No live AIHL final

Thoughts from the girl in the pic who took her Perth Thunder beanie travelling to Northern Hemisphere summer, ‘cos I kind of like my team a bit.

For background, as a fan who is not close to or involved with league management and direction, I respect and want to support the push towards getting ice hockey in Australia as big as possible as quickly as possible. Yes, I want a large sustainable sporting business here, where everyone gets paid and everyone makes money, ‘cos that’s a league where I’m still going to be able to go and see home games in Perth in 8 or 10 years. I’d like a stadium with a decent sound system where you can see all of the ice from all of the seats and yep, I’m willing to pay cash moneys for it.

I can see the “get big(?) money from Fox, grow audience, get more money, have sustainable businesses” thinking that has happened here and I mostly agree with it. I just think the AIHL has handled their relationship with their existing fans very badly over the course of this.

Throughout this season we’ve had two mechanisms for seeing games when we’re not at the rink. ATC Productions have done a lot of livestreaming. I don’t know if they’ve been paid or if it’s been from the goodness of their hearts or if there’s been payment in kind. From my end, I got to log in to livestream for free and watch a live game with commentary – win!

The other mechanism has been through Fox Sport Australia’s game of the week, which I have not tried particularly hard to access, due to it being several days’ delayed and my chances of reaching the game unspoiled being zip. I’m pretty sure that harassing my local bar would have got them to play it, if I’d been able to be there during working hours. Not really super-convenient. For someone who actually wants to watch the games fresh or follow a particular team, this is a particularly shit way of accessing them, but the trade-off is the hoped for expansion of audience, revenue -> sustainable business for the league.

The value of a Pay TV subscription for a couple of hours of desired content per week just doesn’t work for me. Adding AIHL hockey badly certainly isn’t enough to get me over the line. I AM willing to pay for access to live sport. NHL Gamecentre and MLB.TV were both excellent purchases about which I have not the slightest regret.*

So the audience experience is that we get some games live and free and some games late, expensive and difficult to access.  There can’t be any surprise about which the existing audience prefers.

I also don’t think there can be any surprise about what the existing audience expected to happen over the finals. We expected that we would be able to watch the finals live, like you can with every single other sport ever. Free or not would have been pretty much immaterial to us, though in the interests of increased audience, revenue -> sustainable businesses I would have been thrilled to have it live on Fox. We’d have been able to find a bar that WANTED a bunch of excited hockey fans to come and spend money to drink and eat and watch the game. Of that I have no doubt.

Because I also accept that we are cash-cows. And that is fine with me because we’ve all gotta be getting something out of it. I get joy, and they get money and I’m willing to pay for that. I’m happy to exchange cash for live hockey and I’m really happy to exchange cash for live hockey in a crowd. Cash for live hockey in an excited crowd who are all supporting the same team while having drinks?  BEST. POSSIBLE. ARRANGEMENT.  

I’m also reasonably happy for my eyeballs to be a product that the AIHL sells. I mean hell, I’m still on Facebook, right? But I expect that at minimum I don’t lose out when I get sold and that is the problem with what has happened here.

We’ve been sold to Fox as an audience and potential subscribers and in the process of being sold, the value of what we’re getting from the league has been substantially reduced.  It’s massively delayed and on at a time that working folk without Foxtel can’t get to see it.  Both of these factors do not make Fox Sports a more attractive purchase for me, rather they are evidence that I am not the audience Fox wants.

I care enough about having sustainable hockey businesses in the future (and I care enough about the Thunder) that I would even be willing to take this, with a bit more explanation about what the league and the teams are getting out of this deal and how it helps them to move towards a business model where everyone gets paid a bunch.

We’re not stupid. We’re invested in the future of the AIHL too.  

While I would love to see reporting around this, I don’t expect that it would be made public – these aren’t listed companies – but I very much hope that there are internal documents that will be monitoring and reporting on the value of this deal.

And finally, if the AIHL moves transmission rights entirely to Fox over the next couple of years (as I expect they would like to do), I hope like hell that live games are made a priority. I can’t see how being filler for Fox for a few years is a good outcome for the future of hockey or for the growth of the fanbase.  

And given that where we fit in the business model is to be cash cows for either the AIHL or Fox, you need the fanbase to keep growing. Doing the wrong thing by your existing fanbase is not a great start to the project.

 

*And I’m willing to entertain that they wouldn’t be able to provide those streaming services without the resources of big network TV. 

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Deer Island Water Treatment Plant

On Tuesday the 8th of August, I had the opportunity to tour the waste water treatment plant on Deer Island.  This is a tour that is available to anyone who wants to go (after a security clearance) and I happened to be lucky enough to join a group put together by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

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Security checkpoint for entry into the water treatment plant

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Beautiful views back towards Boston from Deer Island.

So warning – this is going to be TLDR for most people.

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Walk Boston

One of the first things I did on arriving in Boston was to acquire a copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s ‘Walk Boston’ book. This wasn’t deliberate, it just kind of happened.  I also got the ‘New England Day Trips’ book in the same transaction, but failed to buy shorts, which is what I really wanted on the day.

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It’s a nifty little book, full of 1-4 hour walks around bits of Boston that start and finish at public transport points.  At this point, I’ve done about 6 of the walks and my book is already looking pretty battered. A lot of the pages have got murky marks on them where my sunscreened fingers have held pages open while I read about various churches, hiding places on the underground slave railroad or geological features like kettleholes.

I’m proud of myself for bringing my commuting backpack and bladder, as it has been enormously useful over the very hot part of summer as I have wandered around the city poking my nose into things.

I’ve also walked large chunks of the Boston Harbour Walk and the full stretch plus extras of the Freedom Trail. And I’ve done a huge amount of beach-side wandering in East Boston and Winthrop.

I’ve walked about 5-8km most days I’ve been in Boston. On occasion, I have not planned particularly well and ended up walking significantly further, which has not necessarily been the happiest thing to happen to my Achilles tendons.  I’m still having to do a lot more physio than I really wanted, but I am holding together remarkably well and looking forward to doing a lot more walking before I head out to directions Mexican.

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Lowell. Not baseball.

I keep trying to write a post about baseball, but end up going “There is too much, let me summarize” and then waffling on even more. So instead, let me introduce you to Lowell.

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One of the three canals that run parallel through the city’s downtown area.

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Lowell streetscape, evening.

Lowell is a smallish city (pop 100,000) and it’s an old mill town. But a fabric mill town, not a lumber mill town.

Despite it being a 45 minute train ride (from North Station, which depending on the time of day can take nearly 30 minutes to get to from my place, which is about 6 stations away on the Green Line – about 3.5 km), I’ve ended up in Lowell 3 times already and I’ve been absolutely charmed every time.

It’s pretty clearly an industrial town that’s been economically smashed, but the worst of the smashing was decades ago, rather than years ago and so they’ve been through the process of figuring out what they can be if they can’t be a factory town.

Some of the answer has been historical/cultural.  There’s a National Historical Park that weaves throughout most of the Lowell downtown area. It takes in some of the beautiful  Victorian mills and factories, the canals and the tramways.

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Random bit of historical park – just a sign by a canal bank.

The University of Masschusetts Lowell is spread over 3 campuses. I’m not sure how many students attend, but it looks like a pretty big chunk of the town relies on the university and that there were a couple of research institutes into textiles / plastics / engineering  / emerging technologies (which I hope is nanotech and/or biotech) – and they are the official testers of major league baseballs, which was a pretty cool part of the textiles museum display.

The museums were great. The National American Textiles Museum was really fascinating. It was exceptionally difficult for me to keep my hands off everything – especially once I got up to the top floor of modern textiles, which included displays like carbon-fibre racing  bicycles, fire-resistant clothing and other really neat stuff.  But there were some really cool interactive things, like a little 4-frame loom for people to play with and what looked like a closed display on making flax thread for linen.

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And, of course, a few irresistably gorgeous pieces of fashion.

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Stories of boys… WHO MAKE MONEY!!

The national tram museum is also there (I didn’t get a chance to look in depth) and the museum looking at the lives of the mill girls along with the stuff around Lowell’s immigration patterns were fascinating.  I spent a lot of time lurking in the mechanical engineering parts of the historical park looking at the machinery that manages the flow of water in the canals and the big sluice gates, along with the hydro-electric plant near the Merrimack Falls.

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Unfortunately, the day I was there was a high-flow day, so the canal walkways and the good access to the hydro plant were emphatically locked off, with heaps of chain and really big padlocks.

There’s a huge, free folk festival that I was lucky enough to get to and have a marvellous time – 3 big stages, about 6 small stages and a huge number of roving bands/entertainment and alleys of tat for sale.  I saw the West African Highland band, who were set up in the dancing tent, a bit of a parade, a wandering jazz brass band, a bit of celtic slow folk (no jigs or reels – I’m gone), and some cajun music. The city was pumping full of people having a great time and I saw absolutely no problems or hassles while I was there.  I arrived at about 4pm from Concord, found relatively cheap/close parking and walked back to the car by myself at about 10.30pm, before the final band finished up in the dance tent.

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Get your roaming brass band here!

I have also (inevitably) spent an evening watching the Lowell Spinners – short season A class baseball team in the Penn-NY League, affiliated with Boston Red Sox.  For those who don’t know, major league baseball operates a kind of ‘farm’ system, where players move up through the affiliated clubs towards the major league team – or get dropped down through the affiliated clubs if they’re rehabbing / having a rough time/not as good as someone else. Did I mention that talking about baseball gets away from me?

I happened to be able to get there (and get back to Boston again, which is the important bit) on the Superhero Day / Family sleepover night.  The folks pitching their tents in the outfield were also going to watch Return of the Jedi on the big screen. I mean, can you imagine something that hits more of my interests in one day – superhero dress-ups, baseball, camping and Star Wars. Oh Lowell Spinners, you have stolen my heart.  And it didn’t hurt that you played a pretty good game on the day either.

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My first attempt at seeing the Spinners got rained out (the long weekend of car ownership) and I ended up spending a chunk of that evening chatting in the pub with guys who worked in the community services area – one was managing several supported living homes for people with disabilities and the other was a programmer working in health records management. So basically, Lowell was win-win-win for me.
I don’t think I’ll be back there again, but I really liked it.  If you’re wandering around Massachusetts/Boston and feel like a bit of a road/train trip, I highly recommend it. I’ve spent roughly three days there and if I had the time, I think another 3 or so days would be about right.

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