For decades, the relationship between media and pro sports teams was pretty simple. Reporters went to games (for free), sequestered in the press box. They’d get access to practices and the dressing rooms. When there were bigger games, like the playoffs, there would be press conferences and, as the years went on, those press conferences were sent out live through various television and streaming platforms. Reporters would build relationships, get to know the players and staff, and, if there was a criticism from fans, it was that the relationship between media and teams was often too cozy.
But, since the explosion of social media, leagues and teams have become far more careful. Player availabilities are more limited than ever before. Many teams choose to do almost all of their communications via press conference, removing the opportunities for journalists to ask one-on-one questions. In a world where an out-of-context quote can cause an online furor, the best way to shepherd the media is to ensure that most, if not all, of the questions are asked in public settings. It’s hard for a journalist working on a scoop to ask a sensitive question when the cameras are all on, the press conference is being streamed live, and everyone else is asking about line combinations.
That’s the weird thing about journalism — the best work is done when reporters can ask questions in one-on-one environments, or at least without the team’s own camera people shooting over their shoulders. The more we broadcast everything we do, the more enterprise journalism gets curtailed.
The post-game availabilities and dressing-room chatter is all streamed live on league or team websites. You can hear what TSN or Edmonton Journal reporters are asking, before they even have the chances to craft their stories. Cynically, you could argue that a journalist doesn’t even have to go to the games anymore — to cover the team, you can watch the game on TV, then stream the post-game press conference and dressing-room Q and As, and get everything you need for a cohesive story from your living room.
And, the next step? More and more sports teams are recognizing the value of not only shepherding the media, but becoming the media. We’ve seen this on many league websites, where league-employed reporters file stories. The line between what is independent media and team- or league-sponsored media is blurred.
The Oilers Entertainment Group took the next big step towards “becoming the media” with the launch of Oilers+, a new streaming service that, for $59.99/year or $8.99/month, offers fans behind-the-scenes content, lifestyle shows featuring the Oilers, and lots of extras. Cooking with the Oilers. Hockey instruction from the Oilers. What it’s like to be in president and general manager Ken Holland’s inner circle at the draft. How the Oilers spend their summers.
“We did some research a couple of years ago, and, looking back, there was an appetite for more and more live and behind-the-scenes (content),” said Stew MacDonald, OEG’s President and Chief Revenue Officer.
The Oilers then spoke to different clubs in different leagues to see how they’re looking to occupy the digital space. He said their video teams spent six months shooting so that the site would have plenty of content ahead of today’s launch.
The Oilers brass said that, in early meetings with the team’s leadership group, there was concern about how the players would be portrayed. After all, it’s not easy for the likes of Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl to allow the public to see them outside of the hockey context. But, the OEG brass at today’s launch event assured those in attendance that, now, everyone has bought into the model.
And then comes the big part of this — back to what MacDonald said about being “live” and “behind-the-scenes” as priorities for Oilers+.
“We can let the fans in at the same time the media are in, whether that’s at the podium in the Hall of Fame room or the dressing room,” said MacDonald.
Obviously, many of the fans reading this will be happy that the exclusivity that the media used to enjoy is done and dusted, and is never coming back. But, the concern is that this gives less and less incentive for the media to break stories that go outside of the daily grind. But the genie is out of the bottle, and isn’t coming back.