Monday, January 18, 2010

Dynamic Branding

This weekend, the Caps played two hockey games – wins on Friday and Sunday over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers. The events were duly reported in the Washington Post and in local television and radio outlets.

In the old days, that would have been it… move on to the next topic, the next game.

Not anymore. Tim Leone, beat writer for the Hershey Bears of the Patriot-News in Pennsylvania (hold that thought for a few moments) wrote two excellent articles yesterday, one titled, “Going Deep: Washington Capitals Out In Front of Media Revolution,” the other titled, “Web Site a Net Gain for Washington Capitals." As a set, they constituted an excellent look at the evolution of new media surrounding the Caps. And as if to make the point, much of that which Tim speaks was put on display in this weekend of two wins.

There were, of course, the newspaper, television, and radio reports. But the Caps themselves have spun off a production entity of their own – web site, full time reporting staff, video production operated by extremely talented staff. There were the blogs – two of the Caps’ “Holy Trinity” of bloggers – Japers’ Rink, On Frozen Blog, and Off Wing Opinion – posting clips and recaps, complete with locker room video and links to other sites reporting on the game. There were the dozens of “tweets” popping up on Twitter from bloggers, fans, and just folks who might have taken in the game. There were entries from a host of other blogs – some player-centric, others more general – providing as many different angles and perspectives on the games as any fan could ask for.

When I was a youngster, the term “multi-media” was born. It conjured up images of a film projector or a slide show with a sound accompaniment. The term has come to mean something else these days, but frankly it simply doesn’t capture the integrated, multivariate character of entities and methods employed these days to cover in such comprehensive ways the Washington Capitals (even though the term enjoys its own menu on the Caps’ web site).

Rather than “multi-media,” which implies more than one, yet separate, what we see now is more “integrated media.” Or more to the point, given that the whole object of the exercise is to focus on the Capitals – the games they play, the stories they live, the personalities who represent the “red” – the more precise term might be “dynamic branding.”

The Boss describes it (albeit in a slightly different context – alluding to the speed of the game) better than we could…

“…based on new viewer habits created by the web on TV (MTV anyone?); in video games; with iPods; with iPhones; with Avatar-like next generation films being produced; with third screens everywhere; with Google telling you on every search that they searched the web and found 1 million listings in 1.3 seconds; in a Web 2.0 world - what sports do you think are best positioned for the new generation of consumers? The “fast” ones or the “slow” ones? The ones that reward a viewer’s investment of time with fast paced action or with commercials? This is my bet: Younger viewers like multimedia, speed and pace and action.”

Hockey – and the Caps, who are in the vanguard of this evolution, unburdened by any need to adhere to old rules of media coverage – has carved out this new concept of coverage. An in house production; a confederation of dedicated bloggers (each with their own unique perspective on players and performance); social media such as Facebook and Twitter that provide the glue to connect fans, bloggers, and the team; player sites such as or that give fans more direct links to player favorites. And (this is where we come back to the start of all this – the articles by Tim Leone), this extends vertically downward, with no disrespect intended to all the fine folks in Hershey, to the Hershey Bears organization. The Bears are an integral part of the narrative of youngsters being brought into the Capitals community, seen growing through the ranks, and graduating to the show. They are a part of us, a part of the larger “community” that is the Washington Capitals organization. It is all a part of a piece, the dynamic branding of the Washington Capitals.

It hasn’t come without a price, though. “Traditional” media, primarily newspapers, have been left at the gate in this development. Some might call this “progress.” From a perspective of pure technological methodology, that is demonstrably true. Newspapers and electronic media are still (despite their own forays into blogging and social networks) in a calendar/deadline paradigm. Editions are published daily, programs are aired according to schedule. That simple isn’t compatible with the world described by Ted Leonsis in that quote above. About that there can be no further debate.

But, part of the price for taking away the “filter” of newspapers and electronic media is objectivity. If the club controls the message, then that’s what you get – the club’s message. If bloggers – who get into this endeavor out of their love of the sport and their devotion to the club – replaces the product of beat reporting, then what you risk are products that might be more favorable to the club than their performance would allow (as much as we and our colleagues try, sincerely, to be objective about the Caps). If tweets, Facebook “walls,” and message boards fill the gap in traditional reporting, then what you risk is a less well-researched point of view that comes with the more deliberate methods of reporting.

News cycles these days are not measured in days as much as hours, and with instruments such as Twitter perhaps in minutes. The fault line on which traditional and new media seem to be grinding is conflict between what the “consumer” wants – faster, edgier, more appealing to the senses – and what fundamental purposes an independent media serves – getting it right, being objective, serving as a check and a balance against parties with vested interests in outcomes.

We aren’t arguing that “dynamic branding” is bad, neither are we arguing that it is good. What it is, is unstoppable. This is the genie unleashed by technology – teams such as the Caps can produce and market their own stories directly to consumers. Bloggers such as ourselves can scribble, after a fashion, at our keyboards and instantly publish our products. Fans can tweet, post, podcast to their ever-loving heart’s content on any subject they can imagine concerning the Caps (although an unsettling number of them seem to focus on how much Jeff Schultz sucks).

What we might be surrendering is objectivity. There are those who adhere to the notion that there is “wisdom in crowds.” Don’t count us among them, at least not unconditionally. It is a short distance from “crowd” to “mob” (in the literal meaning of the term – a loosely organized group). The good part, at least in our minds, is that evolution tends to sort out these things efficiently. And in that respect, we think that the dynamic branding that is replacing (and has in large part already replaced) traditional coverage of teams such as the Washington Capitals will sort out its issues of consumer friendliness and objectivity. You might be getting a glimpse of that already with such aggregated “blogging” sites as SBNation.

In any case, we are all right smack in the middle of a paradigm shift – a change in the fundamental model of events and how those events and the personalities central to them are covered. It might be bumpy, but it won’t be boring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As much as I enjoy your blog, Japer's, etc. and the Caps' website, what we also lose with the demise of the mainstream media is a person who is paid to report on the team and pass this information on as quickly as possible. With the loss of Corey, we now have only one person traveling on the road and who is dedicated to reporting. This is a major loss because a lot of information can be deduced from observing practices, morning skates, and talking to players, coaches, and management game day.