By Sunil Agnihotri
While NHL owners and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) work towards a new collective bargaining agreement, a fan, Janne Makkonen of Finland, created and published a short video, entitled “Together We Can”, imploring hockey fans to work together to stop the impending lockout. The video serves as an excellent example of the participatory culture fan communities are immersed within, allowing creators such as this one to share their message to a massive audience. A collection of hockey highlights, mashed up with other cultural artifacts delivers the message that fans are significant to the game and the need to stop the lockout.
As of this writing, the video has received over 750,000 views on YouTube, with over 4,300 comments. The video has received press coverage and has been shared using various social media applications by fans as well as NHL players. Makkonen has even collected over 23,000 signatures for a petition posted on Change.org to stop the lockout. As great as the response has been to the idea of fans playing a role in stopping the lockout, it’s difficult to remain optimistic.
Harrison Mooney of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog, cites fan participation as a barrier to have an impact on the lockout in his recent blog post entitled “Hockey fans: There is nothing you can do to prevent a lockout”.
“Of course, the issue all of these movements and videos and public protests have — on top of treating our right to NHL hockey like it’s inalienable — is they belie their own threat of action by showing how desperately fans care. When you care that much, you’re not going to follow through on a promise to walk away from the NHL cold turkey should they fail to reach an agreement in two weeks.
Don’t be ridiculous. You’re crackheads threatening to quit crack unless the price of crack comes down.”
Fans are clearly in a position of weakness, as there are limits to what they can do to make a difference. A number of websites (NHL Fan Association, You Have Two Weeks) and social media movements have emerged urging fans to sign petitions and boycott NHL products, the services of NHL sponsors and partners, as well as the other companies owned by NHL owners. New media is a great foundation for group action as communication technology can serve as a foundation for discussion and collaboration. But the websites and social media applications being used require more thought and effort to really make the impact that fans like Makkonen are hoping for.
Fellow Hockey in Society contributor E Martin Nolan summarized a common sentiment among fans in his recent article, “The Fans are Assumed”.
“Shit, when they bring the game back, I’ll watch. Because I’m a fan, because I’m assumed. But let’s recognize that that assumed status also makes us into, to use Bobby Orr’s phrase following the last lockout, “collateral damage.” And ain’t shit we can do about it but make spirited montage video clips and fill the comment sections with vitriol until they explode into a big flame of nothingness. And wait, we can wait.”
But there is always hope. In his book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky (2008) uses various case studies to outline the critical components of any large scale project, including how to get people involved and how to leverage communication tools such as social media to drive change. The section about Promise, Tool, Bargain (Shirky, p. 260) serves as a model that can serve as a guide to any group, such as fans looking to prevent the NHL lockout. This concept can explain how communities of various sizes have cooperated and collaborated to break down barriers and achieve collective goals, such as the Arab Spring, the Ushahidi application and the infamous Vancouver Riot of 2011, (including the clean-up and the reporting of rioters to authorities). I would argue that although the fan movement to ensure there is hockey this fall may not equal the significance of overthrowing a tyrant in Egypt, similar characteristics and opportunities exist across various large scale movements.
The Promise refers to the reason why someone would join a group and is often the most difficult part about starting a group. In this case, why would fans want to work together to stop the lockout? The game of hockey is important to fans not only for its entertainment value, but for its cultural significance, especially here in Canada. But It can’t be assumed that all fans will work towards stopping the lockout. Fans can always direct their time, energy and money towards other sports or entertainment if the NHL cancels its season. Some fans may also feel they have little to no influence on the labor negotiations and not participate.
There are three ways, according to Shirky, to get people involved in group projects:
- Make joining the group easy.
- Create personal value for people to join.
- Subdivide the community, which would better accommodate the unique qualities and potential contributions of individuals.
For any hockey fans looking to start a movement, they’ll have to use tools and strategies that reduce the barriers to join. Groups will also need to harp on the significance of the game to fans, which is easier said than done as everyone has a different level of attachment to hockey. The video does talk about how the game belongs to fans, but more will need to be hashed out to get people involved. Subdividing the community doesn’t seem like a smart idea for a group trying to unite, but it’s critical to assign specific tasks to potential participants. What a group trying to stop the lockout could do is determine what traits are needed for the group to succeed and then find individuals who could fulfill the requirements. For example, finding people with a background in law or those who are experts in marketing and promotions could help the group, but only if the tasks are granular. The group could also subdivide the group based on how they’re impacted, such as those employed by NHL clubs or small business owners.
The Tool refers to the ‘social tool’ that potential participants of the group could use to achieve their collective goals. In the case of hockey fans, who are large in number and scattered around the world, social media applications and mobile technology appear to be the preferred tool of choice. As of today, the message carried by fans to stop the lockout can be found on YouTube, numerous blogs and news articles.
The personal value of the movement and the subdivision of the community will have a significant impact on what tool will be used. Until the movement figures out the Promise component, it remains difficult to assess what specific tools could/will work.
Bargain refers to what participants can expect and what is expected of someone who joins the group. Shirky argues that the Bargain is the most complex characteristic of the successful forming of groups using social tools, because it is “both less explicit than promise and tool, and it requires more input by the user” (Wikipedia). It’s this component that requires an agreement amongst the participants as to what is fair for all. Wikipedia, for example, asks for input from users, with the assurance that they will not sell the work to a third party. This sort of exchange is critical to the sustainability of the movement, but relies on the other two components, Promise and Tool, in order to develop.
Having a desire to stop the NHL season from being cancelled is a commendable initiative. Unfortunately, fans are in a difficult situation for a number of reasons. Joining the group seems simple enough because sharing, as Shirky points out, is the easiest part since the tools, such as Youtube, are easily accessible.
“You can think of group undertaking as a kind of ladder of activities, activities that are enabled or improved by social tools. The rungs on the ladder, in order of difficulty, are sharing, cooperation, and collective action. Sharing is one of the three activities that is enhanced through social tools. Sharing creates the fewest demands on the participants.” (Shirky, p. 49)
Where does it go from here? You have a great, impassioned message, viewed over 750,000 times, but how do fans really join the group?
Instead of putting down the goals of the video producer and hockey fans, I would recommend the group look to other successful large-scale initiatives for ideas. Recent democratic revolutions or infamous riots are good sources, but a more relatable project is one that has been undertaken by the hockey blog community. More specifically, they need to look at how hockey bloggers have altered the traditional media consumption model as they now play a greater role the creation and development of information about the game. Bloggers have successfully employed the Promise, Tool, Bargain model to conduct data analytics (i.e., hockey analytics), write articles and create new content for others to use. The two projects, stopping the lockout and developing hockey content, have different goals, but they both rely on a large collaborative community, as well as communication technology to push for major change. Fan blogs do a remarkable job achieving Shirky’s three concepts by making blogs easy to use, giving contributors credit for their work, and allowing fans to contribute as much or as little as they would like. The results has been a sustainable model of citizen journalism, that is now receiving the same attention as any mainstream media outlet.
If fans are serious about influencing the NHL labor negotiations, they’ll need to do more than just share articles and information. A starting point would be to assess the Promise, the Tool and the Bargain and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the movement.
Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.