Puck Daddy - NHL

As most of you know, I spent a few days in Las Vegas last week for Blogs With Balls 2.0, a two-day summit of sports bloggers, journalists and new media executives presented in part by the HHR Media Group.

BwB 1.0 was held in the bottom floor of a pub in Manhattan during the summer and featured free Guinness; Version 2.0 was held in a conference room during the Blog World Expo and featured a formal sit-down lunch.

What, no more mom's basement jokes now?

Coming up, 21 random observations about the Blogs With Balls experience, hockey in Sin City and reactions from a Vegas virgin (that would be me) to the glitz and kitsch (some of it taken from my Saturday travelogue on Twitter). Appearances by Captain Morgan, Jalen Rose, a Kobe Bryant jersey, a leprechaun, a clown and a host of others. For the record: Down about $80, not counting the dough I lost on my first hockey bet. More about that later in the week.

This is a long one. Consume at your discretion.

1. My Blogs With Balls panel dealt with blogger access to sports, and it was a pleasure to debate with the issues with Mitch Germann, the vice-president of communications with the Sacramento Kings; John Karalis of the Boston Celtics' blog Red's Army; Patrick Wixted of New Media Strategies; and our moderator Dan Levy of On The DL.

Andrew Bucholtz of Sporting Madness has a solid rundown of the discussion, but I'll reinforce a couple of points here. I think every blogger who wants access, and can demonstrate that his or her audience will be better served with access, should have the chance to gain it. That goes for burgeoning journalists or fan bloggers.

I don't think traffic benchmarks should be disqualifiers, because they're easily reached with cheap heat for clicks. I don't think "we don't have room in the press box" should be a disqualifier, either; let'em watch the game on a TV from the commissary and then head to the locker room with the rest of the working stiffs. I don't think "if we let you in, we have to let everyone in" works anymore, either, because the majority of bloggers don't even seek access.

What does work, apparently: Being part of a larger blog network like an SB Nation. Even as it may hurt the independent nature of some blogs, it better legitimizes a blogger in the eyes of team officials.

In all honesty, there was too much on the panel about bloggers in a game-night situation. Access is more than that. It's getting a call back on a breaking story. It's getting on the mailing list for pre- and post-game notes. It's having a chance to come to the practice locker room and snag 10-15 minutes with a player for a Q&A.

Hockey bloggers are, by and large, blessed when it comes to all of this. The NHL has been accommodating for some major events -- especially the NHL Draft. Teams have worked with bloggers in many cases and, in some cases, reached out to alt-media for special events and blogger-specific conference calls.

The question, of course, is whether this outreach leaves team-specific bloggers cuckolded and neutered; their caustic commentary gutted by favors and friendly faces in the locker room. In some cases ... sure. But there aren't enough cases to prove it one way or another because many bloggers simply aren't welcome to the party. 

2. Note to self: Don't criticize blogs about using Erin Andrews galleries for cheap traffic while sitting on a panel next to a blogger with an Erin Andrews gallery.

3. Met a few hockey fans randomly in my travels, including a Chicago Blackhawks fan at the Hard Rock who clearly just discovered his city had a hockey team. Telltale sign: When I mention "that Calgary game the other day," his reaction to one of the greatest rallies in NHL history was, "Yeah, that was a good one."

I take it back: It's possible he just has DirecTV.

4. Saw slot machines themed to everything from "The Sopranos" to "Alien," but alas there was not a single hockey-themed slot machine. Which is OK, considering Bettman would probably take half of your jackpot and give it the Coyotes so they can make rent ...

5. Las Vegas: Where celebrities you're sure were dead continue to perform nightly. And yes, I'm looking at you, Louie Anderson.

6. Former NBA great Jalen Rose was terrific on a panel about sports and social media ... until he got into this paranoid freak-out about emerging technology that had him talking about agents showing up with shotguns at New York fashion stores, and the invasive dangers of using OnStar to unlock your car. I don't want to say it was a sharp turn in the conversation, but it was like a James Taylor song being interrupted by speed metal.

7. I'm sure Wagyu beef is spectacular and quite impressive. But I have this informal rule about not eating a prime rib that costs more than my round-trip plane ticket.

8. Captain Morgan himself showed up at an ESPN after-party for Blogs With Balls and later at a charity poker tournament. Life was never really the same. He never breaks character. To my relief, he never asked if I wanted a little Captain in me.

9. While I don't think it's fair, bloggers providing free labor to massive media organizations is obviously a name-recognition, foot-in-the-door sort of thing. But for that organization to refuse to even attempt to credential a blogger providing free labor is unprofessional; and yet it's the norm.  

10. There were some "mainstream" media folks at Blogs With Balls that didn't come off all that well (RE: Sports Illustrated), but Rob King, editor-in-chief of ESPN.com, was not one of them. He rationally defended the network from criticisms, he was candid about its plans; and, above all else, he seemed genuinely curious about blog culture and where this is all headed.

What I learned from King's two panels and a few conversations: ESPN's local sites are going to continue to expand into new markets and grow more viable. There's also the notion that as ESPN makes those inroads, local media are going to have to raise their game online with multimedia coverage. Whether that translates into jobs for local bloggers remains to be seen.

Secondly, ESPN's "Section 140," which is a real-time message board application on ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile that covers games, didn't exactly blow anyone away in the room as a concept. But King told me that, ultimately, something like that could become a standard for fans once Web content is integrated into the television sports experience. Think of a running live chat on your HDTV as you're watching the game, rather than having the laptop open.

ESPN has played some successful catch-up in the mobile content race; sounds like it's getting ahead on "smart TVs."

11. The Venetian stinks. Literally. I'm not sure if it was a one-day thing, but there was an overpowering floral scent that humbled the olfactory system like a combination of a dollar-store candle and your Great Aunt's "go'in out" perfume. For escaping this odoriferous abomination, the gondola drivers are the luckiest men in Vegas. Well, outside of that guy who won on blackjack doubling down at six after the dealer busted. Punk.

12. O'Sheas pub/gambling parlor on the strip is like a fever dream. The leprechaun working the bar. $5 blackjack all day. The fully functioning Burger King in the back. A casino with several beer pong tables (mom can play too!) and a fortune teller. It's like the carnies and the Irish joined forces to create the perfect American den of blue-collar indulgence.

13. Speaking of O'Sheas, some of my favorite people at BwB hired a clown to hang out with them on Saturday night. Yes, you read that right (image via Brandon ROTU):

Alas, his time there was short. Even at a bar with midgets, fortune tellers and beer pong, some things are still frowned upon.

14. Walking near the Tropicana, I saw an Expedia.com Local Expert stand with the sign "Ask Me Anything." So I walked up to him and said, "Anything?" and he said "Anything", and so I asked:

ME: "Can a National Hockey League team work in Las Vegas?"

EXPEDIA DUDE: "No."

ME: "Because there's too much to do here?"

EXPEDIA DUDE: "Yeah."

15. To that end, it became pretty obvious to me over just a few days that there's only one way an NHL franchise could succeed in Las Vegas: An arena with slots and table gaming around the concourse.

I'm completely serious. Even if it's a deal-breaker for the League.

There may very well be enough puckheads who live in Vegas that can constitute a modest fan base for an NHL team -- the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL have, in the past, averaged over 5,000 fans per game. But the real money is with the out-of-towners, and they're only showing up if (a) their team is in town or (b) there's something beyond hockey offered in the game-going experience that convinces them to sacrifice three hours of their time in the entertainment capital of the world.

The only other option is putting the arena in the middle of a brothel, which is an idea slightly inspired by my post-lockout suggestion to legalize prostitution in NHL arenas to boost attendance. That way we can finally have ads on jerseys, because nothing will seem whorish by comparison ...

16. The notion that "War" has become an acceptable casino card game gives me hope that my proficiency at "Chutes and Ladders" can be monetized, like at the low-rent casino in "Vegas Vacation."

17. Played in the Blogs With Balls Texas Hold'em Tournament for Annie Duke's charity. My first poker tournament. Went in large against Phil from Gunaxin, and was humbled; in the sense that when a guy goes all-in after folding for, like, the first 17 hands, you don't assume he's bluffing. Second player out at my table, thanks to a complete inability to strategize and/or follow simple protocol for betting and decorum. I'll stick to craps.

18. Speaking of rolling them bones, a highlight of the weekend: A guy in a No. 24 Bryant Lakers jersey goes on an incredible run at a craps table at the Excalibur. Every time he wins money for his fellow players, they chant "KO-BE, KO-BE." The impromptu camaraderie in a casino is a wonderful thing.

19. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is a place in which I'd definitely stay again, for the simple fact that the music you hear in the elevator follows you throughout the building sound system. I felt like Shaft.

20. Spotted at the Hard Rock pool: The Capitals/Sharks game being viewed in a swank cabana with scantily clad ladies. I immediately wondered if Ted Leonsis's owner's box suddenly moved to No. 2 on the "dream locations to watch a Caps game" list for fans.

21. Finally, the airline industry should be ashamed of itself for $20 baggage fees. Although, in some cases, it's clearly a price worth paying when transporting vital items that can't be carried on to the plane:

Thanks to the HHR crew for the above, and the chance to share my experiences and views on the industry I love.

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