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Book Excerpt: Ted Starkey’s Red Rising
Our friend and colleague, Ted Starkey, recently released his second Capitals book, Red Rising (available on Amazon.com). It’s a fabulous book and here we’ll excerpt a part that we found particularly interesting about the emergence of Twitter in relation to the Capitals. (Also check out our interview with him regarding his first book, Transition Game).
From Chapter 11, Door Opens to New Media
The emergence of other social media, like Twitter, is also a game changer. Now it’s not just the media that’s a conduit, players and fans actually interact.
Capitals like Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are on Twitter, but according to [former Caps VP of Communication Nate] Ewell, the biggest beneficiaries of the medium were the more anonymous guys, players like Eric Fehr.
“I think Eric Fehr was the best example we had of that. He embraced that pretty early and was able to show his personality,” Ewell said. “He got a bigger following than you think he would have. He’s a talented guy, but he got a bigger following than his talent would normally allow for. He made that connection in a community like Washington that was leaning heavily on digital media for Capitals news. It helped a lot.”
For [radio broadcaster John] Walton, another lesser-known player stands out for his Twitter presence: former Capitals farmhand and Hershey Bear Andrew Gordon has excelled in the social media world. “From a player standpoint, Andrew Gordon was one of the best I’d ever seen,” Walton said. “John Carlson’s fantastic. You have guys who truly like it and embrace it, and it comes off like they do. Karl Alzner does it too. I think it’s important.
“But for a guy who doesn’t play that much in the NHL to break through like that? Holy cow. He’s locked on to something, and hockey player or not hockey player, he’s one of the best I ever seen. I know when Graham Mink came back to Hershey, he said he wanted to catch Andrew in Twitter followers. I said good luck with that, you have 900, he has 10,000. You’re going to need help from him directly, nobody can help you get to that.”
Ewell said it was tougher for the game’s bigger stars, since they would be lightning rods for criticism on a very public forum. “It’s tough for a guy like Mike Green. I was worried about Ovi at first since he takes criticism to heart and I knew he’d get a lot. So the first thing we tell people is don’t reply to anybody that isn’t a fan, and block whenever you can,” Ewell said. “Take the satisfaction you’ve blocked him rather than writing something you’re going to regret.”
Ovechkin stopped using Twitter for an extended period of time. Ewell discovered the scope of the phenomenon first hand when the star decided to begin tweeting again in March 2011. “I was actually here at my office in Boston and I got a text from him asking, ‘What’s my password?’ I told him . . . and I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought he was checking it out. Later that night, my phone started buzzing, and it was because he sent something out and it still had my e-mail address set up as the account. I got 8,000 [notifications] in the course of a day. So I was able to go in and switch that e-mail,” he said, laughing.
Of course, the tweeters aren’t just the players. John Walton developed a following while calling games for the Bears, and he brought his following to Washington when he became the Capitals’ radio voice. “It’s something that we all learn as we go,” Walton said. “It was something that I latched onto two or three years ago. I still marvel that 3,000 people would care what I have to say on anything, but it really is nice to go back and forth at whatever pace you want to.
“More than 10 years ago, it used to be fans had their opinion, but there wasn’t that ability to go back and forth. Now it’s here to stay, I think. I think with the selling of hockey especially — or any other sport — you have a lot of entertainment options, you can do anything . . . We have to be on guard as an organization whether any team or any sport. You need to be interactive and know what your fans are saying. Maybe what you hear isn’t what you want to hear, but it’ll teach you.
“From a radio perspective, it interacts with fans, builds loyalty with radio listeners. Fans think, ‘Not only can I listen to John, I can interact with him. I like hearing what goes on with his life outside the hockey rink.’ Once people know who you are, they tend to like you better. Like anything else, there’s value to that.”
The medium has also changed the way the game has been covered, as media members are quick to tweet news before it even gets written in blog form.
“I’ll say this about Twitter: [Verizon Center] was the first place I realized it was a powerful medium,” [Yahoo's Greg] Wyshynski said. “The reason why is in the [2009 playoff] game where Sid and Ovechkin had the double hat tricks, that was the night that Sid said that it took them too long to clean up the hats. At this time, Twitter was not all that huge, but I was on it and had my phone with me and I sent a text message to Twitter about Sid saying the thing about the hats.
“When we got done with the press conferences, I get back to the media room, and I fire up the laptop, and there are literally 200 comments off that comment, and most of them are like, ‘This is a joke, right?’ And it dawned on me, ‘This is out there before anyone else has written it, before it’s been on television, before it’s been on radio, before it’s been in a newspaper.’ The immediacy of that medium became really apparent.”
According to Wyshynski, Twitter still has some kinks, particularly when some go overboard with in-game coverage. “As far as how it’s changed things, it’s really annoying that you can’t go on a hockey night without someone doing play-by-play from the press box. Sometimes that’s fun, but most of the time, it’s incredibly annoying. I don’t understand why people don’t tell me about the things that are happening around but not necessarily where the camera is. You can tell me what’s happening behind the play; I can’t see it, I’m at home. So do that. I don’t need shot-by-shot, play-by-play.”
But overall, Wyshynski, one of the biggest names in internet coverage of the sport, thinks Twitter is a positive step forward. “It’s opened up some doors for fans’ relationships with players; it’s opened up relationships with media; and in some cases, media has recoiled because they don’t like how accessible things are, when they can look at their timeline and see ‘you suck’ and they have to read it. They don’t have a moderator to remove it. But it’s only been a good thing in building bonds between fans and media and teams.”