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NHL teams look to restrict blogger access in certain locker room situations

Aug 26, 2010, 12:30 PM EDT

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This is an issue that might only be relevant to a small segment of readers out there (likely the ones who have their own blogs), but it’s been the talk of the Virtual Hockey Town this morning so I thought it would be prudent to pass along the story.

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski discussed the fact that the NHL might change its policies when it comes to the kind of locker room access bloggers receive. Here is an excerpt from that in-depth piece.

Credentialed bloggers usually enjoy the same access as a newspaper or radio reporter on a game night: a seat in the press box, fresh popcorn and access to the teams’ dressing rooms for postgame interviews. They cover the game, pass information to their audience, and have done so for the last several years without many incidents of unprofessional behavior, despite approaching the coverage from a fan’s perspective.

Yet several prominent NHL franchises, including the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, have strict “no blogger” policies in their arenas. They don’t see them as working journalists, and they certainly don’t see a need for them to have access to cramped locker rooms after the game.

On Monday, these teams emphatically voiced those concerns during an annual preseason conference call between NHL executives and team media-relations directors. Their issue: If my team doesn’t credential bloggers in its home arena, why should bloggers haves access to my team’s locker room on the road?

In essence, these teams wish to see bloggers become a second-class citizenry in the press box: Given a ‘B-grade’ credential that allows them on press row and in the home-team dressing room, but prohibits them from interacting with players from the visiting team if that team has a policy against alt-media access.

Again, I know for most of you, this issue comes down to “pulling back the curtain” or navel gazing. Feel free to scroll down from this article if means nothing to you.

Moving on, earning credentials – and thus dealing with NHL teams – has been a big issue for hockey bloggers as they’ve grown in prominence over the last few years.

On one hand, many teams might be justified in giving a prominent blogger access because of the increase in publicity that could come with it. This is especially justified with teams who lack a palpable buzz (like the New York Islanders and their “Blog Box” concept) or a standard major newspaper beat writer. One of the reasons hockey blogs are successful is because they fill a need that isn’t being met thanks to struggling print operations.

That being said, NHL teams cannot be totally guilty when they give a pause. As Wyshysnki wrote, it’s true that the “no accountability” talk is going by the wayside as big blogs are being tied to corporate entities more and more, but there certainly is more mystery with bloggers. After all, with a beat reporter, you can call upon his or her editor to bring the hammer down. Blogs often range in professional aims so wildly that it’s often difficult to identify the chain of command.

(Not to mention the fact that many bloggers bring a sardonic, satirical approach to hockey that understandably makes some teams nervous.)

There isn’t really a “one size fits all” answer to this issue, which is why the NHL allowed case-by-case decisions of access. It’s a shame that some NHL teams are so adamant when it comes to restricting bloggers, but ultimately its their right to choose who can and cannot gain access to their players and other employees.

Still, blogs aren’t going to disappear even if their access is restricted, especially since “blog” is such a vague term that could describe any number of endeavors. Naturally, I’m in favor of bloggers gaining as much access as possible, but that doesn’t mean I think the league is crazy for being reluctant to allow more than their comfortable with. It will take time for bloggers to become a part of the “mainstream” and I, for one, think that isn’t strictly a bad thing.

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