How to Talk About A Team You Don’t Care About

Legend has it that this blog was first formed many moons ago by a group of socialist nerds who, after reading a particularly heinous Don Brennan column, concluded that there was no reason they couldn’t write about hockey better. Whether or not that is actually true is still up for debate, but the fact remains that this blog’s roots are planted firmly in the garden of Media Criticism. We’ve always been interested in, not just The Story, but The Story Behind The Story and the ways in which we can frame and talk about The Story.

In light of this, it is with a heavy heart that I must report that The Media is at it again. This is hardly a new state of affairs. To be a Senators fan is to be reminded almost constantly that your team is an afterthought, even in its own market. The Leafs and Habs get the lion’s share of the media coverage on television and on national media, and while Ottawa has many fine writers covering the Senators locally, Ottawa simply doesn’t have the critical mass of fan eyeballs necessary to propel those writers to bigger outlets.

Media professionals such as Down Goes Brown and Steve Dangle have been able to break into the mainstream simply by being well-known Leafs fans who produce good content that is enjoyed by fans of many teams. I would never suggest that DGB or Steve Dangle are undeserving of their professional success, but there’s no denying that they enjoyed a huge advantage by way of their audience possessing a certain cultural literacy apropos of the Leafs. The ubiquity of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the national consciousness and discourse means that even fans of other teams, myself included, are able to enjoy the content that DGB and Steve Dangle produce. It will be considerably more difficult for even the even best Ottawa-focused writer, podcaster, or video producer to break through because the audience for Ottawa-focused content is comparatively limited1. There is such a thing as Leafs Privilege.

I am not speaking out of bitterness, I am merely stating fact. Ottawa’s small fanbase means that the incentive to respectfully cover the Senators is small, and many of those who cover hockey, particularly on the internet, make no effort to hide their disdain for the Senators. James Mirtle, Tyler Dellow2, and Ryan Lambert (A dumb person’s idea of a smart hockey writer, although to Lambert’s credit this seems to be something he is unconsciously aware of) have all been the most openly dismissive of the Senators throughout the season or longer. Most Leafs bloggers are beyond hope at this point, which is fine because one does not expect Mouse Blogs to have balanced takes on Cats.

If Ottawa Senators fans are overly ornery or defensive, it’s because we have correctly ascertained that in this media landscape, it is literally Us against The World, and we don’t really care for The World at this point. When Bruce Arthur tweets “I have just learned that Marc Methot’s nickname is ‘Meth’.”, all he is doing is revealing the extent of his ignorance regarding the team he’s supposed to be covering for a national-ish outlet. If I went to England to write a travel column and earnestly tweeted, “Did you know they call a truck a ‘lorry’ here?”, it would be comparatively risible.

But here is the thing about this particularly lazy Bruce Arthur article: discussion of the ticket sales, or lack thereof, is a legitimate story. It’s one that has been covered from a few different angles, but it remains a newsworthy story in its own right. Discussion of the Senators’ ongoing lackluster attendance reminds me a great deal of post-election analyses of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 US Election. There are a myriad of factors which have contributed, and many of them are interconnected. In addition, if just one of the factors was changed, the outcome would almost certainly change materially to the point where there would no longer be a story worth discussing. Therefore, one can confidently state “Factor X is the reason for this phenomenon”, and simultaneously be correct, narrow-minded, and un-nuanced in their analysis. The reason on which you choose to focus says more about you than it does the about the actual ticket sales. Case in point: Bruce Arthur looked at Ottawa’s attendance and concluded the problem was……….TORONTO! Do a CTRL + F on Arthur’s article about Ottawa’s “oversensitive fan base” and you’ll find 8 references to Toronto. There you are. We are weird because Toronto made us this way. I read it in the paper.

What pushes Arthur’s hackery into the realm of diabolical is that he even talked to several Senators bloggers/media members to mine them for quotes that would support his article’s premise that he’d clearly already decided on well ahead of time, to say nothing of the fact that any pushback against his (flawed) premise would de facto prove that Sens fans are oversensitive. Credit where it’s due: It’s impressive that a Toronto based columnist managed to gaslight an entire fanbase using their bloggers’ own quotes. This is probably the finesse of the century, and I take my hat off to it. I also spit in that hat and mail it to the Toronto Star.

I say all that to say this: we all know the mainstream media doesn’t care for the Senators. It’s extremely obvious. Still, we must reach some sort of detente. The media has a job to do, and I’m sympathetic to it. In this spirit, please enjoy this short guide titled “How to Write About A Team You Don’t Care About”.

1. Don’t.

It’s ok! Just don’t do it. Don’t do it Dave Lozo. We know Twitter is abuzz with takes about how boring the Senators are, but you don’t need to have a take. If you can’t write something good, don’t write anything. We will understand, and we will be thankful. The mainstream media gets to mould the discourse and it’s the gateway to knowledge for thousands of casual fans. Don’t bother talking about Ottawa unless you have some insight to pass along to the average media consumer.

2. Write something good.

You can produce good journalism about the Ottawa Senators. It can be done. I have seen it. I’ve even seen Bruce Arthur do it.

Shannon Proudfoot routinely produced exquisite work at the national level, and also talked about this blog once. Ian Mendes is the most consistently excellent mainstream writer covering the Senators. Jack Han has produced some excellent analysis for The Athletic.

There are good stories about the Senators to be written. Need some ideas for what would make a good story? Please enjoy this partial list of pitches I have:

a. The resurgence of Bobby Ryan, an idea so easy even Cabbie thought of it.
b. A discussion of Craig Anderson, one of the most underappreciated goalies of his era, who is on the verge of his first Cup final at the age of 36.
c. How does Guy Boucher’s playoff success this year compare to his playoff success with Tampa Bay?
d. What was the professional relationship between Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher in Switzerland? Is this Crawford’s next shot at a head coaching gig in the NHL?
e. Is Pierre Dorion really deserving of a GM of the Year nomination or did just get lucky? How many of Bryan Murray’s fingerprints are still on this team?
f. How has Dion Phaneuf, a frequent target of criticism in Toronto, adapted to his reduced role in Ottawa? Is he enjoying a renewal of his reputation now that his team is going on a longish playoff run?
g. Does Marc Methot’s strong play make him an expansion draft target?
h. How has the flooding in the Ottawa area affected various members of the Sens’ fan base?

I literally made up this list in 30 seconds, and hey, Game 6 is tonight and we may only need this list for another eight hours. Still, if you’re a journalist who is not used to covering the Ottawa Senators and you are interested in more ideas for Things That Are Good, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m sure I can come up with a few more by deadline.

1. I am at peace with this. I think most in the Sens Content Sphere are at peace with this. It is a labour of love. I contribute to a blog and podcast because I enjoy it, and the day I stop enjoying it is the day I’ll stop contributing.

2. What I find particularly hilarious about Dellow’s work here is that the fact that Ottawa would play Boston closely could be predicted by someone who was merely moderately intelligent and just happened to be paying attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s