Down Periscope! Why ban threat to hockey fans is misguided

Periscope logo
Periscope logo

We live in a time of ever changing technology - and it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

I once showed a reporter a photo of my newsroom when I was a trainee. Pointing to the typewriter in front of me, she asked ‘’so, what’s that?’’

Periscope on mobile phone

Periscope on mobile phone

I tried explaining how you got inky fingers winding a new ribbon into place, and how we all counted every word manually. I loved that clunky old Olivetti machine - it even had symbols for old money on the keys!

Dictionaries were our spell checks, the fax had yet to be invented while the internet was barely an idea in the back of the mind of a boffin who was still at primary school.

That was circa 1980. There are times it feels like 1880 when I look at how the world of communication has changed.

Last week’s announcement banning the use of Periscope at ice hockey games rather summed it up.

Periscope is an app which allows you to stream live images of whatever is in front of you at any time anywhere in the world. It’s Twitter with moving pics rather than 140 characters.

It didn’t exist a year ago. Today it has 10million account holders - I suspect a fair chunk of ‘em signed up, tried it, and got rather bored rather quickly.

But Periscope, like every new app, does create a buzz and captivates some - it’s the sort of platform hockey clubs need to a) understand and b) embrace - and, having done that, make it part of their social media strategy.

Noting a rise in the number of fans apparently streaming bits of games via Periscope - really can’t say I’ve noticed - the EIHL has done what other leagues have done, and gone down the path of most resistance by issuing a blanket warning of a ban if you are caught. The NFL, the US tennis Open and the Premier League have all made similar moves or raised concerns over Periscope to protect their commercial contracts and broadcasting interests - the recent Mayweather-Pacquiao title fight saw countess fans streaming some rather rubbish quality images live from ringside.

But quality isn’t the issue - the pics were streamed and then instantly available to anyone who followed that account holder, hence the organisers concerns.

But Periscope COULD be a valuable part of a club’s social media arm.

Manchester Storm and Belfast Giants use it to good effect, streaming bits of training sessions, giving the fans an insight into the week’s preparation, springs to mind. In fact within a day of the EIHL edict, Storm clubs were actually promoting their Periscope content! Now there’s a mixed message straight away.

I could easily see Periscope bringing a new dimension to play-off finals weekend or an event which has a bit of a buzz - but that means getting the fans involved and engaged rather than shoving them to the margins with dire threats of a league-wide ban (and how exactly would it be implemented? Mug shots at rinks? Someone really hasn’t thought this one through at all).

Fans, clubs and the media already live tweet games, so is Periscope simply not the next logical step to embrace rather than micro-manage?

What is the difference between Periscoping a fight as it happens - assuming you’re quick off the mark to launch the app on your smart phone - or filming the punch-up and sticking it on Facebook and sharing on Twitter often before the combatants are back out of the sin bin?

That’s happening already and no-one seems to be too worried about banning it.

Those same fans will still view the official footage of the incident and probably share it as widely - so where do you draw the line? Indeed, in the era of the smart phone, can you?

The debate underlines that social media is a fast-moving landscape and one the league - and individual clubs - really need to get to grips with quickly.

Periscope is just the latest app clubs are getting in a tizz about while only being vaguely aware of what it actually does, and of its potential benefits.

It’s just one of many platforms available to them to really enhance their own matches nights and promotion of their clubs on a daily basis

In 2016 they should have a social media strategy that sends out a very clear message and opens every door to encourage engagement with fans.

But to pull all the platforms together - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Periscope, to name but four - requires commitment and needs resource, but it also needs a clear vision. What do clubs want from it? How can it benefit the team? What message do they want to get out?

The sport has adapted - sort of - to the arrival of webcasts, and largely sorted out web forums by keeping them wholly separate from official websites, but, when it comes to social media, too many are just muddling along, happy to leave it in the hands of a volunteer or two who then get zero guidance. That’s where it can all fall down because on social media it isn’t just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it.

Periscope could be another hugely useful app for clubs and the league - but a starting point of a threat of a ban suggests some minds are already closed.

And banning it won’t actually make it go away either.

Down periscope ...

>> A version of this column appears in Fife Flyers match night programme.