There was much talk across the blogsphere when it was announced in June of 2007 that the New York Islanders would create a separate special media section for independent bloggers of the team. The New York Islanders Blog Box allowed fan bloggers to gain access to the team and cover games along side those in the mainstream media. The foresight of that decision has turned a one year experiment into accepted practice as the Blog Box enters its second season.
The concept of the Blog Box was the devised by former Islanders VP of Communications Chris Botta, who saw the potential of using Web 2.0 technology to expand the Islanders’ brand.
“Our media coverage was down,” said Botta, “The whole idea of blogging was more and more getting out there. Why not use it to our advantage?”
The call went out to independent bloggers of the team to informally apply to be members of the first season’s Blog Box. Approximately 175 bloggers applied. 13 were eventually chosen to take part.
“We didn’t have a number (of how many bloggers would be selected),” said Botta, “At first glance we knew it (who were the better bloggers) when we saw it. Ideas enhanced with good writing made it an easy choice.”
Michael Schuerlein of Islesblogger.com applied to become part of the Blog Box soon after the concept was announced. An air conditioning and heating mechanic by trade, Schuerlein decided to create the site to show his passion for the team. He was surprised when he was selected to be part of the experiment.
“I happened to be home from work one day in August and created the first version of Islesblogger and re-sent my application. Turns out they must have been impressed because it was accepted right away.”
Voice of the Islanders Fan creator Frank Trovato works as an electrical contractor and sent in a writing sample to the team before he started his blog.
“I thought it was a great idea because of the lack of media coverage of the team and thought it would be a great opportunity to inject a little of the fans’ opinions into the whole media circus.” said Trovato.
The goal of the Blog Box is to allow the bloggers access to the team while still acting as fans. A portion of Section 201, separate from the main press box, has been reserved for the bloggers. There are 9 seats in what used to be an auxiliary press area, and all the seats are rarely filled for each game. The bloggers receive all the same press information that is distributed to the mainstream media.
“All the bloggers have taken it more seriously then they thought” said Corey Witt, Islanders Media Relations Manager, “They’re having fun with it but they are taking it seriously. There is a bond created between them.”
The bloggers also get the same post-game access to the Islanders’ coaches and players.
“Sometimes (the bloggers) are in awe…but they don’t look out of place” said Witt, “That awe factor wears off pretty quickly and they get to work.”
The coaches and players generally treat the bloggers as they do any other reporter covering the team.
“They know it exists. When they do the scrum, they don’t look at who’s familiar” said Witt of the team’s reaction to the bloggers’.
“I assumed I would be in a roomful of players and it would be a free-for-all to talk to whomever I wanted, with the most popular players or significant players from that game getting mobbed” said Ken Rosenblatt of Islanders Outsider, “Instead, the PR staff works with the reporters to determine which players are most desired for interviews. The players are then brought in one at a time for questions by the whole scrum. Usually we see around four players.”
For the 2008-2009 season the Islanders have increased the number of bloggers to access the Blog Box to 23. They also have a sponsor in Farmingdale State College, which also blogs on the team using students in its Journalism program.
Other sports organizations have taken divergent views of the Islanders Blog Box.
“(Some clubs said) ‘I can’t believe you’re going to let those people into your building'” said Botta, “Of course we kept up on (the bloggers)…but they have always been courteous and respectful.”
Those who cover the team as part of the mainstream media have also come to accept the role the bloggers play in promoting the team.
“We knew the code of conduct, and just a few games into the 07-08 season, we were allowed to assimilate with traditional media, and over time, they warmed up to us a lot, and treated us like one of the guys” said Tom Liodice of The Tiger Track.
The Blog Box has opened doors for writers like Liodice, who not only writes his own blog, but now also produces pre and post game material for the Islanders website.
Most bloggers are unable to attend every home game because of their work and family commitments. Botta, who resigned as VP of Communications this summer, created his own web site dedicated to the Islanders (NYI Point Blank) and now finds himself on press row for each Islanders game.
Even though the Islanders are not the first team to allow bloggers in the press box (that honor goes to the Washington Capitals for granting access to Eric McErlain of Off Wing Opinion), others may see the need to follow suit.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea for others to do it” said Botta, “At least half the teams should consider it.”
For the Islanders, the Blog Box is now part of its regular media marketing efforts.
“It’s been a complete success” said Witt, “There was no reason not to continue it.”