It’s NHL Trade Deadline Day and the Media Spectacle is in Full Swing

It is the NHL’s trade deadline today, an event that not only sees players moved from city to city and team to team but that has also become a major television (and new media) spectacle on Canadian sports networks like TSN and Sportsnet. Hockey in Society writers have written about a number of relevant posts about this event and two of these are highlighted after the jump.

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Some thoughts on today’s “Free Agent Frenzy”

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

Weekly Links: Stephen Harper’s hockey book nears completion; Trade deadline reaction; The tragedy of sexual abuse in hockey

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • If you haven’t done so, please check out the great posts by Matt Ventresca and E.M. Nolan this week.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been working on a hockey history book for some time. It is nearing completion and is expected to have a publisher confirmed next week. [The Star]
  • Speaking of world leaders and hockey: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin states that the Kontinental Hockey League will soon “become real, good, healthy competition for the NHL.” [Ria Novosti, via Puck Daddy]
  • And speaking of the KHL, HBO has criticized the Russian league as negligent in light of the 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. [Puck Daddy]
  • Lot’s of interesting trade deadline reactions this week. Ellen Etchingham, like Matt, is  not a fan of the NHL trade deadline. This post is a great read. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Matt linked to this article in his post on the trade deadline, but if you missed it James Mirtle and Paul Wildie have excellent comments from NHLers David Steckel and Jason Arnott about the personal experience and impact of being traded. [Globe and Mail]
  • An anonymous player’s perspective on the deadline. [Puck Daddy]
  • Graham James was in court this week to face the charges of sexual abuse against him. Adam Proteau calls for the hockey community to honour the brave advocacy of victims like Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy by working to prevent future abuse from taking place. [The Hockey News]
  • Ken Dryden has a harrowing article about the consequences of doing nothing in light of sexual abuse in hockey, including some upsetting outcomes from the Maple Leaf Gardens sex scandal. [Globe and Mail]
  • A very insightful and critical look at the hockey programming run by sport-based humanitarian organization Right to Play in Northern Ontario Aboriginal communities. [Sport for Development]
  • An awkward moment in NHL social media history: a post on the Calgary Flames official Twitter feed, presumably intended to be sent from a personal account, insults the Edmonton Oilers’ re-signing of Ales Hemsky. The Flames organization quickly pulled the offending tweet, but was left with some egg on its face. [Puck Daddy; Backhand Shelf]

General Sport Links

  • This is a fantastic story. Joseph Williams, an NCAA football player for Virginia University, is taking part in a hunger strike in support of a Living Wage campaign by university employees. It is a rare moment of political consciousness and activism by an elite athlete. [Dr. Saturday]
  • NASCAR is arguably the most blatantly political (and partisan) of professional North American sports. One car at this weekend’s Daytona race will feature advertizing in support of Rick Santorum, who is running to be the Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Mitt Romney, his major rival, will be at the race. [CBS News]

Trade Deadline Day – The Great Canadian Pseudo-Event

Everyone remembers where they were when Martin Skoula got traded to the Devils

I think the powers that be at TSN are going to start wondering about me. It may seem to some readers that I can’t make up my mind whether to praise the Canadian sports broadcasting powerhouse or criticise them. In my last post about the World Junior Hockey Championship, I applauded the network for its stroke of marketing genius in turning the WJHC from an unheralded and overlooked event into a “holiday tradition,” while condemning them for the blatant overproduction of the tournament. And now we are mere days away from Trade Deadline Day, and I’m at it again. 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.

Despite our implicit understanding that deadline deals are almost never the blockbuster trades that will immediately make or break a team’s fortunes (Sportsnet’s list of Top Ten Deadline Deals will attest), it is quite difficult for anyone who closely follows professional hockeyto resist getting swept up in all the hype around the trade deadline. As our fearless editor Mark Norman pointed out to me, what’s really interesting here is how up front media companies tend to be about their unabashed and unashamed transformation of this non-event into media spectacle. Case in point: when the “breaking news” hit the airwaves regarding the sudden availability of superstar forward Rick Nash, the NHL on TSN’s James Duthie commented, “We will be covering this story until a deal is done or the deadline passes because, as you know, when it comes to the trade deadline, we will take a story and we will run with it.” This may have been merely praise for the depth of coverage TSN is able to provide on possible trades; but knowing Duthie and his penchant for sarcasm, this could also have been a subtle acknowledgement that months of relentless analysis and speculation on player transactions that may or may not happen is slightly absurd. Read more of this post