Friday, December 27, 2013

Thoughts on ways for NHL Network to improve their content

Over on AwfulAnnouncing.com today, Steve Lepore wrote up an article about six of NHL Network's weaknesses, calling NHLN the league's "blind spot".

Some examples are pretty obvious. For example, if you compare TSN's Hockey Night in Canada's sets, graphics, and production to NHLN's own, the differences are pretty wide. No wonder that many American hockey fans wish that Canadian hockey feeds were more readily available south of the border.

He also mentioned that NHLN's on-screen talent pool needs to be deeper and better-utilized, which is also true. As a hockey fan (and not just a female hockey fan), I really enjoy seeing Kathryn Tappen on broadcasts. But why is she the only woman regularly representing the NHL on TV, when approximately 40% of the audience (and growing) is female? Quite a few of the male talents on NHLN are former hockey players - why not bring in some women who've had professional hockey experience?

Lepore pointed out that the league has a $37M profit margin on a product that:

  • is not as up-to-date looking as its competitors;
  • does not offer the most cutting-edge news for the league or its players (Canada's TSN breaks the majority of hockey news, especially when it comes to the off-season);
  • the current existing programming is boring. B-O-R-I-N-G, and that's from the viewpoint of hockey fans who would rather watch hockey than any other sport on the planet.
In addition, NHLN is not available to the majority of cable subscribers within lower-tier pricing packages. Some cable providers only start to include NHLN in their most expensive all-inclusive packages; some cable subscribers can only get it if they sign up for the CenterIce package ($169/year) or other Sports Package programming (average costs range $12-15+/month).

Maybe NHLN is trying not too compete too much with NBC/NBCSN, who carries a number of the league's games throughout the season. But it's not as if NBC/NBCSN is providing vast amounts of extraneous hockey coverage, but hockey fans can always hope.

Just imagine if NHL Network completely revamped itself.

While they're at it, as I've stated frequently in the past, they could completely overhaul NHL.com to make it easier to find news articles and video content. NHL.com's archives are vast and quite comprehensive, but incredibly time-consuming to search through. If you get too specific with your search terms, the site tells you it has no results. If you're too vague, you might receive thousands of results, with little to no way to further narrow the results down.

Gary Bettman should have sugarplum-fairy visions of dancing dollar signs dancing in his head for what spending some money revamping their "showcase" network could do for the league.

Let's look at the NHL from a business/marketing standpoint, for starters. NHL fans have not only long been recognized as the most tech-savvy among sports fans, but on average, they're also the best-educated and tend to be the wealthiest.

The female part of the fan base continues to grow as well, as stated above. It's worth repeating that when it comes to household spending, women hold about 80-85% of the spending power. (See articles from AskingSmarterQuestions.com, She-conomy.com, Time magazine, and TrendSight.com for more in-depth discussion about this.) Therefore, the NHL should definitely be doing more to attract and keep female hockey fans.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in addition to "natural" hockey partners such as beer companies, sports equipment manufacturers, and companies like Canadian Tire, the league is already able to attract strong family/female-friendly marketing partners like Geico, Kraft, Visa, Discover, Honda, Compuware, Bridgestone, and Kimberly-Clark.

But if you tune into NHLN after 11pm, you'd hardly recognize the demographic that the NHL is aiming for. Maybe it's the fault of the cable providers and not the network itself, but late-night NHLN viewers are treated to repetitive advertising for companies like FarmersOnly.com and various as-seen-on-TV "So, you've got this physical problem that you didn't know was repulsive until you saw our ad?" products.

Lepore mentioned that the NHL doesn't seem interested in improving its day-to-day or off-season programming. Even the most die-hard of hockey fans can be easily numbed by the repetitive, limited programming that the network currently offers up.

Currently, here's some examples of NHL's weekly/daily programs:

  • NHL Live (except, of course, when it's running as repeats) - described as "bringing hockey fans the latest news, notes, and buzz from around the league". We've already discussed that NHLN is not always ahead of other networks or news sources. Hockey fans should feel that tuning in to NHL Live will always mean the freshest content.
  • NHL On The Fly - billed as NHLN's "signature show", this show is meant to take you "inside the action", including highlights, "up-to-the-minute" hockey info, scores, interviews, etc. Any night that games are playing in the league, NHL On The Fly should be running mostly live all night with what's going on around the league.
  • NHL Tonight - highlights/recaps/analysis of each day's game. As Lepore pointed out, this show rarely encompasses things that might be going on in late (a.k.a. West coast) games. This show runs for an hour, and then is rebroadcast ad infinitum (or is it ad nauseum?) until NHL Live or NHL On The Fly kicks in the next day.

There's other shows like Plays of the Week, but that's just repackaging highlights from NHL Tonight.

Here's my suggestions for NHL Network to improve its offerings:

1. BROADEN DAILY OR WEEKLY HOCKEY COVERAGE PAST THE NHL


The NHL is not just about what is going on with the games and players that are currently in the NHL. Each team has its ECHL and AHL affiliates, as well as prospects spread out through various leagues across Europe, North America, and Russia. Fans are interested in these players, but it's challenging to keep up with them unless you invest hundreds of dollars - and hours - into various Internet hockey programming packages, and searching through hockey news.

NHLN should carry some games from these other leagues, especially on nights when NHL game choices are slim. Extended coverage of World Championship games, including both US and Canadian teams in particular, have increasing interest from hockey fans. Championship-round playoff games for the Calder Cup (AHL) and Kelly Cup (ECHL) trophies, KHL games, CHL games, the World Championship, Spengler Cup, and the European leagues (especially SM-liiga and the Swedish Hockey League) would all provide more interesting and comprehensive hockey coverage.

After all, these leagues are affiliate leagues with the NHL. And one of the NHL's corporate marketing partners is The Hockey News; so what makes more sense than having a general Hockey News broadcast?

Ideally, NHLN could start by broadcasting a 60-minute highlights show/newscast covering other leagues 3 times a week; and if successful, it could eventually run 5-7 times per week. The primary focus should emphasize the AHL, ECHL, and CHL, where most current NHL prospects play, but a ticker at the bottom of the screen could stream game scores and player stats. The program could be filled out with interviews and player profiles.

Leading up to the Olympics, it would be great to see some programming related to the history of hockey on the international stage, and more discussion and analysis about the international-style hockey game.

2. EDUCATE THE FANS THROUGH PROGRAMS

This expands further on the ideas in point #1. Not all hockey fans grow up with the sport; some are "late-blooming fans". But even long-time fans of the sport have plenty to learn about hockey.

Old-time games can be great to watch. But how about a weekly/biweekly show that shows highlights from particular games, and talks about the influence of that game on the sport, or a given season? Or gives additional analysis from a more modern point of view?

Some other shows that could air weekly or a few times per week, year-round:

  • Hockey Biographies : profiling players and personalities who shaped the sport. A one-hour show could be dedicated to anywhere from one to three people involved with hockey; perhaps one player, one coach, and one "other" person (broadcaster, reporter, team owner, etc) per show.

  • Hockey 101 : a weekly or biweekly, half-hour or one-hour show that discusses hockey rules, drills, nutrition, and exercises to make recreational players better, but also helps educate fans about the game and what it takes to succeed. It would be pretty cool to see somebody like Gary Roberts contribute segments to a show like this. Tie this program in with the NHL Learning Center on the NHL website.
  • Women in Hockey : a bi-monthly show about women's hockey: profiles and interviews of those who play it, those who have had an influence on the game in general, and coverage for women's hockey, especially for the Olympics, the World Championship, and the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
3. HOCKEY IS FOR EVERYONE - SO SHOW IT

Canadian hockey viewers know that that Hockey Night in Canada provides a Punjabi edition, which helps appeal to Canada's large Indian population.

So where is a Spanish-language broadcast in the US?

There are more than 38.3 million native speakers of Spanish in the US. Among the top 15 cities with the largest number of Spanish-speaking citizens, there are several NHL cities: the greater LA/Orange County (Kings, Ducks) area tops the list (over 35% of area population speaks Spanish). Other NHL cities within the top 15 are: NYC/Tri-State area (Rangers, Islanders, Devils), Miami/Ft. Lauderdale (Panthers), Chicago (Blackhawks), Dallas (Stars), Phoenix (Coyotes), Bay area (Sharks), and DC/Baltimore (Capitals).

Since NBCUniversal owns Telemundo, it would naturally make plenty of sense for the NHL's existing broadcast partner to work on producing a hockey show at least once per week. 


It is also worth noting that three of the largest Spanish-speaking population centers - Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas, and Phoenix - have hockey teams that have struggled to draw fans into their buildings in markets that are more strongly dedicated to basketball, football, and college sports. Expanding hockey's reach through Spanish-language programming might help improve interest and attendance in these markets.

Additionally, NHL.com should expand their fan reach by providing a Spanish section to their website, the way that they have included sections in French, Russian, Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Slovakian, and German.

4. PROMOTE ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING PROVIDED BY TEAMS BETTER

NHLN currently carries original programming produced by various teams around the league, such as Oil Change (Oilers), Becoming Wild (MN Wild) and BHTV specials (Blackhawks). However, it is erratically scattered throughout NHLN's schedule, instead of being found in regularly-scheduled slots. Even if the only regular slots mean 2 p.m. or 1 a.m., at least make the timing consistent, and make more effort to drum up interest in the shows. Fans love these insider shows and eat them up, even if it's not their own team. (Just look at the success of 24/7.)

5. BOOST THE SIGNAL OF NHL PODCASTS BY SIMULCASTING ON NHLN

Did you know that Ken Hitchcock does a weekly podcast for NHL? How about Bobby Holik? Do you know where to find all of the league's teams' podcasts in one place? If you hunt around long enough on NHL.com, you can find the link over to their podcast directory (P.S. Not everybody is interested in subscribing to SiriusXM radio services.) Take some of that podcast material and integrate in into some live shows. 


6. BUNDLE CENTER ICE/GAMECENTER, AND PRICE IT MONTH-BY-MONTH

Not all fans are willing to cough up $169 at one go (or even $43/month for 4 months) to buy Center Ice OR GameCenter; how many fans are willing to pay for both? For those on a budget, it's easier to say, "Ok, I'm going to be paying $15-20/month" versus the idea of putting out so much money in one shot.

It would also be helpful if NHL.com could put more information on their website about broadcast regulations and explaining how/why programming blackouts occur. Fans in several areas of the country fall into grey areas between two (or sometimes more) NHL teams, and end up with blackouts on games that are supposedly "local" for their area.

And while it may be difficult to believe, not everybody owns a TV. So a fan might buy GameCenter, thinking they can use the program package to watch their local team ... but oddly enough, local broadcasts are often blacked out on GameCenter! 

Strangest of all, people who subscribe to GameCenter find themselves blacked out of games that air on NHL Network. After all, NHLN runs GameCenter - it seems incredibly odd that NHLN can't broadcast the game that is running on their own network on their own app!









There are plenty of ways that both the NHL Network and NHL.com could improve their content, but these are some starting ideas.




 

* * * * * * *
On a side note regarding GameCenter: I've been using the GameCenter app on my Droid Maxx phone which I received through the Verizon Fan Voices program. Verizon is a partner with the NHL and as a result, there's some "exclusive" content on the NHL phone app if you have Verizon as a partner.

I have been watching a lot of games via the GameCenter app lately and I'm generally very pleased by the quality of content streaming, especially when using Wi-fi. But the broadcast blackout restrictions are at times quite frustrating to me, especially when I cannot watch a local TV broadcast of a game I want to see, but it's blacked out via the GameCenter app. (The radio broadcasts are never blacked out; just the TV ones.)

Aside from that issue, I otherwise really enjoy having GameCenter and the quality of video my phone provides to watch it; but the blackouts (yay, broadcast restrictions! woowhee...) are annoying at times.


Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program
and have been provided with a wireless device (Droid Maxx) and six months
of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Open question to Reebok (and other manufacturers) about replica jerseys

There was a re-tweet that crossed my dashboard this morning that bothered me. The original poster deleted his tweet, but somebody else had captured it for posterity, so here it is: 



Yes, it was an offensive fat joke, suggesting that plus-sized people shouldn't be allowed to sport their favorite team's jersey ¹; but there's more to it than the simple lack of tact from the poster.

Several years ago, when Reebok rolled out as the new brand of the NHL, they introduced something they call "jock tags" on the lower-cost replica NHL jerseys. They even list it as a "feature" on the retail pages of shop.nhl.com and other sites. 

The jock tag is a rectangular piece of material which says "authentic jersey" at the top, with the NHL and Reebok logos below. It also says, in both English and French, "Engineered by Reebok to the exact specifications of the National Hockey League", and there's a spot where you could write your name or player number below that. The most noticeable thing about the jock tag, however, is that the jersey's size is printed in 1/2" tall type.

Why is this tag necessary at all?

Left, authentic player-used Tampa Bay Lightning practice jersey; right, replica Blackhawks fan game jersey

Now, if you see pro hockey players at practice, they do have "jock tags" on the authentic practice jerseys. Perhaps having these sizes easily displayed helps team equipment managers sort through non-personalized hockey gear more easily.  

However, these tags do not exist on the league's official in-game jerseys. 

No jock tags here ... or here ... or - nope, not here, either
The point of "replica jerseys" is that they're supposed to be a lower-cost/more affordable version of the official team jerseys - if ~$140-$160 could be considered "lower" cost. The detailing is mostly the same, but for some reason, these size tags - pardon me, jock tags - are placed on the outside of the replica jerseys, where it detracts from the aesthetics of the jersey.

Now, if you have the $330 to spend on the "authentic" team jerseys from your local fan shop, you're spared having to advertise your shirt size to the whole world. Like the genuine team jerseys, the pricier version of the jersey has no jock tag.

Reebok and the NHL are not alone on this; the NFL (Nike) has begun using these style of tags on fan replica jerseys while not using them on the field. Both of these sports do not tuck their jerseys in. 

So why did Reebok feel it was necessary to put these tags on the outside of the jerseys to begin with? 

Fans aren't interested in advertising the size of their clothing. Women often buy larger-sized jerseys than they would because they prefer or need a looser fit because of their breasts and/or hips. (Women's jerseys help with this, but not for all women.) Small-sized men may be self-conscious for having to purchase a large/XL youth jersey instead of a small adult one. Plus-sized fans of either gender surely aren't thrilled about advertising that they're 3X, 4X, or bigger.

Are there alternatives for fans? Yes, consumers could certainly take a permanent black marker and ink over the area, which they would then repeatedly have to retouch for the life of the jersey. Or they could take nail scissors and snip off the tag, but that could result in potential damage to the jersey, because the tags are sewn on very firmly, or the removed stitching could leave damage to the jersey.

Reebok also makes AHL and ECHL replica jerseys, but they don't put the jock tag on those jerseys.

Sample of non-jock-tagged jerseys: L-R: German league, Nike IIHF/Finland; Reebok AHL Checkers; Reebok ECHL Everblades; CCM LA Kings
If Reebok feels their brand isn't visible enough on the jerseys - and it's already emblazoned on the back below the collar, on one of the sleeves (and on ECHL jerseys, below the 'V' of the front collar), and inside the back collar - they could replace this tag with another embroidered manufacturer's logo that blends into the colors of the jersey.

If it is a case of wanting to prove it is an "authentic" replica and not simply some cheap knock-off, then the jock tag could still contain all the information it currently does, but just not have the size. (Or at the very least, have the font size in a far smaller, less in-your-eye type.)  

But honestly, why the need for the size (jock) tag on the outside of the jersey at all? People's size is a personal matter, and people wearing larger sizes are already subject to plenty of public judgement, scrutiny, criticism, and mockery. (As if wearing sizes on the outside of your gym clothing didn't already give you flashbacks of high school gym class...)

People of all sizes deserve to be able to wear their team's colors without having to advertise their exact size on the front. 




¹ Hockey purists can refer to them as "sweaters" if you like, but since the jerseys are no longer in fact knitted sweaters, we will refer to them as "jerseys".

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A little hockey-days reading - from One Goal II to Journeyman and J.R.




It's the holiday season, so you might be looking for some fresh reading material, whether to give as a gift, or to keep you busy while traveling. Let's look at one of the best new hockey books on the market, and then I'll talk about a few of my favorite hockey autobiographies.


The Chicago Blackhawks have released One Goal II, the 2013 Stanley Cup championship coffee table book. Not surprisingly, this $49.99 tome is just as beautiful and lush to read as its 2010 predecessor. 

Even so, the book is slightly different from the original One Goal Achieved book. Instead of the fun inserts found in the 2010 book, the 2013 book opts for a couple features that most fans should find far more interesting: 
  • Inside the front cover, an embedded video screen (above right) includes two feature videos: the famous "17 seconds" Stanley-Cup winning play, plus five minutes of extra footage. 
  • The book includes the Blackhawks' 17 Seconds DVD (which retails for $14.99 on its own), which covers the team's 2013 championship run and the summer's Cup celebrations. The 17 Seconds documentary is a warm, funny look at the Stanley Cup season; the Blu-ray version ($19.99) is sold separately and includes footage from the team's White House visit, as well as a commentary feature with running discussion from team members Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. 
Filled with gorgeous hockey photography and lots of great writing, One Goal II is definitely a must-have for any Blackhawks fan. Even non-Blackhawks fans might enjoy the lighthearted and joyful approach that 17 Seconds takes for a documentary!



 * * * 


One of the best player autobiographies I read this year was Sean Pronger's Journeyman (subtitled: The Many Triumphs (And Even More Numerous Defeats) of a Guy Who's Seen Just About Everything in the Game of Hockey). 

It's easy to love and/or admire those players who seem to have been born with a silver hockey stick in their hands - the ones whose pure talent make them stars in the hockey galaxy. For example, Pronger's older brother, Chris, is a future Hall of Famer who had the "fast track" to the NHL. (Drafted in 1993, started with the NHL during the 1993-94 season, and never looked back.) While Chris Pronger elicits both love and hate among hockey fans - he's one of those guys you "hate to play against, but would love to have on your team" - the point is, he was born to be a hockey star. 

Sean Pronger, however, was not one of those players.

Pronger (@SeanPronger) had the kind of career that is known as a "journeyman" among hockey players: traded multiple times, constantly shuffled between the NHL and its affiliate leagues. 

Most hockey fans understand that players get paid less in leagues like the AHL and the ECHL, and that players may be called up or sent down at will by the parent NHL affiliate team. But a lot of hockey fans probably don't think about the lower league experience, aside from joking about how those players spend a lot of time on the bus.

Pronger lays these leagues brutally - and often hilariously - bare. He talks about what players are willing to sacrifice in terms of comfort when they're "living the hockey dream" but not really living on a very good salary. He discusses the bus trips, and the  player camaraderie; how coaches can punish those players who aren't playing their best; and what it feels like to go to one's first professional hockey camp. 

He also talks frankly about having a younger brother whose own career far eclipsed his own - but he clearly never seems bitter about it, and is obviously very proud of Chris's accomplishments. 

Pronger keeps his tongue firmly in cheek throughout, making the book a lot of fun and easy to read. Journeyman helps add a great deal of depth and perspective to the insights of a professional hockey player's career - and in the process, shows the depth of dedication that every pro hockey player has to aspire to in order to stay in the world of professional hockey.

* * * 
Jamie McLennan: The Best Seat in the House

Like Sean Pronger, goaltender Jamie McLennan (@jamiemclennan29) is a journeyman; he has played on a variety of teams across the NHL, AHL, and IHL - as well as across the pond in the KHL, British, and Japanese leagues. Hockey fans may recognize McLennan from his broadcast work on NHL Network and Canada's TSN. 

McLennan's book, The Best Seat In The House, seems less about himself and more about stories about teammates, but that's ok. His book is full of laugh-out-loud moments throughout, whether it's reading about the time he did battle with an AHL mascot, running over Roberto Luongo with a Zamboni, Jarome Iginla wearing his own jersey in public to see if he got recognized, or answering the question if players ever sneak food on to the bench.

He's got stories about coaches - let's just say that Darryl Sutter loves a certain 4-letter word - and he's got tales about the various goalies he's played behind, including some funny ones about Miikka Kiprusoff (yes, the famously-private Finn apparently has quite the sense of humor), and a cool story about Grant Fuhr. And yes, you read about how McLennan got the nickname "Noodles". 

The Best Seat in the House will give you perspective into the life of a backup goalie, and also have you chuckling along with the tales of some of the best-known players in the NHL.

* * * 

Although Bob McKenzie's Hockey Dad: True Confessions From A (Crazy?) Hockey Parent is a couple years old, the book continues to drive home the dedication and cost of raising kids to be pro (or even semi-pro) players.

McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) is best known to hockey fans as the "TSN Hockey Insider" - few hockey writers or broadcasters are more trusted or break more hockey news than he does. When he's not busy being one of Canada's top hockey reporters, he has raised two hockey-loving sons, and has even found time to be a hockey coach along the way.

His older son, Mike (@MikeMcKenzie11), played his way up through the various Canadian junior leagues, and eventually was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 (183rd overall). He played for the Florida Everblades (ECHL), Charlotte Checkers (AHL), and Houston Aeros (AHL). After three seasons, he retired and now is an assistant coach for the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). 

McKenzie's younger son, Shawn, also played his way up through the Canadian junior leagues, but suffered a concussion in a fight that ended any potential dreams of a hockey career. As McKenzie chronicles in his book, nearly six years after the fight, Shawn was still experiencing post-concussion headaches. Eventually, Shawn (@ShawnMcKenzieSN) followed in his father's footsteps, and became a sports reporter, currently working for Sportsnet in Ottawa.

Being extremely familiar with Canadian junior hockey, McKenzie discusses it at length in his book - not just the impact on his two sons and his family, but what it's like to be a coach in those leagues - and occasionally, what it's like to be at the receiving end of a a crazy hockey parent's rage. His book gives a unique insight into what may be one of the most demanding youth leagues in the world. 

McKenzie has announced that he is in the process of writing a second book, and it no doubt will be as thoroughly engrossing as his first.

For anybody interested in the "nuts and bolts" side of the hockey life, and putting them into career timeline perspective, I would recommend reading these three books in this order: Hockey Dad, Journeyman, and The Best Seat in the House

* * *

Then, once you've read those three, it's time to pick up Jeremy Roenick's autobiography, J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey

A fan favorite throughout his career, Roenick is famous for being one of the most colorful characters in hockey in the past 20 years. He was a popular player for the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him 8th overall in 1988. He was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, and would go on to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings, and San Jose Sharks. 

Roenick's book is filled with - shall we say, "salty" hockey language, so if you're looking for a PG read, this one isn't it. This is the story of a popular, talented player's career. Roenick understood from a young age that hockey is as much about entertainment as it is about playing the sport. 

He tells the story of an encounter with Gordie Howe when he was a kid attending a Hartford Whalers game. That moment of connection with his hockey hero influenced him throughout his career, underscoring the importance of staying connected with the fans.

But make no mistake: as well-liked as Roenick was in his career, he also had his share of controversial moments, both off and on the ice - and was well-known for it. He discusses his side of many of these events throughout the book, ranging from criticizing Sidney Crosby on page 1, to his infamous comment about SJS's Patrick Marleau being "gutless".

Roenick knows that not everybody likes - or is going to like - him, and he knows that's part of life - and hockey. In ways, his bluntness and lack of a filter can be refreshing in the midst of a pro sport that covers up injuries with vague terms like "upper" and "lower body", and which always puts its most polite, proper face to the camera. But if you can't put up with that kind of approach, then this book might not be for you - and you'd miss some very fun hockey stories.

* * * 

Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program
and have been provided with a wireless device (Droid Maxx) and six months
of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.


While One Goal II is not available via Kindle (for obvious reasons), and I read J.R. via hardcover book, I read the rest of these books via the Amazon Kindle app on my Droid Maxx phone. 

I own a regular Kindle, but I like reading books on my phone's Kindle app better. The Maxx's large, bright screen makes it much easier to read books and magazines - in color! - in comparison to my regular Kindle (grey/black). Most of the book pictures on this post (aside, obviously, from One Goal II) are screenshots directly from my Maxx.

Now that I've had use of this phone for about 2 months, I am hardly using my old Razr Maxx (which is a few generations back of this Droid Maxx).

It's smooth, it's fast, and it's even giving me far faster video streaming than my desktop's DSL, in combination with impressive all-day battery life. Definitely a great phone for hockey fans!


Two Verizon deals for you this Black Friday weekend: the DROID Maxx by Motorola just $199.99; and the HTC One for only $99.99. Sale ends Sun. night. New 2yr activation required for either. Visit www.vzw.com/holiday 








Monday, September 30, 2013

Info about the Verizon Fans Voices program

Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program and have been provided with a wireless device and six months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.


A few of you may have already noticed the "Verizon Voices Sports" badge that has appeared on the top left corner of my blog page. What that means, as the disclosure notice says above, is that I'm getting the use of a wireless device (specifically, a Droid Maxx) for six months, including data service; and in exchange, I'll be writing my honest opinions about the product.

You will see me use the tags "VZWvoices" & "Fan" on Twitter and other social media platforms to indicate posts that relate to this program. I've been using the Droid Maxx for two weeks now, so it seems like a good time to post some intial thoughts on the product.

My current cell phone is a Droid Razr Maxx, which is basically the "grandfather" of the Droid Maxx, so to speak. As a result, making the shift from the Razr Maxx to the Maxx has been very easy for me. I spent a lot of time on my phone, mostly for social media and data-related purposes, but we'll also discuss call quality later as well.


Taking a look at the phones side by side: the Maxx (5.41" x 2.80" x 0.28") is just slightly bigger than the Razr Maxx, and slightly heavier (4.94 ounces). The visible screen on the newer Maxx fills almost as much space as the entire device, and not surprisingly for a newer product, has a brighter, sharper-resolution screen. I loaded the same background picture on to both phones to see the difference, above.

The bottom menu bar has changed slightly. The older Razr Maxx has a menu button on the primary menu bar; on the new Maxx, it appears as a button within the app you're using, often just below the space bar when using the keyboard. I find that bad placement as I often hit the menu button instead of the space bar while typing. The search button disappeared - replaced by the Google bar at the top of the screen - and the 'return' button remains, as does the 'home' button.

The Maxx has a new button (bottom right; looks like stack of papers) which makes it very quick and easy to swap between open applications, or easily shut applications off. When you tap it, it brings up a screen like this:


You can either swipe the open app window sideways to close that app, or you can just tap the window to access the app you're looking for. While I know it was possible to find this feature on my older phone, it is so much easier to access it on the Maxx. I use it frequently to close apps to manage power usage.

Speaking of power usage, the Droid Maxx is supposed to have "up to" 48 hours of use (and also claims "standby" battery life may be up to 25 days) with average usage, but so far, I haven't gotten it past 24 hours with my normal level of use. In fact, the first time I used the phone, I drained the battery in under 9 hours. Not sure if I have a flawed battery or not, as I'm using all the same apps as my Razr Maxx, at about my normal levels of use.

You can recharge the phone with a wireless charger or a traditional cord. I don't have a wireless charger, so I can't speak for the speed on that one, but it's a couple hours for a full charge.

The most noticeable feature for me so far is the fast loading speed for web pages and videos - a definite plus in today's media-heavy world.

The Maxx can also be used as a mobile hot spot, allowing you to provide WiFi for your other devices, such as a laptop, or for friends who might need WiFi. (Yes, you can password-protect it, of course!)

A sampling of photos and screen shots using the Maxx:
View of phone while playing video 
Screenshot of video

Panorama - full sunshine

Panorama - arena lighting

Photo - arena lighting

Photo - mostly dark (quality degrades as light decreases)

Overall, so far, the phone is a nice upgrade from the Razr Maxx, and it's easy to see what two years of technology improvements have done. 

With the season starting on October 1st, I will be able to use NHL GameCenter, and really put the phone through its paces, including using a NetGear Push2TV to view video streamed on my phone via my TV. 

In the meantime, if you see the hashtags "#VZWvoices #fan", whether it's myself or another blogger, you know that we're participating in this blogger program.





Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hockey road trips: Swiss Hockey - Lake Genève region

Lake Geneva - photo courtesy of Mike Edwards/Flickr
Genève (Geneva), located in the predominantly French-speaking southwest corner of Switzerland, is the second-largest city in the country. It is home to many of the United Nation's agencies as well as the headquarters of the Red Cross. It is an important international financial center, and, due to its role in humanitarian peace accords such as the Geneva Conventions, is known as the "Peace Capital". 

The region has over 2,000 years of recorded history, and as a result, it's not surprising to discover that the city is peppered with Swiss heritage sites, a well-preserved Old Town, and many museums. 


The Vaud canton, home to both Genève and nearby Lausanne, is an excellent wine-growing region; be sure to explore its wineries if you have time - or, at the very least, indulge in their wines when dining throughout Switzerland. 




LAKE GENÈVE REGION

Four Swiss league teams are located in the southwestern region of the country. There were five, but one of them - HC Sierre - is undergoing financial restructuring, and has currently been dropped out of the National B league. During the 2012 NHL lockout, four NHL players played in the Lake Genève region.  


Team: Genève- Servette HC
Twitter: @officialGSHC
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Patinoire des Vernets, Rue Hans Wilsdorf 4, Acacias, Genève 1227
Public transportation stops/stations: Genève-Cornavin is Genève's main train station. Like Zurich, the city has an extensive public transportation system, known as TPG. PdV is 2 km from Genève-Cornavin. Take tram # 15 (direction: Palettes) to "Acacias" stop; will have to walk about 10 minutes to arena. --or-- Take bus # 1 (direction: Petit-Bel-Air) to "École-Médecine" stop; will have to walk about 12 minutes to arena.
NHL players who played here during lockout: Logan Couture (Sharks), Yannick Weber (Canadiens)


Team: Lausanne HC
Twitter: @lausannehc
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: CIG de Malley, Chemin du Viaduc 14, 1008 Prilly (Lausanne)
Public transportation stops/stations: CIG de Malley is less than 3 blocks from the Prilly-Malley train station; this stop is served by commuter trains S1, S3, S4, S11, and SN and R trains from Lausanne's main train station, Gare de Lausanne (Lausanne is 40 minutes from Geneva; 66 minutes from Berne; 2:15 from Zurich)


Team: HC Red Ice
Twitter: @HCRedIce
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Patinoire du Forum d’Octodure Martigny, Sports et Loisirs, Rue du Forum 12, 1920 Martigny
Public transportation stops/stations: Martigny-Bourg train station; the arena is just over half a kilometer from the station, about 10 minutes' walk. (Martigny is 90 minutes from Lausanne; 2 hrs from Genève)
NHL players who played here during lockout: Patric Hornqvist (Predators), Chris Kelly (Bruins)


Team: EHC Visp
Twitter: @ehcvispsportag
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Litternahalle, Litternaweg, CH-3930 Visp
Public transportation stops/stations: Visp train station; the arena is less than half a mile walk (about 10-12 minutes).


TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS 


GENÈVE

Genève has plenty of things to see and do in addition to taking in some hockey. Start with a tour of the European Headquarters of the United Nations, or a cruise on Lake Geneva. Wander around the Old Town; explore Cimetière de Plainpalais, which dates to 1482; check out the funky Les Grottes neighborhood by the main train station or the artsy Carouge hamlet. 

Take a cable car to the top of Mount Saleve for views of the city and lake; discover the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum; imagine yourself behind the wheel of one of the 400+ vehicles on display at the International Automobile MuseumNeed to indulge in some amazing Swiss chocolate? Stop in at Philippe Pascoët. If you're in Genève in early August, take part in the annual Geneva Festival. Take a tour at CERN, home of the world's largest particle physics laboratory. There's something for every taste in Genève.

Where to stay in/around Genève

‡ Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming Hotels".  
˜ Hotels marked with this are in walking distance of the main train station (5 blocks)
Luxury ($225+)
Grand Hotel Kempinski GenevaHôtel Cristal ~ | Hôtel D'Angleterre ‡ | Hôtel Residence Mont-Blanc 
Business/tourist class ($100-$225+)
Admiral Hôtel | Hôtel Bernina Geneve ~ | Hôtel des Alpes ~ | Hôtel International et Terminus ~ | Hôtel Lido ~ | Hôtel Montana ~ | Hôtel Nash Ville | Hôtel Residence CityZen | Hôtel Tor Sa | Hôtel Windsor 
Budget/hostel ($99 or less)
City Hostel Geneva | Geneva Youth Hostel (both hostels less than 1km from main station)

LAUSANNE


Nearby Lausanne, on the northeast shore of Lake Geneva, is a popular sports city. Many international sports organizations have their headquarters located there, most notably the International Olympic Committee, and the city has several professional sports teams.


Switzerland's only metro system makes it easy to explore Lausanne; and like Basel, the city offers the Lausanne Transport Card to all hotel guests, which allows travelers free transport within certain zones. You can start in the Old Town, visit the city's many parks, explore museums such as the Olympic Museum, or enjoy in a variety of cultural offerings. Listen to the night watchman call out the hour from the tower of Lausanne Cathedral. 


If you're visiting in late October, take in the annual Jazzonze+ Festival; if you're there in July, you can enjoy the renowned Montreaux Jazz Festival.

Where to stay in Lausanne

Below suggested hotels all within a few blocks' walk of Lausanne's main station (Gare du Lausanne). Price categories: (L) = luxury $225+; (T) = business/tourist $100-225+; (B) = budget $99 or less
Hôtel Agora Swiss Night (T) | Hôtel AlaGare (T) | Hôtel Continental (L) | Hôtel du Boulevard (T) | Hôtel Victoria (L) Lausanne Guesthouse & Backpacker (B) 


Martigny - photo courtesy of Kate Wellington / Flickr

MARTIGNY

Valais canton, a tourism and sports enthusiast paradise in the heart of the Swiss Alps, is home to HC Red Ice (Martigny) and EHC Visp. 

Located at a pass between Italy, France, and Switzerland, Martigny may feel more Mediterranean than Swiss. Like the Geneva region, Valais is agriculturally blessed, and home to many orchards and vineyards. You can explore a museum dedicated to the famous Swiss St. Bernard dogs, get lost in the world's biggest labyrinth, explore Roman ruins, or take a scenic tour to nearby Mont Blanc (90 minutes away). 

A more unusual attraction is the Foire du Valais (cow fighting), which runs for ten days in late September/early October. Are you a bacon enthusiast and visiting on the first Monday in December? You won't want to miss the Foire du Lard (Bacon Fair), a tradition since 1801 in the suburb of Bourg, close to where the hockey arena is located. 

The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and holiday resorts. If taking in all that Martigny has to offer has worn you out, it is possible to indulge in the natural thermal baths at several spas in the area like the ancient Romans once did.

Where to stay in Martigny
* within walking distance (3 blocks) of arena; other three are within walking distance of main Martigny train station
Hôtel Alpes & Rhone * | Hôtel du Grand Quai Martigny | Hotel Forclaz Touring | Hotel VatelMotel des Sports *

VISP

Visp is also in the heart of a wine-growing area which includes the highest-elevation vineyard in Switzerland (and arguably, Europe), St. Jodern Kellerei in the nearby village of Visperterminen. But the area may be best-known for its scenery and being a year-round center for sports enthusiasts.

If you're a winter sports enthusiast (skiing, etc) on hockey holiday tour, you may want to include a side trip to the village of Saas-Fee  or to Zermatt. Zermatt is also notable for being a combustion-engine car-free town, in order to prevent pollution which might degrade views of the Matterhorn.  

Where to stay in Visp
Hotel-Restaurant EliteHotel VisperhofCenterpark Apartments (all within 4 blocks of train station)
* * *

As illustrated in this series on Swiss hockey, Swiss Rail makes it incredibly easy to travel around the country, and see games throughout both the National-A and National-B leagues. Swiss Rail will quickly connect you to every hockey city in the country; multi-day passes will make traveling easy. If you're traveling with somebody, in a group, or under 26, you can get additional discounts; families can get the "Family Card" which will allow children 6 to under 16 travel free with at least one paying parent.

The Swiss hockey pre-season starts in August; teams play for the European Trophy against other European-league teams. Swiss hockey's regular schedule starts in September, when North American teams are just starting to gear up for their camps. 

Genève and Zurich may be your two best cities to start your Swiss hockey tour, as both are home to major international airports. No matter what time of year you choose to visit Switzerland, you'll find plenty of interesting things to see and do! 



Swiss tourism video - "More than just mountains"

Swiss tourism video - "Summer"