At noon EST today, the NHL’s free agency period opens. At a basic level, this means that players whose contracts have expired or been bought out, and who are eligible for unrestricted free agency (UFA), can begin fielding offers from NHL teams and are free to sign contracts as of 12:00 PM. But over the past number of years, this deadline has taken on increasing significance to teams, fans, players and media. TSN labels July 1 the “Free Agent Frenzy” and has a full studio panel of its hockey “insiders” breaking the news as signings go down. Sportsnet will offer a similarly hyped TV spectacle.
Back in February, Matt Ventresca wrote a great post that labelled the trade deadline “The Great Canadian Pseudo-Event.” Matt described the importance of media, in particular TSN, in making the trade deadline and other events into spectacles:
The trade deadline is a logistical technicality that passes virtually unnoticed in other sports, yet TSN (here is the marketing genius part) has transformed this non-event into one of the most anticipated days on the NHL calendar and has forced its competitors (most noticeably, Rogers Sportsnet) to follow their model of relentless, wall-to-wall coverage. In many ways, the trade deadline has eclipsed other hockey media spectacles like the NHL Draft and the All-Star Game (although TSN is also trying to change that with their “All-Star Fantasy Draft” gimmick) as must-see TV – or at least as a reason to spend 9 hours continually refreshing tsn.ca.
Free Agent Frenzy similarly smacks of a corporate-produced, over-hyped, pseudo-event. It feels as though TSN executives thought “Hey, let’s take a routine part of the NHL’s labour process and turn it into a massive TV spectacle. People will totally eat it up!” While I certainly feel that Canadian media networks like TSN, along with Sportsnet and the Score, were driving forces in the creation of the Frenzy, there are a variety of factors that have contributed to its massive surge in popularity. It is thus a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario when attempting to determine the influence of the media and the mass spectacle of a psuedo-event. Read more of this post