[Ed. Note: The following is an extremely long post. Consider yourself warned.]
By "you", I actually mean "me". Who am I? Other than the writer of this blog, I'm a sports columnist with a major Canadian daily in the Nation's Capital. At 28 years old, I'm the youngest sportswriter in Ottawa-Gatineau. I'm female. But most importantly (at least in respect to this post), I'm a person who legitimately cares about hockey and its relevance -- however debatable -- as a major league sport.
Unfortunately, none of this currently means a lick to the National Hockey League, because it's become blatantly obvious they would rather take a frozen puck to the uvula than grant me accreditation to the Stanley Cup Finals. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why.
Here's a synopsis of last week's events: I was told by my editor at Sun Media that accreditations for the Finals would be extremely hard to come by (hardly a surprising revelation). Traditionally, accreditation request forms have a set number of spots. Sun Media had already accounted for all spots in Anaheim and Ottawa -- which I was fully expecting. After all, they had to tend to their employees first, whereas I am a contracted writer.
At the encouragement of others and after informing my editor I was planning to do so, I approached the NHL on my own behalf to see if anything could be accomplished, even if it was only to obtain a practice pass. I sent e-mails to practically every major media relations member. I called the league offices in New York and Toronto. Every one of my calls and missives went unanswered.
Again, I knew the chances were slim, particularly with Game 1 creeping up on the 28th, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Meanwhile on Friday, William Houston of The Globe And Mail published this piece, detailing the lack of accreditation requests from both U.S. and Canadian outlets. Here are some clips:
When the Stanley Cup final starts Monday in Anaheim, most of the leading newspapers in the United States will be busy doing something else.
They certainly won't be sending reporters to Canada to cover the games in Ottawa, where connections are difficult and fares expensive.
"It's Disneyland against Parliament," one U.S. sportswriter said about the Senators-Ducks series. "Not only is it impossible to get directly from one place to another, but it takes a great deal of time and money.
"If I'm a sports editor, I say forget about it. I can spend my money on something better.
That mirrors the view of Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki, who says the New York Yankees and Mets take priority at this time of year. "There's so much going on in New York that we have to throw everything we have at the big story," he said.
In addition to Newsday, newspapers not attending the Cup final will include the Washington Post, New York Post, Newark Star-Ledger, Dallas Morning News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Petersburg Times. The New York Times won't commit past coverage of Game 1.
Even in the big regional hockey markets they're staying away. The Buffalo News gave it thumbs down. The St. Paul Pioneer Press won't attend. Minneapolis Star Tribune coverage will be limited to blogs filed by its beat writer from the first game to the third.
The two big Chicago dailies, the Tribune and Sun-Times, have been absent from the Stanley Cup final for years. And, in Hockeytown USA, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are taking a pass.
The visiting contingent to Ottawa this spring won't be much larger. Those accredited for the final include USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, the two Philadelphia papers, the Inquirer and Daily News and Los Angeles Times.
In Canada, there may also be fewer newspapers covering the final. The Sun Media chain will use Ottawa Sun coverage for its newspapers, with the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones also filing columns. The CanWest chain will rely heavily on Ottawa Citizen coverage.
Initially I was buoyed by this admission, but I immediately became concerned by the attention paid to the absence of U.S. outlets. I thought perhaps this news could ironically work against me, due to the fact I was a Canadian writer -- I may be viewed as a surplus. My concerns were fortified when a friend (also in the business) sent this note:
I heard from one Professional Hockey Writers' Association member who said that the NHL is giving a lot of perfectly legitimate media people a very difficult time (for reasons that defy any sort of logic). The suspicion is that the NHL is desperately seeking the American media's heavy hitters (and hence to have to play it safe and keep spots open). Good luck with that, Commissioner Bettman.
Picture it: The NHL -- the high school boy, out of step with the rest of the cliques but desperate to seek validation, hungers for the attention of the most popular girl in school (the American media). She ignores him and regularly mocks him in front of anyone who will listen. Meanwhile, the girl with genuine interest (the Canadian media) might be plain and a bit of an oddball. But she legitimately cares about him, and yet he delivers the cold shoulder. This argument was solidified most recently by the league's incessant kowtowing to NBC during the playoffs -- who infamously demonstrated their gratitude by cutting the Sens-Sabres OT coverage in favour of the Preakness Stakes.
It sounds like original outline for Dawson's Creek -- except our Dawson in this case seems to forget that Joey Potter finally threw in the towel after chasing him for years, and ended up with Pacey Witter in the end...who could be represented by, I dunno... Mixed Martial Arts?
Fast-forward to Sunday morning. 3:21 A.M. EDT, to be precise. The following e-mail from the NHL arrives in my inbox:
Dear Mr. Nicks,
We do not credential freelance writers. Sorry.
Thank you for your interest.
Two incorrect statements in a three-line e-mail: 1) My gender (fabulous attention to detail from someone who is paid to observe such minutiae) and 2) The claim that the NHL doesn't offer credentials to freelance writers.
How do I know this?
It might have something to do with the credential for the '05 Entry Draft hanging in my office. The first post-lockout, closed-door draft featuring the one and only pseudo-deity known as Sidney Crosby. The new face of the NHL, live and in the flesh. I was there, and my position was no different than it is today. Again, I was warned that I would be hard-pressed to get in...but I did.
At the time, words couldn't express how excited I was at the opportunity. When I received word of my accreditation approval, I was in Las Vegas. I cut my trip short and grabbed the first red-eye back to Ottawa to prepare. I did it because I cared about the draft. I cared about the NHL.
And that's what makes this whole accreditation denial all the more perplexing. The NHL, contrary to its own toffee-nosed belief, is not operating from a position of power. It can't afford to treat any media regardless of stature in such an indifferent (and borderline insolent) manner, when its significance on the North American sporting stage is shrinking at a drastic rate. This league shouldn't be "thanking" people for their interest -- they should be tripping over themselves to express their gratitude. The NHL has so few in its corner; so few who are willing to step up and cover the sport, in a feeble attempt to provide it with some dignity. In spite of this, they continue to chase the big fish -- the American media -- whom they couldn't land if they waded for days while sporting bait-laden underwear. Meanwhile here I sit in Ottawa, after the niceties, formalities and e-mails forced me to check my ego at the door. I wanted them to know that the NHL was more than relevant to me. I wanted them to know it would be an extreme pleasure to cover their event. But apparently, that's not what they want. Go figure.
Why is the NHL trying to infuriate the media, when people like myself are doing everything in their power to demonstrate that they're willing to pay positive attention to their league when virtually no one else will? Maybe if I were Linda Cohn, they'd let me in. Maybe if I insulted them regularly on satellite and terrestrial radio, they'd grant me a pass. Maybe I'll pretend not to care.
Or maybe I'll legitimately stop caring altogether. Right now, I'm convinced that's what the league wants.
[Ed. Note: The following is an extremely long post. Consider yourself warned.]