The Islanders Want Their Blogs In A Box

Yesterday, the New York Islanders — perhaps noticing that the number of reporters in their "legitimate" press box was dwindling — announced "The NYI Blog Box." It is, as far as we can tell, the first attempt by a league, team or organization to address the growing influence of the sports blog world (and by "growing influence," we mean, "Harold Reynolds knows what the word 'blog' means, even though our parents have no idea") and the question of whether or not bloggers should have press passes.

(To remind, our view remains that no blogger should want a press pass.)

Anyway, the Islanders are turning this less into a "bloggers are reporters too" issue and more into a "hey, fans, look ... you can be an Islanders blogger too! And you can meet the players!" type of thing. To quote:

We're setting up a BLOG BOX in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum - sort of like a press box, but away from the scribes and broadcasters because we know you want to cheer, shout, have a pretzel and enjoy the game experience on your own terms.

We will provide you with a media pass for a few games next season and a seat in the NYI BLOG BOX. You will also receive your own set of Game Notes when you enter the Coliseum Press Gate. All you have to do is bring your note pad and/or voice recorder and cheer as loudly as you want. After the game you attend, we will set up an area where you can toss a few questions at a coach or players, based on your requests and their availability.

In a press release — that is, to "legitimate" press — the Islanders make it clear that "members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association should not be alarmed: The NYI BLOG BOX will be a completely separate entity from the traditional press box at the Coliseum. In addition, any post-game player and coach availability for bloggers will be separate and after all working members of the media have had their interview requests satisfied." So that's a relief!

Anyway, we're kind of fascinated by this, so we temporarily broke our longstanding "no public relations people" rule and talked to Chris Botta, VP of communications for the Islanders, about this policy, what it means, how they'll run it and all kinds of other matters. Can you have the very special privilege of writing about the New York Islanders? Sure! Great! Awesome!

Find out more than you wanted to know, after the jump.

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We're really fascinated by the fact you're doing this, because we were waiting to see how the first team to deal with this whole blogger press pass thing would go about it. (We also figured it would be a hockey team.) First question: Make it clear to us EXACTLY what qualifications one needs to be put in the "blog box?"

You must be 18 or over and be able to write a sentence that makes at least a little sense. You can have an existing hockey blog or start a new one. Candidates apply thru the team site by linking their blogs or coming up with an idea for one and sending us a little writing sample.

Here's a question: What if, say, Neil Best from Newsday is covering the game but only writing about it for a blog but not his paper? Does he go to the regular press box, or the blog box? What if his blog isn't under the Newsday web address? (Like, say, Joe Posnanski of the KC Star.)

We only let Best in for NY Dragons games. But in your scenario, since Neil is with a "real" newspaper and went to Cornell (as he never hesitates to tell people), we would put him in the Big Boys Box, the main press box.

You seem to be selling this more as a fan-interactivity type thing than any sort of recognition of bloggers as a new medium to cover the games. Will you monitor to make sure they're writing enough to keep up their "blog box" pass? Is there any difference between a guy like Eric McErlain or James Mirtle, who runs their own site but also writes for plenty of print publications, and a kid who's hoping to one day start his own site, maybe, possible, if maybe you give him the pass?

That's been asked a lot by the more than 100 people who've already contacted us in the first 22 hours the thing got posted. My initial reaction to them is that we'd like to see them update their blogs, at least in-season, at least once a week.

On major bloggers like Mirtle or folks who already have established blogs with decent audiences, my hunch is they will not apply for fear of being accused of going to the dark side, the official team website side. But as we mentioned, we have thick skin and we're not censoring. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have a nod of approval from the owner and the general manager.

That said, I want to make clear this is fan-interactivity AND a recognition of a new medium. I hope we made that clear in the press release, but I'll check.

What does it mean "Blogs will be linked to newyorkislanders.com?" Does that mean they have to write it on your site, or just have a link somewhere to your page on there?

They create their own blogs with their own addresses. We will have a menu on the site where fans can click on to their blogs. We'll make it look nice with headshots and artwork. My bosses are gonna love me when were on a losing streak.

So let's say, hypothetically, that we applied to be one of your affiliate sites. You put our picture on your page, and you link to our site. We show up in the Blog Box for the first game, and, the next morning, we write, "The New York Islanders are not only the worst hockey team we've ever seen, but everyone who works for them is ugly and we think we saw Bryan Trottier molesting a puppy." (Or, say, link to this.) You gonna kick us out of the blog box for that? Or take out our link? We think it's reasonable if you would, but we're just asking: Where is that line, if it exists?

I think we'll know the line when we see it. But if we tank on opening night and everyone wants to flail away, so be it. We're not going to take down any links.

Could a guy like Mirtle apply for the "big boy" press box? Would you turn him down?

Yes and no.

You seem pretty concerned about how the actual hockey press "establishment" would react to this. Have you heard from some of the bigwigs since you announced it?

We want them to know they're still loved, appreciated, respected, welcomed and needed. That said, sure, I've gotten a few emails from members of the PHWA nominating the Blog Box for this week's Sign That the Apocalypse is Among Us. If they haven't gotten over it by then, they'll see when the season starts that their world hasn't changed.

Talk about the idea of the bloggers talking to the players after the "working members of the media have had their interview requests satisfied." We imagine the players being pretty cranky about that. And why not the opposing team's players?

Our players will be completely primed on what we're doing when we break camp in September. I've worked with hockey players long enough that I don't expect any problems. Sure, there might be a night when DiPietro might look at us like, "Uh, you gotta be frickin' kidding me." But that happens sometimes when Logan and Botte and Deb Kaufman want to talk to them.

Can't do opposing team players because I don't think my friend John Rosasco at the Rangers will be amused if I send a pack of bloggers - some wearing Islander jerseys - down the hallway to see Jags and Avery. It's simply not my jurisdiction. Who knows - maybe years from now this will get to the point where the NYR bloggers come to see my guys and vice versa. But I don't think we're that enlightened yet, eh?

How many seats do you have in the blog box? And where in the Coliseum is it?

This is very much a work in progress for the summer. Thinking right now is there will be room for about a dozen at each game, but that is very much subject to change. Most likely location at the Coliseum is a section we have in mind at the top of the 200s, a good view right off the concourse about halfway up.

"We understand the perception might be this is our answer to the recent dropoff in some coverage around the league, but that's not the case." What ever do you mean?

There were a lot of stories, especially by the media columnists in Canada, about how the finals were not covered by many of the papers in the States. I expect some stories about how this is the first shot across the bough in the battle to increase visibility. Not true. Even if the NYI were covered at the level we were pre-lockout, we would still be doing this. This is about the growth of the new medium, not the dropoff of coverage in the traditional media.

This thing came up recently with the NCAA and live-blogging games. Will bloggers be allowed to live blog?

I'd like to think our friends at Fox Sports NY would not have a cow if some guy from Valley Stream wrote in his blog that the Islanders just scored. But I guess I better talk to them before I give you an unqualified yes. That, and our techies need to start installing power lines and wireless in the Blog Box.

What do you mean, "select" home games? It's not all of them? What about playoff games?

At the rate we're going in just the first 24 hours, the interest is already off the charts. I don't see being able to cred 50 - 100 or more for every game. Let's face it, you know better than anybody you don't have to be at a game to blog. And besides, if I credded these people for every game, we'd likely lose season ticketholders. When I proposed this to ownership, that's not what any of us had in mind.

Do you have some extra security to protect the bloggers? Because they might need it.

If Garth Snow can make his way down from the Garden press box through Ranger fans unprotected, I think our bloggers will be okay.