league also provides ice time, hits and faceoff percentages and breaks it down by power-play time and even strength. The amount of information the NHL provides has increased over time, and reflects a growing demand for statistics.

These stats can be used for a variety of reasons. They can used by game broadcasters to give more detail about a player or team and to add to the narrative of a game. Fans can use these stats to build their own fantasy league rosters and track favorite teams. Players can use these stats in contract negotiations as they provide more detail about a player’s ability. Coaches can use statistics to focus on specific competition and develop a game plan for their team.

Recently, advanced statistics have surfaced, to supplement these traditional stats. The site behindthenet.ca, a leading provider of advanced statistics, supplies data on where the player starts when play begins, the quality of the teammates he plays with, quality of the competition the coach plays him against, among others. Combined with the basic stats the NHL provides, these statistics provide more insight into the game. An FAQ regarding advanced stats can be found here.

Gabriel Desjardins is the individual behind the site and was recently interviewed on Nation Radio (Team 1260, Edmonton). Alan Mitchell, or Lowetide in the Oilogosphere, hosts the new show and talked to Desjardins about advanced stats, how it started and where it could go in the future.

Regarding how behindthenet.ca started:

“There wasn’t really much interest or much to do in terms of hockey analysis during the lockout (2004-2005 season). Then the NHL started publishing ice time in a much more usable format. Charts with green boxes showing who was on the ice. So they switched that into a text format that I could much more easily process into a website and once I saw that, there were a lot of ideas that sprang to mind. A lot of things that we could borrow particularly from basketball in terms of analyzing players and analyzing what they do on the ice.”

According to Shirky (2008), when the barriers to getting things done drop, more and more people will participate and contribute online. As soon as the league made their stats easier to use, fans were all over it to produce and share high quality data and information. Today, the NHL.com site has data sets that are detailed, updated regularly and easy to use.

Regarding where hockey statistics are going in terms of the data:

Desjardins believes that acquiring more detail about the game at the micro-level is the next step. Examples would be tracking passes and tracking exact pass location.

“Step after that is where you would have every single player and the puck tagged electronically at all times. So you know where absolutely everybody is. And obviously there’s some massive, massive database construction and programming problems to get any useful information out of this. But I think we will really push forward in terms of understanding some of the things that confuse us right now about how the game works.”

If hockey analytics is to expand, the NHL needs to get on board. Fans can take the data that the NHL provides and apply countless mathematical formulas and theories to develop new, innovative, information. There is the possibility that fans can collaborate with one another to begin tracking their own data, as done by Cult of Hockey and mc79hockey.com. But it would be in the NHL’s best interest to be involved in the accumulation of data.

Regarding the visitors to the site:

“Usually I only get a lot of request for things that aren’t there or are things that are broken down. It’s a pretty broad distribution of the pages that people look at. But I think the biggest thing people look at are the Oilers, and then they look at the Flames, and then they look at the Leafs, and that’s basically the bulk of the traffic is going to those three pages.”

“Much more interest in Canadian teams. Which is interesting because I think that the notion that advanced stats in hockey, a lot of people look at it as an American baseball idea, whereas its Canadians who are really pushing it and are really interested in it.”

Canada being hockey obsessed is already known. Recent studies have also shown that Canadians spend a lot of time online. But the fact that the Edmonton Oilers’ advanced statistics gets a majority of the traffic is interesting since the market is considered much smaller than cities such as Montreal and east coast hockey markets such as New York and Philadelphia. Why the Oilers content draws traffic would require research before drawing any conclusions.

Advanced statistics in general will continue to grow since we’ve seen in the past a growing desire by fans to get more involved in the game. Fans are moving from simple observers of the game to participants as they collaborate with other fans to build new information and share knowledge within an online community. The next step may be electronic tracking of professional players, but it’s more likely that a crowd-sourced method of building data sets is much more closer. Mobile technology continues to improve and could give fans the ability to share their observations and data instantly with others. New statistical methods and theories will continue to drive how the data is analyzed, but it will be the collaboration amongst fans that take hockey analytics to the next level.

Behind the Net (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.behindthenet.ca.

Hartley, M. (2011, March 8). Canada maintains title as world’s most engaged Web nation. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/03/08/canada-maintains-title-as-worlds-most-engaged-web-nation.

HockeyDB.com. (n.d.) Standings for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. Retrieved from http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/display_standings.php?tmi=6929.

McGourty, J. (2007, November 26). NHL celebrates 90th anniversary today. NHL.com. Retrieved from: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=369827.

Mitchell, A. (2011, February 19). Interview with Gabriel Desjardins. Nation Radio. Team 1260, Edmonton. Retrieved from http://oilersnation.com/2011/3/3/nation-radio-february-19-2011.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

Online Communities – Participation Inequality

Nielsen (2006)

A study from 2006 outlines participation statistics for online communities. Dr. Jakob Nielsen (2006) found that:

“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action”.

Would this be the case for online hockey fan communities?

From my experience, there are a small handful of hockey blogs that publish regular posts. Across these blogs, there are numerous comments left by readers and other bloggers to contribute to the ideas of the original posting.

Nielsen (2006) found that blog sites have even worse participation inequality and that the rule is closer to 95-5-0.1.

It would help to know statistics from hockey blog sites compare to Dr. Nielsen’s findings. Some data could provide further insight into the knowledge fans acquire and if in fact it is influenced by such a small number of people in the online community. The challenge would be to find the number of unique hits/reads a post gets that are from legitimate readers. Some blogs do require users to have an account before posting comments, while others rely on email addresses. So far, I haven’t been able to find other research papers that cover a similar issue.

Nielsen, J. (2006, October 9). Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. Alertbox. Retrieved from www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

The Hockey News: 100 People of Power and Influence

Source: The Hockey News

Latest post about The Hockey News’ annual list is here.

The latest issue of The Hockey News compiles the top 100 most influential people in hockey today.

The game itself has so many facets that it’s impossible to really measure influence. There’s the business side of it, so sponsors, owners, league executives and agents have influence. Then there’s the game play, so coaches, players and managers who determine how their teams prepare and perform have influence. Broadcast networks and mainstream media of course influence the game since they decide what’s presented, and how much.

I was surprised to see only one blogger make the list. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy ranks at #92 this year, up seven spots from last year. He’s the only blogger to have ever made the list.

Fans themselves have a lot of influence on the game and use blog sites regularly to get the latest information and interact with others. Online activity of NHL hockey fans has increased significantly over the past few years with more subscribing to digital services (Financial Post). But the modern fan is more than just a consumer of the game. They also act as sponges learning the game and developing their own ideas and thoughts. They take the information out there and centralize it to construct knowledge on blog sites.

Having only one blogger on the list seems bizarre to me especially considering the amount of traffic and comments they get daily. In the past year alone, some major stories have been broken by bloggers. None bigger than blogger Tyler Dellow uncovering some dirt on Colin Campbell, a senior VP and the NHL’s head of discipline. Reaction from TSN, Globe and Mail and Puck Daddy.

It could also be that the list The Hockey News has compiled just ignores online activity as an influencer.

Phoenix Coyotes player Paul Bissonnette landed at #100 on the list. He has a total of 6 points in 80 career games (as of this post) and is known more for his fighting on the ice. But online, Bissonnette has become one of the most popular hockey types on Twitter (@BizNasty2point0). With over 34,000 followers, he ranks near the top of all hockey related accounts, even ahead of The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews). Bissonnettes entertaining tweets are pretty refreshing for a league that has very robotic-like players when a broadcast medium is placed in front of them. He’s also a supporter of causes that help the homeless and has some unique fundraising methods.

His online activity and the nature of his tweets has the attention of a demographic that the NHL caters to and should get him a higher spot. Bissonnette updates regularly to give followers a behind-the-scene look at life in the NHL and promotes the game in a market desperate for fans.

The Hockey News needs to start examining online activity as an influence on professional hockey. I can understand how owners, players and media influence the game. But with more and more people online and the web being what it is, more attention needs to be placed on bloggers and online communities.

Campbell, K. (2011). 100 People of Power and Influence. The Hockey News, 64 (14), p. 14-23.

Hartley, M. (2011, January 25). NHL mobile apps top one million downloads as hockey fans go digital. Financial Post. Retrived from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/01/25/nhl-mobile-apps-top-one-million-downloads-as-hockey-fans-go-digital/.

Smart Mobs and Collective Intelligence

In the book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold describes Smart Mobs as a group that behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination (Wikipedia).

Collective intelligence, according to Pierre Levy, is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks.

So can sports fans be considered a smart mob?

Their networks have generated collective intelligence using blogs and other web tools. It’s easy to get online and join in on the conversations about sports and hockey. The community itself is large and encompasses not only fans, but mainstream media individuals, teams and the league itself.

The amount of information speaks for itself with blog sites becoming sources of knowledge and analysis. Fans are continuously helping other fans with questions and debates about various topics take place regularly.

Levy, P. (1994). Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Paris.

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Basic Books.

How blogging is like pond hockey

Ken Dryden talks extensively about the evolution of hockey in his book “The Game”. He stresses the importance of allowing young players to be creative without the rigid structure of organized hockey. He uses Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur as an example of a player who would spend time alone on the ice or with a few friends before and after practice to feel and develop his own game. Dryden talks about how skill and instincts are developed better when there’s less restrictions. The mind is able to wander more and think of new ways of playing the game.

Kids across different sports are placed under strict limitations by coaches. They’re expected to follow a team system or game plan and find a role to stick with for the greater good of the team. Rosters can’t have twelve Gretzky’s playing forward, so naturally, some players got be more offensive while others were put into supporting roles.

When the ice is open and there are less limits, like in pond hockey, a player has the ability to be creative. They can try different things without any repercussions. You get the chance to feel the game and be more imaginative.

I find this similar to blogging. When individuals can just write, without any worry of losing anything, some interesting stuff can come out. And if it doesn’t, big deal. It sticks around the web until someone can come along and maybe pick up from where it left off. Like pond hockey, there are some loose rules, but for the most part, you’re free to do whatever you want.

Being able to write is the same feeling you get when you’re playing on a frozen pond. The possibilities just seem endless when you can skate whichever direction, at any speed and include any movement. It’s a great feeling when the sunset is the final buzzer.

Dryden, K. (1983). The Game. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.

Virtual World for Hockey Fans

The Edmonton Oilers announced the launch of an online community for kids. Rinksters is a place where children between 6 and 12 can play games, learn about the game and interact with other fans.

Would be interesting to see how using this site would impact future online activity. Would kids move on to start their own site, have a higher tendency to engage with other fans or even contribute to the collection of information and knowledge out there?

Clearly the Oilers are trying to draw in fans of a younger age and get them ready to spend money once they become adults. But this could also be a way to tap into the online activity and behaviour of fans once they mature.

Image from Edmonton Journal.

Hockey Pundits and Experts

During episode two of HBO’s “24/7 Penguins/Capitals“, Washington general manager George McPhee had this to say in regards to outside critics of their losing streak:

When you’re having a tough stretch, this is when there are too many reactionaries out there. All the experts come out, all the pundits come out with their opinions and the truth of the matter is that if they knew anything about the game, they’d be in it. I don’t usually comment on job status and that nonsense because people, whatever you say, will read between the lines and parse words.

I found this interesting simply because there is a great deal of knowledge and information that ‘outsiders’ have. Unfortunately, if this attitude persists throughout the NHL, a lot will be overlooked.

Hat tip to Adam Vingan of Half Smokes for the quote.