Omar Sharif and the Sabres New Media Summit

It takes a lot to motivate me to write these days, but I figure it’s time to get back in front of the keyboard.

Last night was the third “New Media Summit” held by the Buffalo Sabres, welcoming in 16 (yes, 16) bloggers/writers/fans to sit down with Ted Black and Sabres staff to discuss various topics relating to the team and organization.

After a nice happy hour and mingling (bonus points to the Sabres for getting food from La Nova, I approve) we were led to a “secret location” for the event. The secret location turned out to be the vaunted locker room.

I’m gonna spare a lot of the discussion points, because you can read that on pretty much every other site that was there.

Unintentionally, it turned out to be a nice little PR event for the Sabres. They were able to break some big news by way of a non-traditional sources, as everyone was pecking away at their laptops as Ted Black announced the new show on WGR. All the discussions were things they were well prepared for, including most of the questions, which were pre-screened.

While reading other accounts of the event shows that many attendees were quite enamored with the event, I’m pretty much on the opposite end.

Going in, I had anticipated a more open forum than the last one a few months ago, which had broached some controversial issues and led to some back-and-forth. That last one was supposed to be a “Live Suggestion Box,” and turned into a mini-press conference. This one was a straight up press conference. Press releases and everything.

It was fashion show, hence the title. The bloggers might as well have been Billy Charlebois walking down the catwalk and pushing the message. (Editor’s note: If you don’t get this reference, I need to tell you that you suck at being a hockey fan)

While the staff was fully prepared with everything that was going to be discussed, the attendees weren’t. Hell, they kept the location secret. Then they drop a bomb off the bat.

Personally, I fail to see how leading 16 people, who are basically some of your most passionate fans, into the locker room is gonna do anything but intimidate the majority of them. You could see people taking pictures afterwards. No one was going to sit there and challenge anyone on anything when that’s the environment. And for the most part, with few exceptions, no one did. That’s not a slight against my blogging brethren as much as disappointment with the way everything was set up.

With such a large group, there really is no opportunity for group discussion. The questions were directed at Ted, he or another staffer gave an answer and that was that. There was no back and forth. There was no inquisition from the other direction to the group on specific topics that the organization didn’t already have their mind made up about. It was a press conference, and instead of doing it with media who may have a souring relationship, they got a bunch of fans to do the reporting for them.

Looking at it from the organization’s perspective, it was an innovative way to generate goodwill between many of their most visible fans and find new ways to announce news. Good for them. And I mean that.

But looking at it as a blogger, it wasn’t what I had hoped it’d turn out to be. Without a smaller group, without the onus being on the bloggers to push the conversation, it’s not going to be something the organization can learn from.

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While game presentation was a large part of the agenda, I got the sense that there was some expectation that I needed to be involved because of my reputation as “that guy who always talks about game presentation.”

The interesting thing that should be noted is that of the many questions (I believe they said it was the most submitted topic by the group), none were mine. I didn’t expect any of mine to be read. I didn’t want there to be any of mine. It shouldn’t be my ax to grind. It’s everybody’s.

There were the typical softballs (everything was pre-approved, for the most part) and a bunch of questions about the atmosphere were asked by the attendees. My podcasting compatriot Chris even threw out the “blooper reel” question. It obviously isn’t just a “minority” that have an issue, as it was indicated by certain staff members.

Whether they like it or not, the organization has a reputation (not sure of how extended that is, but I’m aware of it) of keeping a lot of stuff “in-house.” Very rarely will you see anyone admit a mistake or a problem. I don’t see it so much being installed from current ownership as much as indoctrinated by the previous, and since, well, everyone is still there, there’s that culture.

So, please, tell me what will be accomplished from me asking questions or raising concerns when there’s already an answer waiting? Do you think they’d throw a member of their staff under the bus in public like that? Of course not. Shit, you can see how they responded to the question about why there was no end-of-the-year press conference. And they know they fucked that up. But there’s no way in hell they’d admit it.

Same thing with game presentation. Was Mike Gilbert going to sit there when he was defending the game presentation and name a single place (of the many) that has better atmosphere? That don’t have players complaining about it? That don’t have media cracking jokes about it? No friggin’ way. Throw Florida out there. That’s worse, right?

Sidebar: On that topic, philosophically, that’s bullshit. Don’t name people who are worse than you. Find people who are better than you, admit they’re better, then beat them. Get better yourself. That’s called winning. If I need to stand up in that room and say that, the organization has bigger problems than a blooper reel or any trivial garbage they can think this is about.

So, like there’d be no point in anyone with a college education trying to get on Fox News and talk politics, I saw no point in sitting there and talking to people who didn’t seem willing to change their minds because of reason or evidence. The organization wasn’t going to do anything to make themselves look bad. Not in that setting. And they didn’t.

The director of game entertainment was in the room. I have never been approached or introduced. I don’t feel it’s necessary. My opinion and criticism isn’t personal. But if it gets taken personal, you might try to defend yourself against it (or maybe even make a fake twitter to compensate) when given the opportunity. I saw that coming last night. I wasn’t going to play a game that had a pre-determined result.

Hell, maybe I’m wrong about their game presentation. Maybe every other professional I talk to familiar with the industry or the organization that happens to agree with me, off the record, is wrong as well. But if that were the case, I’d be the only one submitting it as a topic. I’d be the only one complaining about everything misguided they do. But I’m not. And I wasn’t asking any of the questions that were asked, because other people have issues with it, too. So maybe that should tell you something.

Deep down, I’d hope they’d know that they need to be better. At least if they know maybe they’ll figure out if the people in place are even capable of being better. Otherwise, they’d just be incompetent.

But I wasn’t going to get them to say that. So, I didn’t say anything either.

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Thanks to the organization for the invitation, I truly appreciate it. I can tell many attendees were very happy with the experience. This wasn’t supposed to be a recap, just my reaction. I’m sure this is going to get read by some who were there. If that’s you, you might take it personally. That’s on you, not me.

If any members of the Sabres organization were unhappy with my lack of contributions to their event, or more likely, this post, my email is to the right.

Posted on June 12, 2012, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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