Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 11/22/06 at 10:47 AM ET
At the same time, the organization’s arrogance and mismanagement of its public relations remain at an advanced level.
Wings fans didn’t know that Jiri Fischer was coming to the rink every day until the Wings told the press to write their “a year later” stories on the 7th of November. Nobody knew about the heart-monitoring device he wears until Scott Burnside of ESPN mentioned it in a feature story, and it was Sportsnet, which is unavailable in the U.S., that was allowed to do two-part interview with Fish, showing him talking about what he experienced at the very spot where it happened and talking about the aftermath in terms of both the catharsis his tearful press conference gave him, and his day to day routine at present.
We get a few highly-scrutinized clips from Red Wings Weekly, maybe totalling a minute or two, and a few articles in the newspaper for one day, all focusing on his “cleansing” routines and quest for clarification as to what happened…While ESPN gets the first crack at telling Red Wings fans how Fisch is really doing on a day-to-day basis. Burnside was allowed to say that Dr. Colucci cleared Fisch to play after discovering his heart abnormality in 2002, but only after making sure that Fisch was medically consulted so that he knew the risks confronting him.
Burnside told us about his “backpack”:
Twice in the following weeks, he suffered similar episodes of cardiac arrest, both at home, once while he was sitting on the couch and another while standing in the kitchen. During each of these episodes, Fischer’s heartbeat escalated to some 300 beats per minute, but he did not black out as he did at Joe Louis Arena. In fact, he manually overrode the “life vest,” allowing his heart to regain its own rhythm naturally.
“I didn’t want to get shocked, it was simple as that,” he said.
The “life vest,” a vest-like apparatus that constantly monitors Fischer’s heart rate, is a part of his daily wardrobe. If he has an episode similar to the one on the ice in November 2005, or two others that followed in his home, the device senses the arrhythmia and sends an electric shock through his body that will hopefully restore the heart’s rhythm. The device even has a two-way radio capability that warns both the patient and bystanders that a shock is about to be administered.
Periodically during our long-ranging discussion, the machine gives off a little ping sound, a reminder of its presence and the changes the native of Horovice, Czech Republic, has undergone.
And he clarified the comments about Fischer’s quest that were left to the press to distinguish between an honest search for answers and hack medicine:
He understands that the things he’s talking about are at least outside the norm for most people and may even be viewed as heretical, or worse. UFOs, the yeti, pyramid power, environmental medicine. For some people, it’s all part of the same continuum.
A year ago, Fischer admitted he, too, would have been skeptical about such an approach. Not now.
“I really have to figure this problem out. I really believe I’m onto something pretty good,” he said. “The answers were there. It’s a matter of looking, it’s a matter of searching. I’m still finding them out.
Even Colucci is skeptical, warning Fischer not to let people take advantage of him and to be careful as he moves along this path. Still, he said he’s supportive of Fischer’s passion and determination to find answers.
Said Colucci: “In medicine, nothing is black and white.”
Part of Fischer’s regimen involves daily workouts at Joe Louis Arena, a place some could assume would be a place best avoided by Fischer. He nearly died there. He is unlikely to ever return there as a player. One might assume the discomfort of being so close to what was once so important and is now virtually unattainable would be more than Fischer could bear.
“It’s totally the opposite,” Fischer said. “I really wanted to keep up with the guys. Coming down here is so emotionally uplifting for me. I’m doing my treatment in an environment I love.”
We didn’t know any of that until Monday, and Fisch, like Greg Johnson, will be simply shepherded off into scouting positions.
There was no push to promote Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) like the one that saved Fisch’s life, even though heart disease is the #1 killer in the U.S. and Canada, and a modicum of investment in making AEDs available at the gyms, malls, and restaurants we frequent, as well as increasing the awareness about the availability thereof for personal use, would save lives.
If the Wings had simply set up a little fund with the American Heart Association, and asked people to donate, like they donated smoke detectors, in exchange for a raffled off something, or just the opportunity to shake Fisch’s hand and tell him that we’re proud of him…
The Red Wings’ PR department still doesn’t think in those terms.
They give the in-depth story about Fischer’s recovery to ESPN, and they agree to allow a network that doesn’t even broadcast in Michigan the opportunity to ask Fischer questions that the local media’s simply not allowed to ask.
The comments made by NHL.com’s Marcie Garcia as noted last week, would sound like absolute hogwash to any Wings’ PR exec:
Mostly, I know that there is an interest into the personal lives of the favorite player. Notice the autograph line is never without a picture to sign or picture to take. And yes, some teams do an outstanding job of allowing a peek into the personal lives of their athletes. Good Public Relations Departments make sure there are player and team involvement throughout the season, which is important for both sides of the puck. Why not invest in fans the way they invest in the team? Fans invest their time, energy, not to mention dime, and most importantly, emotion - even when at times it’s tough. Let’s face it; it’s easy to latch onto another winning team as opposed to sticking to your guns, even when a losing record is as common in your city as garbage day pick up, sometimes the two are hard to differentiate.
That’s not how things work around here. Fans aren’t invested in—they’re given the privilege of paying a lot of money to get close to the team when and where the team desires to do so, and they read and watch stories that are at least partially dictated by what John Hahn and the Wings’ PR staff want to be told, and when they want the press to tell it. They wanted no local coverage of the one-year anniversary of Fisch’s seizure, so we had to go to ESPN and Sportsnet to find out how he’s doing, because players are simply not made available to anybody who’s not a large newspaper or television station within a three-hour radius of the Joe.
Just over a month after I wrote my first salvo explaining why the Red Wings are vilified in the national media and remain strangers to their own fans, I approached Fisch’s agent to ask if it’d be at all possible to schedule a short interview, but The Godfather told me how things would go, and he was right—Fisch’s agent gave Fisch my home telephone number, Fisch called the Wings’ PR department, and the interview died there because I’m not the Free Press, News, MLive, Oakland Press, or Windsor Star, and I’m actually working in the Metro Detroit area.
I probably would have had a better chance of getting an interview if I told the team I was from Winnipeg, just as you’re much more likely to be able to get an a player autograph at a game if the Wings come to Los Angeles or Vancouver than you are if you attend a game at the Joe.
That’s just how the organization operates. Nick Lidstrom’s the Grand Marshall of the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he’s bringing his kids down with him. We’ll see him waving along the parade route on Channel 4 here and there, he might say hello for thirty seconds, and that’s that. The Wings won’t take advantage of the opportunity to plug the team, nor their new Captain, on a day where they’d get free air time to a parade that Channel 4 claims is broadcast to somewhere upwards of 50 million homes around the world.
Talk about fanning on an open-net shot from half a foot out…
Here’s what the Free Press says happened on Tuesday:
Robert Lang, Jiri Hudler and Kirk Maltby were to join the Salvation Army on Tuesday to distribute food to Detroit’s needy. “It’s nice to help out. I’ve got my third son coming with me,” said Lang, referring to Hudler. “It’s something nice—help out people who really need it. It does put certain things in perspective.”
The team didn’t even see fit to simply call one of the three television stations that cover the Wings locally to say, “Hey, Langer, Huds, and Malts will be at soup kitchen X. D’you want to get a sound-byte? Maybe call the Salvation Army? It’s two days before American Thanksgiving, after all…”
Instead, if you turned into the evening news, you were probably treated to another one of Bernie’s Bloopers.
That’s not how our organization works, and that’s not right or proper for an organization to both ignore the importance of their fans—or the ability they have to affect change in the community.
The team’s made some significant progress over the past month.
They actually helped produce a broadcast based upon accessibility and an investment in generating ratings and fan interest. They’re updating their 15-year-old scoreboard. They’re at least attaching player accessibility to a charitable cause.
But they’ve got a long, long way to go, and they’ll only change if their fans consistently demand better from them.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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