The Sabres opened their preseason schedule last night in Minnesota with Jack Eichel dazzling in his first game action against NHL veterans, perhaps you heard. You may have also heard that the game wasn’t on television.
There has been a fair bit of outrage on the Twitterverse due to this development. The lack of streaming content for last weekend’s Prospects Challenge has left a hockey starved fan base without much to hang on as the regular season approaches. Last night’s game wound up bringing various fan complaints to a head. It was underscored by the adorable Tweet pictured here.
Now, the Sabres have traditionally kept preseason games off television. My understanding from when I was with the Sabres is that it’s a relatively fruitless venture which puts an undue expense on the broadcast arm of the team. This makes a lot of sense when you consider your typical preseason game roster is filled at least halfway with players who won’t be with the club during the regular season and the viewer base isn’t nearly as invested as they would be for a regular season game.
I pointed this out on Twitter earlier in the day as the fervor over the lack of TV or a stream began to ramp up. At the very least, the precedent has been a relative lack of TV games in the preseason. So it’s not as if this was a massive change from the past. Also, from my perspective, I wasn’t overly concerned that the game wasn’t on TV.
What seems to have led to the collective outrage over last night’s game is a combination of poor outreach via social media and the swell of frustration surrounding streaming (and not streaming) the prospects games this summer.
The former point is one that’s been well covered via Twitter and various blogs. There are a number of shortcomings with the Sabres social media accounts and since I don’t need to write 1,200 words on just that one topic, I’ll just note that the failure of the most public facing arm of the team to communicate what to expect in terms of highlights and other coverage made the rest of the organization look bad.
There didn’t seem to be an adequate set of expectations for when fans might get to actually see highlights last night. That simply added to the general frustration to the lack of TV coverage. Asking the other team if you could maybe, please have a highlight clip in a public forum will simply added fuel to the fire. (It’s also a good way for Lindy Ruff’s Tie to shoot out a Straight Outta Compton meme about the highlights – something I retweeted after seeing the Sabres retweet a guy with coon (yeah, the derogatory version) in his Twitter handle who sent them a photo with said meme last week.)
Other tidbits that stood out last night was that the live Twitter coverage seemed to be based off the radio feed which doesn’t seem as efficient traveling to the game, for example. That even ties into Monday’s prospects game when the Amerks feed was heads and shoulders better than the Sabres in terms of providing in-game information.
Note: Credit where it’s due to the Sabres getting Vine video of each goal last Monday. That was a big deal given the lack of a stream or other TV coverage.
The additional decision to not televise last night’s game – or any others up until the preseason finale – rests on a number of shoulders as there are most certainly broadcast limitations along with the additional precedent in terms of the expense and process of actually televising a hockey game. Having worked on my fair share of hockey productions I promise that it’s not just a matter of sending the play-by-play, color guy and a couple of cameras.
One point that has been brought up is that money isn’t supposed to be a detriment to the team any more. Terry Pegula famously said he’d drill another oil well if he wanted to make more money. I certainly can’t refute that claim. If there is truly no limit to spending and the opportunity to work with MSG ahead of the preseason to get broadcast time was there, then there really shouldn’t be much to say in terms of why the team wouldn’t get a crew to these games. Even so, we’re still talking about a business and Terry Pegula didn’t make his billions by being a bad businessman. So if the expense to get these games on television is truly restrictive, then I can’t have too much beef with the decision.
My personal take yesterday was that while it is disappointing – especially if the opportunity was there – there are other things to gripe about which may actually change.
I personally feel as if there wouldn’t be as much outrage over this had the Development Camp scrimmage been streamed from the get-go and not the 11th hour. Same goes for the Prospects Challenge. Had those games been advertised as events that you didn’t need to get to the arena to see the team would have likely quelled some of the thirst for hockey action, specifically action involving Jack Eichel. But the general lack of communication – other than “No stream, sorry” Tweets – didn’t set a good precedent.
That may not change the ability to see Eichel in his first action against actual NHL opposition (read: not just prospects). It also doesn’t change the ability to have watched Justin Bailey, Brendan Guhle, William Carrier, Mark Pysyk or other key contributors to the #NextChapter.
What my hope is for the #NextChapter to be more than stuffing Eichel down our collective throats. Obviously he’s going to have games like last night when he’s sublime and every highlight package leads with his play. That’s what they drafted him to be, so I get it. What would be a shame is if there isn’t a concerted effort to highlight other players. The Sabres’ web content does this on a regular basis as do features such as Beyond Blue and Gold. But in the absence of some of that content it is easy for frustration to grow. Connecting that to last night, I wish I had the opportunity to see the entire roster, not just Eichel.
The last two years have been filled with in-fighting over the tank, really bad hockey and changes in key areas of the hockey and business sides of the organization. Now that the team has their shiny new toy and every #fun accessory that goes along with it, the fans are going to want to see that. Didn’t over 30,000 people watch the development camp scrimmage? Clearly there is a craving for this content from areas of the fan base other than the slactivist mob of basement brigadiers.
The Sabres have proven they have incredibly talented people in a number of departments. Look no further than their website content (written and video). They’ve instituted some awesome graphics into social media posts this season – although there aren’t always terrific quotes plugged into them – among other areas. Getting that #content and the team in front of the players is the next logical step. Having to wait until the regular season isn’t exactly ideal for a fanbase that has been very patient.
Ultimately it circles back to simply being better all around. We hear a lot about what a great hockey town this is and how passionate the fans are. Let’s start really giving them quality hockey information. Cultivate an educated fanbase with high quality content. Some of this stuff may not get a ton of #engagement right off the bat, but it’s a process. Eventually the #retweets and #favs will come, but it’s high time that the overall product improves. The talent is certainly there (on the ice and off) now it’s just time to get that talent in front of the fans.
Last night was a perfect storm of poor communication and unfortunate circumstances. On the road and at the will of the home team’s video department is no way to get highlights in an expeditious manner. Unfortunately it came at the end of an offseason with similarly frustrating occurrences. Luckily the season is just 16 days away and we can focus all of our attention on the ridiculous amount of emojis used on Sabres social media.