Hockey Fans and the Leviathan

While reading through Yochai Benkler’s “The Penguin and the Leviathan”, this crops up.

Blogger Tyler Dellow over at mc79hockey.com is looking for volunteers to track statistics from Oilers games. Instead of the standard goals and assists which are already offered by the league, Dellow proposes some advanced statistics tracking:

I divided the rink into 24 zones and recorded where each event started and ended. I did, I think, come up with some interesting stuff, even in only ten minutes. I was recording what happened with the puck when a player touched it and where he touched it.  

The collaborative effort of fans to collect and analyze data will be something to see if it can get off the ground. If there’s anyone interested in helping, you can contact Tyler (mc79hockey@gmail.com). The challenge will be to breakup the work so that it can be manageable and provide a high enough degree of satisfaction that participants come back to do more.

Once my research proposal is approved by the University of Alberta, I’ll start examining the online behavior of hockey fans. One thing I hope to uncover is how this level of fan participation isn’t surprising, considering how committed fans are to the game of hockey, the participatory culture that exists and the technology available. As I mentioned in my post NHL Needs to Provide More Data, the NHL can either start helping fans out and be part of the movement, or just watch the collective creativity take flight.

Benkler (2011) put it best:

For the commons has finally come into its own. Because in today’s knowledge economy, the most valuable resources – information and knowledge – are themselves a public good, and the best way to develop and maximize this good is through millions of networked people pooling that knowledge and working together to create new products, ideas, and solutions (pg. 153).

Benkler, Y. (2011). The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Co-operation over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Business.

Creativity

Henry Jenkins interviewed David Gauntlett, author of Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Full interview can be found here.

Regarding the importance of the internet to creativity:

Having easy access to people who share their passions means that individuals can be inspired by each other’s work and ideas – which can lead to a positive spiral of people doing better and better things and inspiring more and more activity by others. This could happen before the internet, in clubs and societies, but it would tend to be slower, and the inspiring inputs would most likely be fewer, and less diverse.

NHL Needs to Provide More Data

It would be in the best interest of the NHL to begin generating and providing more advanced data for fans to work with.

The amount of hockey statistics has come a long way. Along with goals, assists, points and penalties, the league now provides even greater details, breaking down results by period, by division, arena, etc.

Fans have demonstrated a high demand of statistics which are used in debates with other fans, their own blogs/commentary, fantasy leagues and gambling. Some have even used statistics to create visual representation of the game. For example, TimeOnIce (ex. game number 30311) shows which players were playing with and against  to give fans an idea of who the coaches tried to match up.

To really stay relevant and remain a valuable source for information, the NHL needs to join the community of fans who use stats regularly for their own purposes. Two things need to be done:

1. Expand the amount of data being captured. For example, tracking player mistakes, similar to what the Cult of Hockey does, could be done. For an example of advanced hockey analytics, see BehindTheNet.

2. Make the data easy to work with and share. Provide the statistics, but also tutorials on what it is and how to use and share it. Anyone with basic computer skills should be able to learn some export and embedding functions to use the information on their blogs.

The object of these statistics should be to encourage fans to do something with it. Hockey fans are more than just consumers. Blogs and fan videos demonstrate the creativity of a community passionate about their sport. Sport fantasy social clubs show us that fans are involved and committed. Some even bet on sports! Look at this, CompareTheBets’ List of Promo Codes. From that, we can all deduce that lots of people do it!  It’s also imperative to reach out to new fans and teach them about the game. The best way learn is to be active and engaged with the material available.

If the NHL doesn’t provide the content fans need to create their own material, it won’t matter. Fans will find a way to get things done. The league can either be a part of the community’s movement towards active fandom or a spectator of creative content.

Convergence Culture

Dr. Henry Jenkins’ book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide is a must read for anyone studying fans and participatory culture. Here’s a summary from ConvergenceCulture.org.

CONVERGENCE CULTURE explores the ways relations between media producers and consumers are changing. Right now, it is assumed that consumers will participate in the flow of media but there is wide disagreement about the terms of that participation. As a result of digital media, consumers are acting as communities – what Pierre Levy calls “collective intelligence” – rather than simply as individuals. In this way, media consumption becomes a profoundly social process.

Ultimately, Jenkins argues that the debate over convergence will redefine the face of American popular culture. Industry leaders see opportunities to direct content across many channels to increase revenue and broaden markets. At the same time, consumers envision a liberated public sphere, free of network controls, in a decentralized media environment. Sometimes corporate and grassroots efforts reinforce each other, creating closer, more rewarding relations between media producers and consumers. Sometimes these two forces are at war.

Transmedia Storytelling – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Here’s an example of transmedia storytelling I posted on our class blog. You can find more details about transmedia storytelling from Dr. Henry Jenkins’ blog post.


TMNT used various platforms to continue on and develop its storylines. Aside from the Saturday morning cartoons, there were comic books, feature films and board games. They also utilized video games to engage fans in a medium that not only continued the storyline, but also allowed fans to take control.

The television shows worked well for the storyline since it combined visual and audio effects to draw viewers. It gave fans a sense of what the characters are like and how they react when in conflict with villians. This also established the vision of the animators and creators of TMNT.

Video games gave fans the power to control the heroes within established storylines. Video games works well as a platform since fans have a clear goal in mind, which is to complete the story and finish the game. How they do this is up to player as they decide which character they get to be and control how exactly they finish off the villains. Fans become more familiar with the characters as well as the TMNT narrative.

Photo: http://www.ign.com/blogs

Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Transmedia Storytelling – World Wrestling Entertainment

Here’s an example of transmedia storytelling I posted on our course blog for New Media Narratives. You can find more details about transmedia storytelling from Dr. Henry Jenkins’ blog post.

Example 1: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)

The WWE has utilized transmedia storytelling in the past to develop its characters and plots. It has been years since I watched wrestling but do remember the methods that were used in the eighties. Television was used for wrestling matches and to promote the good guy versus the bad guy drama. A Saturday morning cartoon was developed starring the wrestlers with stories that contributed to the franchises storylines. The opening itself for Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was a blend of real-life and cartoon.

Today, the WWE uses weekly television shows along with Twitter to develop their storylines and characters. The television program is live and provides fans with two hours of time for several storylines to develop. Programming includes matches, highlights from previous weeks and promotions for upcoming pay-per-views and merchandise. The television is a valuable medium since wrestling and acting is a visual and audio display. Hearing two men grunt out a match on the radio just would not work out as effectively. Television content is also available online after the show has aired.

Twitter is a platform that allows for the continuation of the storyline before and after the television programming. Fans receive real-time updates regarding content but also stay in touch with the wrestlers who send messages to build up their matches and appearances. It suits the build up of the storylines since it fills the silence that exists between live programming. The storylines don’t always require a visual aid and can be communicated by text.

Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Swallow, E. (2011, January 28). How WWE Conquered the Social Media Arena. Mashable.
Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/01/28/wwe-social-media/#

NHL Guardian Project

Source: wikimedia.org

The NHL has hired Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman comics, to develop 30 heroes representing each team. These characters “came to life” at the NHL All Star Game this weekend in Carolina (Source: NHL.com). You can see all of the characters and read their back stories at the official Guardian Project website.

A lot of people have wondered out loud how comic book heroes relate to hockey. The obvious rationale is provided by the NHL:

“With an initial plan to reach an all-family audience and narrower target demo of tween boys, GME hopes to bring a new audience to the NHL, while engaging the existing, established hockey fan base through a compelling tale of good vs. evil.” Source: NHL.com

But how do superheroes bring in new fans?

It does tap into the market of comic book fans who are familiar with Stan Lee’s previous work. Being exposed to NHL logos and learning about the teams they represent is a good way to get fans into the game. But it’s the narratives and storytelling that will bring in fans.

Narratives play an important role in communication between people. It’s a way to teach, a way to entertain and a way to engage readers. By having characters, a plot, conflict and an ending, stories manage to stick with us longer and have a greater impact that simply reading lessons or information. An example would be the lessons a child learns when reading a story.

Stan Lee and crew attempt to summarize an entire NHL team and its city into one single character. Here’s an exerpt from The Oiler’s background:

He’s gritty and tough like the roughneck oilrig workers he mostly associates with. He spends a majority of his time roaming the Northwest Territories. He’s most happy when he’s exploring the vast northern wilderness. Whether it’s blasting bad guys with torrents of energized oil, engulfing them in a horrendous blizzard or crushing through concrete walls, the Oiler is one devastating Guardian. Source: nhl.com

A person can get more out of their engagement with a narrative and following a character, rather than just consume information about a topic. The Guardian project ties the information about Edmonton and what an Oiler is into animation and a storyline instead of just presenting facts to consume.

The NHL’s foray into comics also works as an example of transmedia storytelling. Henry Jenkins (2007) defines transmedia storytelling as:

a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. (Source: Confessions of an Aca/Fan)

The NHL has used television, radio, web, social media and gaming to reach its audience. By using comics, the NHL can continue its storytelling and capturing a wider audience and maintain costs.

According to Jenkins,

comics have emerged as a key vehicle for constructing transmedia narratives — in part because they cost less to produce and are thus lower risk than developing games or filming additional material (Source: Confessions of an Aca/Fan)

It’s easy to mock the NHL for trying out comic book superheroes, especially when they make for easy punchlines. The odd selection of characteristics for some of the guardians as well as the strong resemblance to older Stan Lee characters have been a more popular topic of conversation. But there is good reasoning for a professional sports league, that’s trying to grow its game, to try something as imaginative as this.

Ebbsfleet United – Fan-owned soccer team

In 2007, a group of fans pooled together enough money to buy a minor league soccer team in England. The website MyFootballClub.co.uk collected money from fans to become owners of the Ebbsfleet United Football Club. Roughly 26,000 people at the time signed up and contributed $70 US each (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Fans would be able to vote on different issues such as selecting a coach, approving player transfers and game day lineups.

After one year, however, the number of owners dropped to roughly 9,000. As of September 2010, there are only 3,500 paying members (Wikipedia). The team has struggled as of late and has dropped down to a sixth tier level of soccer.

This crowd sourcing tactic seemed like a great idea at first. Utilizing the collective intelligence of fans can be a great benefit to a professional sports team, but has its challenges.

From different quotes in a recent BBC article, it appears there were critical factors that led to the drop in ownership members.

Fans appear to have been given false promises and hope regarding the team and dedication of owners. According to Gary Andrews of SoccerLens.com, it took seven months for the Pick the Team option to be offered but needed to be voted on by the owners. The final vote was 265-227 in favor of Team Manager Liam Waish selecting the team rather than the fans. Such a low voter turnout is concerning and makes you wonder if the majority of the owners are even real fans of the club.

“I think we failed to give many members the feeling of ownership and closeness to the club they had hoped for. Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality.” – Will Brooks, MyFC’s founder (has since departed), BBC article

There is a tiredness about the whole MyFootballClub project. I think a lot of people when it first started thought it would have been a large football club – someone like Leeds United. That would have been ridiculously optimistic to take on a football club like that. There’s a lot of frustration that there were larger numbers and between us all we haven’t achieved a little bit more. – Phil Sonsara, voluntary chairman, BBC article

It also appears that not everyone was on board with having so many owners controlling so much. Coaches have enough to deal with when handling players and game plans, let alone a fan community with some power. It’s also tougher to make decisions regarding player transactions when you have to consult a community.

I don’t have the time to sit and write blogs and podcasts or whatever they are. I have a lot on my plate. I’m not going to be sitting in front of a computer six hours a day, answering everyone’s emails. – Liam Daish, Team Manager, BBC article

I honestly felt the club could never progress so long as MyFootballClub was involved. There comes a point when these people need to say this is damaging the football club now. When it comes to transferring players, for example, other clubs don’t always want their details bandied about in the public domain. Decisions have been made in the past that don’t involve the members. They’re swept under the carpet. Nobody’s probably trying to do that in purpose, but it’s the reality of the situation. – Roly Edwards, former director and vice-chairman, BBC article

Today, the club continues to struggle on the field while problems exist with the current ownership system. A site has been launched called FreeMyFC, a community of fans unhappy with the current situation.