PTM Interview: Adrian Dater
January 20, 2010 4 Comments
Adrian Dater has been a bit of a lightning rod for controversial stuff in this age of the blogosphere, and let’s not go without saying that I personally enjoy every minute of it. The man speaks from his heart, something too many of us fail to do (though not too many people in the blogosphere, as Adrian’s often at odds with many of us). Anyway, he’s a solid guy by my judgement and we decided to pick his brain for an interview this afternoon.
Puck the Media: How do you feel the NHL is doing overall, as a league, as we head full force into 2010?
Adrian Dater: Hmm,a good question to get me in trouble with a lot of people right off the bat. Good job Steve! Honestly? I don’t think i’ts been a great year for the NHL so far. That could change in the second half, with some great playoff battles,etc. But it was a big disappointment when the Winter Classic did a lesser rating this year than last year, first off. That wasn’t good, no matter how you spin it. A hockey game at Fenway Park, with Bobby Orr on the ice before the game and James Taylor singing the anthem? That should have been an extra ratings point over last year, at minimum. I don’t base the value of a sport on the “TV ratings game.” If that were the barometer, the NBA would be rightly seen as a huge disappointment. Ratings and attendance at NBA games are pretty much adisaster around the league now. But the NHL is – and probably always will be, in the U.S. at least – worse in comparison.
Overall, I just think something is a little off right now with the NHL. I’m not sure what it is either. The players almost certainly have never been better, but that may be part of the problem; there just doesn’t seem to be a big separation between the offensive stars and even the fifth sixth D-men on teams now. The defensemen are just SO much better than the old days. You can’t embarrass any of them anymore like you could in the old days. I mean, it used to be that Bobby Orr could go wide on five of the six D-men on any team, with no problem. Now, the only way you can beat a D-man clean off the rush is if they fall down. In that sense, the overall excellence of every player on the ice has made it still a little too much like soccer on ice at times – and we haven’t even talked about the quality of the goalies yet, which is infinitely better than the past.
Some of the NHL’s other problems aren’t quite its fault exactly. The cutbacks in media (newspapers especially) have hurt the league in the last few years. The New York Times doesn’t even travel with the Rangers or any other New York-based team anymore, for instance. The Arizona Republic doesn’t travel with the Coyotes, and they’ve been a big success story this year. The Los Angeles Kings has – until the L.A. Times began covering them a little more regularly lately – been reducted to covering themselves on their website. No offense to the Kings or any other team that does that, but no real serious fan of a team is going to be satisfied with that. As much as teams say they will cover themselves with “pure impartiality”, I can’t wait to see what happens when one of those teams has a player get in trouble with the law or a G.M. gets fired for some scandalous reason. Yeah, I’m sure we’ll see it covered exhaustively on the team website. Dump on newspapers all you want, but if a paper doesn’t cover a team in any level of any sport, you watch what happens to the popularity of that team in any given market. It does down. You certainly don’t get any quality coverage from local TV or radio anymore, and the big sports networks in the U.S. still consider the NHL only a niche sport not worth giving any significant coverage toward. So, it’s a vicious circle the sport continues to be entrapped in this country.
PTM: As someone in a fairly large hockey market, do you think the controversy that’s gone on with Mike Richards in Philadelphia is more a result of that city, and the media in that area? Or do you think the relationship between players and media has gotten more rocky in the advance of the digital age?
AD: It’s hard to say. People forget that many pro athletes have had a very rocky relationship with the media at times. If anyone disputes that, I encourage them to pick up Leigh Montville’s brilliant biography of Ted
Williams. The animosity between Teddy Ballgame and the “Knights of the Keyboards” was unbelievable. But it is true that players’ private lives are “covered” much more now. You can blame the cell phone camera for that, pretty much. Wait ’til TMZsports.com comes online – you’re going to see a lot more trashy stuff about players’ private lives. It’s the culture now. You want traffic – you get a titilating photo some well-known sports guy and put it on your site – bingo, you’ve got a million hits, and probably $2,000 in google adsense money once it goes on YouTube.
Oh yes, it’s going to happen. But at some point the public will get a little bit bored with it. I mean, pro athletes with lots of money, outside a strip club on a night on the road! Wow, imagine that. Philly is a brutal media town, of course, so some of what happened with the Flyers/Richards can be explained in that sense. Philly is as very strange town, sports-wise. It’s all just one big Springer show now. All the sports media there are in such competition with each other, that they have compromised a lot of their self esteem for the quick, cheap traffic hit. But they’re not alone.
PTM: The Colorado Avalanche are in first place in the Northwest Division, and announced a little more than 11,000 attending their game on Monday night against Edmonton. What’s wrong, now that we’ve gotten past football season and the team is clearly for real? How do you fix it?
AD: First off, the Oilers are a terrible team and from a small market in Canada, so even though it’s a division opponent, Avs fans have just never been too jazzed up about seeing them.
But Avs attendance has been disappointing. I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with the Denver hockey fan this year, but they should be drawing much better than that, in a January game when they’re in first place. The economy is still bad everywhere, of course, and that’s part of the reason. The Avs also don’t market the team well here. For so long, they didn’t have to; they just had to drop the puck to a game, and Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy would do the rest. Now, they have to work along with every other entertainment outlet in town for the discretionary dollar, and they’ve been lazy. You still don’t see any catchy ads on TV or on billboards around town, for instance. They have some great young personalities on this team, but you don’t hear anything about them marketing-wise. I’ve said this before, and I think it’s still, in essense, true: The Denver Post does a better job marketing the Avalanche than the Avalanche does. There’s where my former statement about the dangers of newspapers dropping off the radar for teams comes into play.
PTM: The NHL’s place on TV is always discussed ad nausea. As a contributor to VERSUS.com and a longtime detractor of ESPN, what would you like to see changed/stay the same with regards to networks, as well as how the game is televised?
AD: Well, first off, I’m not a cemented detractor of ESPN. I made a little notoriety for myself, not in the way I quite wanted really, with a blog ripping ESPN in general a few years ago. I was really mad that night when I wrote it, and it was very late and I’d been out on the town for a while beforehand, so I probably wasn’t in the most normal or greatest frame of mind when I sat down at the keyboard. I named a few names in it, and that’s to my everlasting regret. I mean, I took a shot at Bill Simmons in it, and I’d had his book about the Red Sox sitting proudly in my library at the time, and think he’s a great writer. But sometimes you shoot your mouth off before you have a chance to really think, and go for the cheapest shots available, so that was me that night. I was like the goon on the ice who starts a fight for no reason. I did my five minutes in the penalty box, with shame. I’m opinionated and “passionate” at times, but that’s not an incident I’m too proud of. I pride myself on being a little more articulate and thoughtful than that came across probably.
That said, I don’t quite understand the logic behind the “The NHL will be fine if they can just get back on ESPN again” talk. I mean, did anyone take a look at the ratings on the WWL before the NHL left? Versus has actually had better ratings overall. Do people really think, if the NHL goes back on ESPN, that they are going to put hockey on SportsCenter in the first 10 minutes of the broadcast? Not going to happen.
I actually thought ESPN did a great job with their actual NHL telecasts back in the day. I thought Gary Thorne and Bill Clement and Steve Levy were just fine at their craft, and they did a great job with their camera work – especially the slow-mo replays. I think it’s a little too easy to take shots at Versus over their coverage – and yes I’m biased because I do freelance work for them. But a lot of the shots that people take at them are some of the cheap and easy ways I took shots at ESPN. I’d love to see a lot more hockey coverage on both networks. But in this country right now, media is under too much pressure to deliver numbers to their waning number of advertisers, and hockey still doesn’t quite bring it. Like I said, it’s a vicious cycle, a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.
PTM: You run a blog on the Avalanche in addition to your work for the Post, and a lot of reporters do to great degrees of success (hockey blogs are often the most popular on major newspaper blog networks). Do you think more can be done to superserve your average reader, as there is clear demand for this in-depth coverage?
AD: Well I don’t want to brag (ok, yes I do) but the Avalanche blog at the Denver Post is the most popular sports blog, traffic-wise, at the entire paper. I don’t think it’s all because of my brilliant prose, but I guess I’ve been one of those writers who likes to do it and puts some effort into it. I’m not some tech geek, but I know how to post pictures and videos easily on the blog, and I bought myself an iPhone 3GS before the season, which I would encourage every newspaper sports guy out there to do. Making your own videos with players/teams is incredibly easy and has proven very popular with Avs fans here. I’ve found that it’s easier to put my real, true voice out there on the blog than it is in the newspaper. That’s not an indictment of the paper either, I don’t think. There are always going to be two separate audiences in this business – one that likes the bloggy style of writing I do and another that prefers the more formal, more serious style in the paper – not that snarky Internets stuff. That’s OK with me, as long as there is an audience for both.
Overall, I think blogs are definitely a way to go for hockey writers at major papers, especially when they are facing cutbacks in space in the print product. You can write all day on a blog, and in many ways you can make it more interesting and lively. As long as the paper is getting the benefit of that other style of writing, I don’t see too much of a downside. Just don’t drink and blog.
PTM: Has the advent of the blog changed anything about what you do as a reporter, or how you interact with fans?
AD: Oh yeah, tons. It honestly seems like I have no time for anything anymore, other than answering reader email or chatting with fans on Facebook or Twitter. I try to get away from it, but it always pulls me back in too, to quote Al Pacino.
PTM: Do you actively seek out any blogs for information? For sheer opinion?
AD: Yeah, I do, but I get information overload at times. I find myself more and more kind of trying to step away from the computer. You could read hockey blogs every second of every day and not read them all if you wanted. I’ve read your blog a lot, though, because most media people tend to want to read about media-related news [EDITOR’S NOTE: Pay the man, Shirley]. I find a lot of the hockey blogs at times a little too long on rumor and too short on real information and interesting writing, but I’m sure that’s been said about my own blog plenty of times too, and probably rightly so.
PTM: What’s one thing, on the ice or off, that would change if you were Commissioner for a day?
AD: I would order the players to open up more of their real personalities, off the ice. They’re still way too artificial with the media, and it hurts in the coverage of them.
PTM: Finally, in less than 10 words, rate Gary Bettman’s job performance currently.
AD: I’m a Bettman guy overall, but this year is just a 7.
Without any solicitation from him at all, I implore you to buy Dater’s book, “Blood Feud”, at Amazon.com or other great retailers.