This week people have been tweeting about The Hockey News Yearbook, and in our sphere of influence specifically about Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin being the only Dallas Stars in the ranking of the top 50 players. I wanted to see who all was ahead of John Klingberg only to find out that the Yearbook isn’t online, but that you could order it with custom-ish covers.
The variations of the cover athletes stuck out to me a little bit. Let’s see (roughly) where these guys ply their crafts using this Ottawa Senators-inspired MS Paint map. The hastily spray painted blue areas are where the players are from, though some teams like the Senators, Devils, and Islanders get swept up into the fray.
I know this isn’t breaking news, but all of the cover athletes come from the areas Top Hockey Men think matter to the sport. I realize like five of us think this is problematic, but the promotion of hockey in general is so specifically targeted to straight white northern and Canadian middle to upper class men that the sport rarely does a good job of reaching marginalized audiences.
The way the sport interacts with women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community is significantly more important as a general issue than the plight of this subset of southern hockey fans, but we’re here to talk about the general disdain for the southern hockey fan right now.
General opinion from fans and the media from across the league tends to view non-traditional markets in a negative light. The NHL and media often have as much interest in reaching out to this large group of untapped potential customers as The Big Lebowski had in seriously finding Bunny.
Is it the responsibility of The Hockey News or any media outlet to speak directly to what is, currently, an apparently small group? Responsibility? No, but if you’re trying to find new markets or expand current ones then what good does constantly trying to draw in the kids of Toronto or Montreal do? They’re going to be around regardless.
It’s easy to chalk these covers up to demand driving supply on the surface. I have a hard time buying that a product like this would do poorly with a special cover in Vegas the year after the expansion club made the Stanley Cup Finals, and the market proved the value it can provide. If P.K. Subban is on a cover people aren’t going to buy it? Los Angeles is the second biggest media market in the world, and they have two NHL teams. How easy would it be to put Drew Doughty and John Gibson on for the LA metro area?
Even if we operate under the theory that this would be cost prohibitive due to not selling outside of a home market, and barely selling in the home marker, I found these for order online. It takes zero effort to have a couple special covers available only online just as a token that you care about expanding an audience in an area where it might not be as large as it otherwise could be.
The key word there is effort. It takes effort to build up an audience. That is the responsibility of a publication. Any publication that thinks they only serve an audience instead of serving and growing it is doomed to fall behind the competition. Team-specific sites do just fine, even in non-traditional markets.
Why do they succeed? They put out quality content people want to read. The most successful ones have writers who take the time to craft well-written stories that are interesting to read on the merits of their prose. They cover interesting topics. They try to provide interesting perspectives you can’t find anywhere.
Those doomed to fail regurgitate the same uninteresting garbage you can find anywhere. The audience is assumed to be stagnant or uninterested. That lack of interest is assumed to be because of a lack of interest in the team, but the harder logical road for writers to follow is that the lack of interest is in the work they are creating.
It’s arrogance and foolishness. The NHL is in so many markets that could provide so much more value if the NHL and its media cared to consistently speak directly to them. Every year I expose my 99% minority urban students in north Houston to hockey through some highlights of hits, dangles, and fights. They always love it. They don’t necessarily have the interest the media and NHL look for, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have interest.
They simply don’t have exposure.
And showing southern hockey markets how little they matter consistently, and these covers are just one small example of the larger trend that has been established for at least 25 years, keeps this larger audience far enough away to satisfy the preconceived notions of The Top Hockey Men who “matter”.