As part of our Sports Blogging 101 Series, I wanted to interview a web coordinator who blogged for the team. Ben Wright, the website coordinator for the Atlanta Thrashers (NHL), was more than willing to answer my questions for SPRB. You can visit the Thrashers’ official blog Blueland Blog to see what it’s all about. Without further ado, here is the interview:
1) You blogged about hockey as a fan before joining the organization as its website coordinator nearly four years ago. How did the opportunity with the Thrashers come about?
It’s a long and complicated story, but basically, I was living in Ottawa at the end of the lockout and trying to move to Atlanta, so I was keeping my eye open for jobs. I’d always wanted to work in sports marketing- especially in hockey- so when a web internship with the Thrashers was posted I applied. A guy from Atlanta that I’d met through blogging knew the hiring manager and got me an interview and another blogger acquaintance who I’d done some writing for (Eric McErlain) acted as a reference. The Thrashers were looking for somebody with blogging experience and hockey knowledge so it worked out perfectly. A few immigration snags later I was down in Atlanta and in the Thrashers locker room interviewing Scott Mellanby at training camp. It was pretty surreal. The internship turned into a full-time position and now I’m ready to start my fifth season with the team.
2) What responsibilities do you have as the website coordinator? How much interaction do you have with other departments in the organization?
As the web site coordinator I’m responsible for pretty much all of the content on the Thrashers site, as well as the administration of the Philips Arena site. I also chip in with the Hawks (NBA) site as needed. On a day-to-day basis the bulk of my time is spent coming up with content for the Thrashers site and blog and posting tidbits on Twitter. On game days I’m at morning skates and the games themselves, acting more or less as a reporter for the team. I have full access to the locker room after practices and morning skates and I cover about 75% of the home games, which I watch from the spacious Philips Arena press box. On occasion I’m fortunate enough to travel with the team and cover road games and events like the draft. I also handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts, web traffic reporting, and general housekeeping. As part of the marketing department I work closely with our e-marketing folks who handle all of our email marketing as well as our PR department who get me in touch with players in the offseason and do their best to keep me in the loop when trades and player signings are in the works. I also work with our ticketing department and sponsorship team to make sure all of our sales and sponsorship efforts are coordinated and on track.
3) As someone who used to blog as a fan and now blogs for the team, what tips do you have for PR professionals trying to reach out to sports bloggers? Is there anything they should avoid? What tactics have you noticed to be effective?
Our company (which also owns the NBA’s Hawks) has dabbled in blogger interaction, inviting bloggers to select events once or twice per year and I expect we’ll be doing more this year. I think the trick is to treat bloggers with respect and appreciate what they have to offer. They’re passionate and they want to share and spread that passion. If they didn’t love blogging they wouldn’t be doing it. That passion can be tapped in order to help spread messages, especially in underserved media markets. Small gestures go a long way, even if it’s just the forwarding of a press release or an invitation to cover a community event.
The biggest mistakes to avoid are assuming that bloggers are whackos who have no lives, and for some reason that stereotype still exists. For the most part they’re normal people whose passion happens to be writing about our product. That’s a good thing. The second biggest mistake you can make is ignoring them. Why would you ignore a very vocal and passionate segment of your fan base? Capitalize on their enthusiasm. We haven’t taken the step of credentialing blogs yet, but that day might come. Some teams have done it with great success, and the best blogs are the ones that are treated with respect by the teams. Find ways to use blogs to spread your message, but do it in an open and honest way.
4) Since you work for the team, you are understandably not an objective reporter for the team blog and website. How do you convey the organization’s desired messages without seeming obnoxiously obvious in your intent to do so? Let’s say the team or a player has a horrendous game. How do you address it in the team blog versus how it might be covered in the papers?
I can honestly say that outside of a few early missteps as an intern I have never been asked to pull or edit anything I’ve written on the main site or blog. I’m given a lot of leeway and I’m trusted to get my point across without crossing any lines. I try not to pretend that everything is sunshine and roses, because that obviously isn’t the case. I’ve been with the team through some rough seasons and if all I did was talk about the positives I wouldn’t have any readers. Fans want honest analysis. My general rule of thumb after bad games or losing streaks is to not say anything that the coach or GM wouldn’t say to the media. As an organization we don’t call out individual players, though I’m not afraid to point out areas where there’s room for improvement. For example, I’ll go so far as to say that the penalty kill is struggling and that so-and-so had a rough night, but I’m not going to say that player X should never be out there in a short-handed situation again. There have been times when it was hard to write anything positive and in those times I’d rather post less frequently than write something that isn’t genuine. The local media can call out the team and players and demand changes, but that’s not my role- my role is to help the fans connect with the Thrashers, whether that’s on a team or individual player level. Lately I’ve been shifting more to writing about the players’ personalities, and that type of content works no matter how the team is playing. We have some great characters on our team and they’re making my job easier.
5) If someone would like to work in the new media/web department for a sports team, what skills and knowledge (e.g. HTML, Photoshop, etc.) do they need to have to be considered?
If I was doing the hiring I’d put more emphasis on passion, enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport than on skills. Writing ability is obviously huge, as is a knack for collaborating with others. A working knowledge of HTML is important, but the NHL, NBA, MLB and (I believe) NFL all use centralized publishing platforms. If you can use blog software or any other web publishing platforms you can probably adjust to the league’s content management systems without much difficulty. Obviously the more technical experience you have when it comes to publishing and graphics, the better, but your ability to create compelling content is the most important thing you can bring to the table.
I’d add the caveat that working in pro sports is exhausting. It’s ridiculously fun, but the hours and long and the off-season is way shorter than it looks on the calendar. You won’t become good friends with the players and you won’t make a lot of money, so it’s not as glamorous as you might hope. That being said, if you love sports then working for a team is fantastic. A bad day at the office for me is still better than most good days at any other job I’ve ever had. I go to hockey games for work and I get to talk to players I grew up idolizing. It’s a good gig if you can get it.