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Bloggers in the Box

"You have to separate yourself from being a fan. I love to cheer. I love to yell. One just can't do that in this environment." - Kate Holzemer, The Willful Caboose

New media have arrived in the Sabres press box

Don’t look now, but sports blogging has gone mainstream.

You already know the stereotype—the unemployed geek who lives in Mom’s basement, and has little better to do with his or her time than to tap on the computer all day and muse and complain about everything Sabres.

Well, guess what? Toss the stereotype out the window. Some very good blogs have emerged that give a whole different perspective to the Sabres hockey experience. And the team’s front office has responded, not only developing and refining its own aggressive online reporting platforms via Facebook and Twitter but also inviting the blogging community into the media corps for the first time.

“This all sort of started at the Sabres summit, which the team held back in spring,” reports Phil Kneitinger, who launched Black, Blue and Gold (blackbluegold.wordpress.com) in October 2009. Kneitinger said that the forum began as a simple social gathering, where the Sabres sprung for pizza, wings, and beverages, but rapidly turned into a mock press conference. “There we were, the entire blogging community, firing questions and concerns to [team president] Ted Black, and he was firing the answers right back. Basically, we wanted recognition, credibility, and a chance to get better access to the inner workings of the team, and Black and the organization responded in a big way.”

What came out of that was a new policy implemented and overseen by the Sabres media relations department. Any blogger can apply for a credential to cover a Sabres home game. The applicant must adhere to certain criteria, such as demonstrating a certain level of readership, and the blog must be primarily geared towards the Sabres. Once approved, a game credential is issued, and the blogger is entitled to almost all the same access that regular journalists are afforded—admittance to the arena, a seat in the press box, game notes, internet connection, even complimentary refreshments. Bloggers can attend coach Lindy Ruff’s postgame press conference, but are not allowed into the locker room to interview players.

“It’s worked out well so far,” says Sabres public relations director Mike Gilbert. “In the past the organization had a ‘wait and see’ policy regarding new media. Other teams have tried it with some success. But our new ownership has embraced it. Media reporting and delivery in our business has changed so incredibly, just in the past 18 months. Who even knows what the landscape will look like 18 months from now?”

So far this season, 19 separate and distinct Sabres blogs have participated in covering home games. Kate Holzemer, who has been at the helm of the Willful Caboose (willfulcaboose.wordpress.com) since the summer of 2007, says the actual number of Sabres bloggers is far higher. “My most recent count has it at 46 blogs,” says Holzemer, who is a professional violist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Notable Sabres Blogs

2:00 for Roughing - 2minutesforroughing.wordpress.com

Black & Blue & Gold - blackbluegold.wordpress.com

Buffalo Sabres Nation - buffalosabresnation.com

Buffalo Wins - buffalowins.com

Die By The Blade - diebytheblade.com

Hockey Rhetoric - hockeyrhetoric.com

Sabres Prospects - sabresprospects.com

The Goose’s Roost - thegoosesroost.com

The Willfull Caboose - willfulcaboose.wordpress.com

Third Man In - 3rdmanin.net

Top Shelf Where Mama Hides the Cookies - topshelfblog.com

Two In The Box - 2inthebox.wordpress.com

This past week Holzemer got her first chance to attend the Sabres games as a reporter. She emerged somewhat humbled by the experience. “This is all a lot more difficult to do than it would appear,” Holzemer admits, saying that remaining poker-faced while her beloved Sabres are scoring is tough. “You have to separate yourself from being a fan. I love to cheer. I love to yell. One just can’t do that in this environment.”

Holzemer has successfully established her own branding and relationships with many of the reporters who cover the Sabres, several of whom stopped by her seat and wished her well as she made her press box debut on November 29. “The media has been so nice. I think Kevin Snow [editor and writer for Sabres.com] Tweeted that I would be here, and people from the team have been more than helpful.”

One blogger who can offer perspectives from the team’s and the journalist’s viewpoint is Chris Ostrander. He launched his site, 2 In The Box (2inthebox.wordpress.com), a year and a half ago, as an offshoot from his stint working at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver with the NBC Sports production crew. Ostrander is employed with Bryant and Stratton College, and spent a season working for the Sabres as a graduate assistant, primarily handling media relations duties for the Buffalo Bandits.

“The best advice I can offer to bloggers is you have to find your own identity, and not mimic what the Buffalo News is doing,” says Ostrander. “As for media as an entity, Twitter has blown everything up and made us all start over. Whether it’s an injury or a trade, that’s where you learn of things. That’s where things break now before you even see a story on a web site. But that’s the lesson here. Anyone can have a Twitter account and a blog. But it’s what you know and how well you deliver that information that makes you successful. Having worked for the Sabres and Bandits organizations, I know that’s what they look for.”

As the bloggers in the box policy evolves, what can the Sabres do better?

“Locker room access,” says Kneitinger.

“Allow bloggers in the locker room,” says Holzemer.

“Allowing bloggers full post-game access is the necessary next step,” says Ostrander. “Hopefully they will administer access on a case-by-case basis.”

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