Blogger Summit 3, Pt. 2: Talks Turn Topical
For their third new media summit, jokingly nicknamed by Ted Black “Bloggers, Black, and Beers”, the Buffalo Sabres assembled their largest list of bloggers yet. Following pizza and beers on the 100 level of First Niagara Center were surprise announcements, a rapid-fire topical discussion, and a closing Q&A session.
Today’s installment, the second of three, will focus on the new streamlined discussion format, its successes, and its failures.
What I will not be doing is recapping the individual topics discussed by Ted Black and the rest of the on-hand Sabres staffers. That’s been handled capably by a host of other blogs that were present (I enjoyed Brandon Schlager’s recap up at Buffalo Wins!, which itself features an index of recaps – very nice). I will cover the topics I brought with me but, more importantly, I thought it would be good to critique the actual format change from the first two summits to this last event.
The first two summits featured the same format. After assembling and settling in, the bloggers asked Ted Black a slew of questions both our own and solicited from fans on Twitter. The summits always organically assumed a press conference feel, but with the back and forth of open discussion. After proceeding like this for over an hour, the summit would wrap-up with a bit of a grub session. This old format fostered an exchange of ideas, qualms, suggestions, and further questions that I thought made the experiment an immediate success.
Blogger Summit 3 was structured in a different manner. The grub session was moved to the top of the schedule, followed by the summit itself (this time taking place in the dressing room, an odd but awesome choice – that room is LEGIT, and this isn’t even the first or second time I’ve been in there). Instead of the entirety of the summit being an open ended question and answer session with Ted Black, it was divided up into three portions – a press release, a curated topical discussion, and a rather stunted Q&A at the end.
The press release was a nice touch, no doubts about that. It felt gratifying that the organization broke significant off-ice news at the blogger summit, and I would be a bold-faced liar if I said I wasn’t a bit giddy that we got to break it on the Twitters. It was a shining start to the third summit, but things fell short of the first two summits from there. The topical discussion portion of the summit featured a host of questions pre-submitted by the attending bloggers that were cherry picked to be answered by Ted Black. On the surface, okay. But it felt coldly mechanical, far removed from the organic discussion from June ’11 and Jan ’12. Black was given a question, he answered it, rinse, repeat. More on that later. What followed the topical discussion was the Q&A session, which proceeded as the prevous summits had. Bloggers asked questions, Black answered or deferred to the appropriate Sabres staffers, repeat. At that point, the five blogs which would receive limited player access (more on that tomorrow!) were listed off and the summit concluded.
The questions I had prepared for the summit centered around the concept of “identity”. How would hockey ops foster the team’s identity, how would the coaches help build it, and how would the PR department cultivate the team’s social media identity. I couldn’t be disappointed too much with the absence of a hockey ops representative, with the draft on the horizon, but I am hopeful that future summer summits would feature Darcy dropping some teasing bon mots. When I asked my social media identity question, I got one helluva response. From three different people, even. By bringing up the Kings, I should have anticipated a strong response…except for the fact that not once did I compare the Sabres to the Kings or request that the Sabres emulate the Kings. I merely used them as an example of an organization that’s created their identity and asked what kind of identity the Sabres themselves would foster. I finally got the answer of “Fun and family friendly”, which is all I wanted to hear. But the initial responses to my bringing up the Kings in a neutral fashion felt very personal and almost offended. Eric Shmitz elaborated on this feeling both in his recap and also in the latest episode of The Instigators podcast (with Chris Ostrander from 2ITB), so I won’t go much further as I agree with a lot of his later points.
What I will say is, this new format felt very inferior to the first and especially the second summit for a couple of reasons. One, the number of bloggers created a lesser atmosphere. In the future (as suggested in the Instigators by Chris), maybe they can divide up the hard news folks from the fan view folks and so on. The total number of blogs remains as high as they want to set it, while the summits would become more focused and open to discussion. Two, as noted earlier, the curated topics felt cold and mechanical instead of free-flowing. This was likely a symptom of, and made necessary by, point one.
What it did well was increase the number of Sabres staffers from different departments to better handle specific questions. Having game presentation, PR, and communications all present to respond to inquiries was great. In past summits, they were present but it didn’t feel like they were there in an official capacity. I hope this trend continues with future summits, with key additions (Hint hint: hockey ops). If future summits feature more thematically-structured groups, this increase would be doubly helpful.
Not everything can be perfect after a few attempts, but this last summit definitely felt like a step backward from the successes of the first two. A return to smaller lineups and free-flowing discussion would go a long, long way to getting back to where they were.