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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

As someone living in Canada, and outside of British Columbia, thank you!

My thanks aren’t so much for the fact that the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Vancouver Canucks in game one of their first round playoff match up, although as a Calgary Flames fan, I certainly enjoyed it.

No, my thanks are primarily for the refreshingly edgy, although short lived, approach to social media from an official NHL club’s Twitter account.

For those who may have missed it, this was what @LAKings posted to Twitter immediately following the victory on Wednesday night.

This delightfully witty nine word statement made light of the fairly indisputable fact that many Canadian hockey fans outside BC have a dislike for the Canucks.

To be honest, the case can be made that the Canucks have become the Toronto Maple Leafs of the west coast. Hockey fans in this country love to hate them. Much like people gleefully point to 1967 around Leafs fans, the inability for a Canucks team to seal the deal in the Stanley Cup playoffs has gone from unfortunate statistic, to prime example of schadenfreude (look it up).

Why the Canucks are so disliked is still up for debate. Is it underlying Canadian regionalism? Maybe the agitator style of play from players such as Alex Burrows, Max Lapierre, and Ryan Kesler rub people the wrong way. Maybe people dislike how apparently unstable Canucks players become during the playoffs; should we buy Kesler a springboard for this dive?

From all the hurt feelings and debate over which team is liked by which people, comes an interesting discussion on social media in professional sports.

What should be the official voice of an organization?

When it comes to personality and charisma, the official Twitter accounts for NHL clubs aren’t even on the board. In what can only be described as apparent political correctness to the extreme, these accounts spew out videos, interviews, random facts, and the occasional retweet or response. Contrary to the very design of Twitter, NHL communications staff use this medium as an information dump.

Sure there are your generic contests, fan polls, and an attempt to be interactive, but there is very little character or personality. The reality is that these organizations take on a robotic voice.

In a sport where intensity and passion are so prevalent, shouldn’t the teams themselves get in on the action from a PR perspective? There are those that claim teams like the Canucks have no vested interest in going outside their safety zone. Only the teams in competitive sport markets, vying for attention, need to operate on the edge. I’ll go against my public relations instincts and disagree with that.

I have serious doubts that social media platforms were created to be safe. Opening your organization to such transparency is inherently dangerous. Control the message all you want, but there is always the person who forgets to switch back to their personal Twitter account.

In sports there are those fans that simply hate other teams. The rivalries are out there for everyone to see. Flames and Oilers; Penguins and Flyers; Canucks and Blackhawks; Leafs and everyone else. In many cases these rivalries drive up viewership. You think people went to the Colosseum to see two gladiators hug it out?

Aside from the generic “we don’t like the guys in the other dressing room” comment thrown around during the playoffs, the PR staff for NHL clubs, and the league itself, strongly control the level of emotion seen by the public.

There is no need to be vulgar, or blatantly insulting and unsportsmanlike, but the way this Kings’ staff member crafted that tweet is perfect.

It was a taunt. Something you had to put a bit of thought into after you read it. It wasn’t crude. It wasn’t classless. It was just plain witty. And what was the reaction? It raised the level of intensity between fans, and gave this series some life in the public realm.

From that tweet, the Kings could have started to craft a unique online identity among NHL clubs. It could have been the first step in giving the organization a true personality in a faceless online environment. Instead, the Kings’ communications department came out Thursday to say that they are “addressing” the situation internally. In non PR talk, that means a member of their communications team is spending significant time in the supervisor’s office today. It’s unlikely that anyone would lose their job over this, but you can be sure the Kings are making it clear that this shouldn’t happen again.

In my books, that is a real shame.

Oh well. I guess that means we’re back to the status quo. Yawn…

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