Today is NHL Trade Deadline Day. For anyone subjected to a steady diet of sports television coverage in Canada, this is a fact that would be difficult to escape. There are few subjects that garner more attention from mainstream sports networks in the Great White North than hockey, and there are few single-day events in the sport that are more conducive to those employed by media outlets for their “insider” status than the last day in which NHL teams are allowed to make trades before the end of the season.
It all sounds exciting. Breaking news. Superstars on the move. Teams going all in. General managers getting roasted. Future lineups being projected.
Trade Deadline Day is a lot like New Year’s Eve. In our minds we imagine that we’ll spend the last day of the year as though it’s 1991, and we’re Axl Rose. In reality, we’re negotiating with a cab driver how much we’ll pay for the vomit that spilled out of our mouths on the back seat of the taxi. Likewise, we imagine today to be about draft picks being exchanged for impact players that will decide whether the current season is bust or boom. In reality, today is about dozens of men in suits fiddling with smart phones trying to be the first one to share the details of a fourth line winger being traded for a sixth round draft pick via social media.
— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) April 3, 2013
Coverage is typically more spectacle than substance, and this year the general consensus is especially true. The top two available players have already been traded, meaning that networks have been forced to speculate as to where Ben Bishop might end up rather than Jarome Iginla. Nonetheless, we watch. And we enable the sports networks to spend money and time on content that is almost always immediately forgettable.
This isn’t unique to hockey. Baseball’s trade deadline day/winter meetings and the NBA’s trade deadline day/first day of free agency often inspire saturated coverage of speculation. The NFL Draft, and now, its first week of free agency, also garners the same type of attention from media outlets. Soccer is perhaps the worst of all, with worldwide transfer rumors lasting year round despite only certain periods of time in the calendar in which transfers are actually allowed.
Sports fans are obsessed over transactions, and it makes sense.
To paraphrase something that Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus once wrote: Cheering for a sports team is a vicarious experience. We put ourselves into the specific situations that occur on the ice, field or court and derive pleasure or pain from the outcomes that others manufacture. It’s a projection. And the experience of that projection is rendered positive or negative by the outcome into which we’re projecting ourselves. Acquiring good players translates into more positive experiences. Losing good players likely translates into more negative experiences. Good acquisitions make you happy. Bad losses make you sad.
What’s fascinating to me is that our collective interest in this extension of our vicarious experience has increased in recent years. It’s an increase that has corresponded, not coincidentally, with accessibility. As technology has allowed for us to learn more information regarding our favorite sports teams in a faster manner, our hunger for such data has only increased, and in turn, inspired more innovation to further increase that accessibility.
It’s a process that has sent sports fans from reading daily newspapers the next day to listening to news radio to following along with television coverage to social media searches to mobile push alerts. By the end of this decade, I fully expect precogs to upload trade speculation directly into the cybernetics of our cyborg brains weeks in advance of any transaction.
When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message,” he was claiming that a medium affects society not only by the content it delivers through the medium, but also, more importantly, by the characteristics of the media itself. As we see with the way we consume sports transactions and the speculation associated with it, the mediums with which we interact are evolving so quickly, that I wonder if characteristics have time to develop in any way that we can acknowledge.
Maybe the quickness with which mediums evolve can be connected with the emphasis on speed that reporters place on providing notifications of transactions, often times, to the detriment of accuracy. Thinking fans who use social media and up-to-date technology largely bemoan the blame game played by the older guard of the mainstream media on “the Twitter” for the proliferation of misinformation, but perhaps there’s something in cultural theory making such claims accidentally correct.
Either way, the cool kids are going to mock a good portion of today’s overblown coverage of what will end up being minor trades, as they would mock the speculation surrounding any sport’s transactions. However, we all enable this. As sports-obsessed fans who communicate with each other on Twitter and subscribe to services supplied by mobile applications and even, from time to time, engage in the archaic art of television-viewing, we create and feed this monster.
As a sports fan, it’s a monster I prefer to have and watch shift in shape rather than not have at all. As a person, I’m not so sure I’m able to reconcile worldwide needs with the fact that satellites are currently orbiting the earth with the purpose of ensuring that James Duthie can communicate with Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury, for purposes unbeknownst to most humans.