Such is the case this past week as Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis hit the blog warpath against SportsTalk 980, the local AM sports talk radio outfit in Washington, D.C. And irony of all ironies, the fight didn't start about hockey, it started over David Beckham's MLS debut in the nation's capital just a little over a week ago.
But make no mistake, this fight isn't just about Soccer. In fact, it has everything to do with the way the mainstream media, sports talk radio included, treats the NHL.
It was last Thursday that Leonsis, on his way to RFK Stadium to see Beckham and the LA Galaxy play hometown D.C. United as a guest of the team's ownership group, tuned to SportsTalk 980 in his car to hear local radio personalities Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin poke fun at the sport and the almost 47,000 fans who would show up mid-week for such an event.
After hearing the hosts spout off a few more platitudes about fans of Soccer and Ice Hockey, Leonsis held his fire before responding in a Sunday post:
Why is it that ESPN -- the godfather of sports coverage -- has embraced soccer and our own SportsTalk 980 hasn't in drive time?For most folks, that salvo would have been enough. But Leonsis wasn't done yet. Not by a longshot.Two days later, Leonsis took the time to explain part of the source of his ire: Unlike other cities and sports where radio stations might bid for the broadcast rights to a franchise, the Caps actually paid SportsTalk 980 for air time to broadcast their games like an advertiser.
Why weren't the Sports Reporters in the parking lot broadcasting from the game to connect with this large group of fans and building their own brand?
Doesn't SportsTalk 980 want to expand its served universe? Doesn't it know how to cross promote between audiences? I bet soccer fans would like hockey and visa versa.
As a programmer and someone who has grown up in scaling media businesses, I don't get the fact that the sports leader here in DC would go out of its way to NOT embrace soccer or hockey or any other sport that delivers an audience.
Leonsis sent his message loud and clear: Instead of just being an owner getting into an argument about the merits of his sport, he was an advertiser publicly expressing his displeasure with its vendor -- one that couldn't seem to find its way to stop bashing the product when it wasn't on their airwaves.
Later in the day, Leonsis pounced again, this time pointing out what he saw as the station's dismal ratings:
So with numbers like these, should the station and its personalities be making fun of any team's ratings or attendance? Can it afford to alienate any sports fans? Shouldn't it be embracing ALL fans and be trying to expand its served universe?But he still wasn't done. On Wednesday, Leonsis threw down the new media gauntlet again:
And as an aside, some of our bloggers and my blog sometimes get more daily visitors than the best of their ratings. That puts it in perspective, doesn't it?
My bet is that the blogosphere built around the Washington Capitals is now much, much bigger in terms of aggregate circulation than the two sports radio stations combined here in the DC area. I will do some research and then we should all convene a meeting to discuss how we form a more formal keiretsu. There will be power in numbers. Out with the old, in with the new!After getting hammered online for almost a week, SportsTalk 980 host Steve Czaban finally rose to the station's defense with a cogent explanation of the business case for talk radio in a crowded market like Washington's that seemed to leave Leonsis unimpressed, but in the end what Czaban had to say didn't matter all that much.
The reason why I suspect Leonsis has taken up this fight is the relentless media drumbeat that has taken hold since the resolution of the NHL lockout that hockey is no longer relevant and hence not worthy of attention unless it is to be mocked -- a message that Czaban and his colleagues at the Sports Reporters, the afternoon drive time show he hosts, went to the well for one time too often for Leonsis' taste.
As my friend Colby Cosh once pointed out to me, there's no such thing as a casual American hockey fan, and over time this endless parade of doomsaying about the future of the sport and the league has begun to rankle hockey fans everywhere -- and that's just the sort of feedback Leonsis has been getting from local sports fans via his email box, the message boards at his team's Web site and the dozens of blogs that cover his team.
So what you're seeing here is a fan and an owner of a team not only protecting his asset, but also backing up his most loyal customers. From here on in, anybody who mocks the sport, especially those who bash it reflexively and without forethought, are going to get hit with an online whooping stick.
UPDATE: Leonsis published another post earlier this morning and covered some of the support he's been getting on this issue:
Overnight, I received more than 100 emails, blog comments and Facebook messages concerning Steve Czaban's blog retort to my series of posts concerning 980's coverage of sports. This is in addition to the more than 200 emails and blog comments I received during the week. I thank you for words of encouragement and supportive thoughts.FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm not unfamiliar with the principals in this case. Back in 2005, Leonsis invited me to watch the Capitals play the Tampa Bay Lightning from his box at Verizon Center. I have also been an occasional guest on SportsTalk 980 to talk about the Caps with Frank Hanrahan, and am pretty much a regular in the press box at Caps games and D.C. United matches. Back in the early days of the blogosphere, Czaban linked to one of my few golf posts, The Tiger Woods Reality Distortion Field.
It would be inappropriate to publish some of these comments and I will take the high road but the consensus of the input -- with my personal filter -- was thus "There is a higher calling to pursue in life and in sports. Either embrace all -- celebrate diversity and change -- or perish".