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Old Guard vs. New Media
March 27, 2009, 2:21 PM
Filed under: Paul Beirne, Toronto FC

Anyone within tweeting distance of the interwebs over the past 10 years has probably stumbled on to a sports blog or two bitching about how unfair it is they can’t get access to sports events.

This will not be one of those posts. This guy over here gets me all the access I need.

But, that’s not to say I am not sympathetic to the cause. I have witnessed firsthand over the last two weeks the hoops that some of this country’s best footie writers have had to jump through to gain access to the beautiful game – all because they cover the game from a website instead of a TV station or newspaper.

These are guys, who are writing three to four times daily on things in the game that the traditional media won’t get a sniff at for months.  And even when that old guard do stand up and take notice (read: Montreal Impact run in CONCACAF) they write fluff pieces on the crowd with a isn’t this soccer game quaint attitude. Wait. Um…nevermind.

These two web writers (we should really try to consciously phase out the term blogger – it has an unprofessional context attached to it) offer a package that footie fans can’t find in North America through traditional means. Their content is at once insight, oversight; outta sight, 20/20 hindsight and the people who follow the MLS/USL/CSL/CMNT/WMNT eat it up like the starving sports fan they are.

And, to their credit, MLSE (or more specifically Toronto FC) are beginning to realize that.

First, understand that MLSE has a strict no-blogger policy (there’s that term again). It’s one that was born out of the internet boom and developed when web content was still in the womb. The theory being: if we let one in, soon every jock-sniffing sports fan in sight will want access and we can’t have that – can we?

Well, it’s been a difficult ten year pregnancy – the unborn infant was coming out butt first around year five when people still thought charging for web content would work – but the head is finally beginning to show and it appears to be a healthy baby.   

And a big reason that birth is happening right now (at least in my corner of the world) is because some forward thinking people at TFC have this internet thing figured out.

Take Paul Beirne for one – TFC Director of Business Operations. He’s a hawk on all the Toronto message boards, constantly updating and engaging the fans on everything from security personnel, to where they can find the game online, to policies on appropriate streamer use. Ask any of the supporters groups (Red Patch, NEE, USector etc…) and they will tell you the big reason TFC matchday is the experience it is – is because of guys like him allowing the sport to grow organically. Sans cheerleaders.

Hell, the guy has Twitter account. And a popular one at that.

Today’s tweet: Who do you guys want to see for an international friendly?

That’s easy web market research right there.

It’s not uncommon for professional athletes to use Twitter – Rohan Ricketts and Danny Dichio are prime tweet material from TFC – but it’s fairly uncommon for front office staff to engage their customers on such an honest level the way that Paul does. 

TFC TV is another example of their out of the box thinking. If you can’t get the traditional media to give you the coverage you deserve – do it yourself. The weekly web show takes fans inside the ongoing adventures of the club in a reality TV kind of way. It’s a mix of player interviews, news and feature profiles. It’s carefully scripted and rarely off the cuff, but it does provide their fans with what they want – coverage.

Coverage, that for a team who sells out every game (and Ok, ya their TV numbers aren’t great but how about putting them on SportsCentre for more than 8 seconds a night, once a week and you might see that audience grow a bit), is sorely lacking.

And that brings me full circle. Despite having to jump through some of those hoopholes (yes, spelled correctly) the two web writers, Ben Knight and Duane Rollins, will have (I’m told) press access this season.

Would I be going too far to suggest that these are the first two online guys to gain access to MLSE’s hallowed ground? I ask that honestly. I care nothing for hockey and basketball and know nothing of what goes on in those press boxes. But I do know how difficult getting access can be.

If they are a pair of firsts, it’s the right place to start because with all due respect to some (not all – I see you CP’s Neil Davidson) of the traditional beat writers in Toronto, they can’t offer the same TFC coverage these two can – real analysis, in-depth reporting and a damn entertaining read too. 

Everyone knows that Toronto FC is a different kind of sporting animal. From the fans, to the team, to the culture, and now to the web – it’s just different down at BMO.

And if internet reporting is finally coming out of the womb in Toronto, TFC is the doctor guiding it out – ready and definitely willing to smack it on the ass when neccesary.

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