In April 2009, hockey fans across North America participated in the first-ever multi-city “NHL Tweetup” to ring in that year’s Stanley Cup quarterfinals. The events, which were organized by and for fans, featured food and drinks, laughs, player and staff appearances, and even raffles for signed memorabilia that teams donated. The Internet made these concurrent events possible. NHLTweetup.com — a site branded, designed, developed, and launched by fans — served (and continues to serve) as a clearinghouse for information about individual meet ups, as well as being a photo and video repository for event organizers to upload media of their cities’ events. The #NHLTweetup hashtag on Twitter pointed fans to information they needed to participate. And the Internet has become an integral part of the fan experience, thanks to broad social and mobile adoption across 30 NHL teams and the League office in New York.
As a guy who lives at the intersection of technology and political/issue advocacy, and as the guy who in 2009 was Nashville’s NHL Tweetup organizer, I’m a firm believer that hockey fans should harness Internet technologies and insert ourselves into this labor dispute. We didn’t have Twitter during the last round of CBA negotiations. YouTube was, at best, in its infancy. Facebook was exclusive to people with a Harvard.edu email address.
So while Harrison Mooney at Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog writes, “Any attempt to force the hand of the NHL and NHLPA in these negotiations is a fool’s errand,” I say, “Let’s give them a run for their money.” When Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren attempted to sign restricted free agent Nashville Predators captain and franchise player Shea Weber to a $110 million offer sheet this summer, local hockey blogs exploded with “what ifs,” and team ownership responded by matching the heavily front-loaded offer sheet, crediting fans and sponsors for an outpouring of both support and cautionary rhetoric. When the United States Congress considered the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act, floodgates of online criticism forced members to quickly reconsider their positions and scuttle their bills. While establishing a first-order causal connection between online advocacy and offline action still eludes even the most sophisticated of social scientists, the Internet has, to a degree, begun to become the democratizing force that Democratic strategist Joe Trippi once prophesied.
It may be true, as Mooney writes, that “nothing [a hockey fan does] will stop” a lockout from occurring. But that doesn’t mean that hockey fans shouldn’t channel their energy and outrage over another lockout just eight years after the last one — eight years during which fans have invested their hearts, minds, and dollars in the least popular of American pro sports, simply because they love the game — into productive channels.
So if you’re a hockey fan on Twitter, tweet. Tweet @NHL and @NHLPA, and use the #nolockout hashtag. If you’re a hockey fan with a blog, write. Link to this editorial. Find out what fans in your city are saying. Report on what they have to say. Send links to and excerpts of your pieces to your nearby NHL team’s media relations staff. Send them to the League office in New York (I suggest the “NHL.com feedback — Non-technical questions” subject heading). Send them to the NHLPA. If you have a camera, or a laptop with a camera, record a short video about why you think a lockout would be bad for the sport of hockey, and share it on Facebook and Twitter. Tag your video with “NHL,” “NHLPA,” and “lockout.” Share it with your local news affiliates.
The Internet has reduced many barriers to conversation between consumers and producers. NHL fans shouldn’t voluntarily mark themselves as healthy scratches at this critical time of the off-season. We should speak up, and speak loudly. This is just as much our sport as it is theirs.