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The New Social NHL: How Social Media is Changing the Game

April 11, 2016, 8:32 AM ET [75 Comments]
Jillian Fisher
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Ek’s note:
We are thrilled to add Jillian Fisher’s unique voice to our team of writers! She is a frequent guest on our WebCast and we look forward to her articles on HockeyBuzz...

About Jillian:

Jillian Fisher is a sport anthropologist who focuses on sport culture and fan culture. Growing up with three older brothers, sports have always played a large part of her life. While she enjoys all sports, hockey has always been her first passion. Jillian has traveled across the world - from the Philippines to Italy and across the US - studying the impact of sports, all while cheering for the home team and discovering what makes each place so unique, even being referred to as the Anthony Bourdain of sports. She is currently filming her own web series, Out of the Park, that highlights the different cultures surrounding our favorite sports across the country. Always in search of the next event, Jillian can be contacted on Twitter, Instagram, or emailed at jillianfisher00[at]gmail.com 

As the regular season came to an end this weekend, I thought back to some of my favorite moments throughout the year - Jagr's apprehensiveness to play three on three in the All-Star Game, Ovechkin digging himself out during January's blizzard, and of course John Scott in the All Star Game. I noticed that many of the stories that I related to would have been unheard of without social media. The immediacy and accessibility of social media are changing the game and redefining the fan experience in the NHL - new avenues of communication have been opened and fans are themselves choosing how they engage with the league.

Twitter, among other social media platforms, has become a de facto method of communication for nearly all of us, and now, it is an expectation that teams and players have accounts. Teams have seemingly developed personalities as we watch them interact with each other. As a fan, these interactions add another layer of entertainment to the game. There can be no doubt that the Red Wings showing their gratitude to the Senators this weekend was exactly how the legions of Detroit faithful were feeling:

Needless to say, this probably also irked a few Bruins fans at the same time, but when you see a team trolling another team, it is impossible not to notice.

While it is great to see these interactions, the real change is that fans have direct access to players in a way that was never possible before.

Players can interact directly with fans and share glimpses into their lives without any filters (well, maybe with a solid Instagram filter or two).

The end result is simple: Fans are much more interested in not only the players themselves, but also feel more connected to their team.

With this degree of exposure, fans are also getting the opportunity to change how they engage the NHL. Fans can choose who they want to follow, how they watch games, and can even provide their own commentary directly to teams, players, and the NHL - often receiving instant affirmation or dissent from the hockey community as a whole. We saw the perfect example of this in John Scott. Where the league initially attempted to avoid this situation, it was the fans who were upset at how it was handled, and as a result, wanted to see him play. The pressure put on the NHL by fans through social media resulted in one of the most entertaining All-Star Games in many years. While this may not seem like an important change, it indicates that we are starting to see some power move towards the fans and away from the league itself.

In a world where everything seems to come in a matter of instants, teams and the NHL are feeling the pressure from fans more than ever. The part I never saw coming was that the league is, in some ways, listening to it - showing that they have identified the benefits that this type of engagement can bring.

The remaining question is how far will it go? Will there be a point where the NHL comes in and provides rules for how players and organizations should interact, or will teams require prior approval before a tweet is sent? Maybe that time never comes. It is hard to imagine that it won’t. And, if it does come, my hope is that they don’t make changes to take away the authenticity of these interactions.
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