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Okay, so this post will be dealing with the Toronto Maple Leafs a little bit, but I promise that it's for a good reason. There's also going to be a lot of Internet nerd talk going on here, so if neither of those points hasn't resulted in you running screaming into the night, thanks. I caught a mention on Twitter not too long ago about how the Leafs are supposedly losing their young fans to video games. Avoiding the easy joke, that the Leafs are probably losing young fans because the Leafs are a horrible, horrible team and have been since the lockout, I found the article to be indicative of just how out of touch Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment are with things and representative of how much work they have cut out for themselves in getting back to being a respectable hockey club. Especially when you compare how the Leafs are handling the big, scary online world compared to how another team handles it. Such as, say, the Canucks. The Vancouver Canucks have long been on top of things in the online world and I'm not necessarily saying that because I'm a fan of the team. Right from the very get go, the Canucks have been online, the earliest possible record I can find of a Canucks site is 1994. The earliest incarnation I was able to dredge up of the Leafs was 1996, not too bad, but amusing to see that one of the biggest NHL franchises has been a little slow in embracing new technology and ways of reaching out to fans. Funnily enough, the more things change the more they continue to remain the same. Using Twitter, something that was elaborated on in the article I linked above, it looks as though the 'official' Maple Leafs Twitter account was being used by a fan or imposter before being utilized by MLSE proper. If you take a look at this snapshot of the account, you'll notice a discrepancy of roughly 700 Tweets recorded versus what is actually there. Unfortunately, there's no way to determine when precisely the Leafs took over the account as I've tried to confirm whether this was the case, but attempts to reach someone at the Leafs haven't yielded anything. That makes determining how long it took to get their fanbase difficult (the Leafs account has 6,692 followers at the time I wrote this.) Not too bad, I suppose, although you'd think that number would be a little higher given that the GTA is one of Canada's densely populated regions. Especially when you look at the Canucks profile and see that they're sitting at a whopping 18,529 followers. What's most interesting to me, though, is looking at the number of Tweets made by each account. The Canucks account has made 1,942 Tweets, or roughly 9.5 followers per Tweet. The Leafs have made 2,287 Tweets for their 6,692 followers or, roughly 2.9 followers per Tweet. This indicates to me that the Canucks have a great online presence (which they do) and don't have to do a whole lot of work to get that fan support online, because fans are plugged in and have things like Twitter available to them. For comparison, the Montreal Canadiens, who generally are neck and neck with the Canucks in terms of monthly site activity for being the #1 active official NHL team site, arguably have the most rabid and devoted NHL fans out there have over 30,000 followers and have done even less Tweeting than the Canucks. The Flames (@NHLFlames) are on pace with the Leafs in terms of followers/Tweets and the Atlanta Thrashers (@ATLTHrashers), a team that has one of the smallest fanbases in the league has, er, a staggering 3,102 followers on Twitter. It's pretty bad that the Leafs are patting themselves on the back for hiring folks to deal with Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, a social networking site that is rapidly going the way of Friendster. Working in Toronto over the summer, I saw advertisements being made for these positions. At the time, I had assumed that they were recently vacated positions but the article seems to indicate that they were newly created roles, which is absolutely baffling to me. Why? Well, two reasons. The first: the Leafs are specificially devoting time, resources and money to establish a presence online, specifically with sites like Twitter and they only have twice as many followers as the Atlanta freaking Thrashers. While the Canucks organization does have a huge fanbase that is passionate about the Canucks, simply having that fanbase isn't enough to drive traffic to your website or have people care about what you're doing. That the Canucks do a great job of providing a reason to check out the team online is what's important and has helped to hold onto these 'young fans' that are eluding the Leafs. Given that the Leafs site went up around 1996, it's sort of amusing that it only took them 14 years to figure that content = visitors. The second reason, though, goes back to a point I made about the Canucks. As opposed to the Leafs, who are the Johnny Come Latelys to this 'Information Superhighway' and have only recently stopped waxing their modems (to try to make it go faster while they surf, you see) the Canucks have a long history of engaging their fans and treating them very well. While the Twitter account is simply the most recent in a long line of online initiatives for the Canucks, it's something that's been going on for a long time. For example, the Canucks.com forums have been up and running for years and have a large, devoted fanbase, one that ranks at the very top of the NHL in terms of overall activity. It's not often that the play of Jan Bulis could crash a website, but the Canucks faithful were able to do so. Another example would be the offering of the Canucks.com e-mail accounts that were good up until a few years ago (signing up for them ended a long time ago and the accounts themselves have since been deactivated.) Going back to the 'losing young fans to video games' comment made in the original article, it's important to note that the Canucks are great at providing free and interesting content to fans. Younger fans typically don't have a lot of disposable income, but they are tech savvy (how many 'my 9 year old knows more about programming my VCR than I do' jokes are there?) and have a lot of time on their hands. Having a forum for fans to congregate together and giving them a ton of content, be it e-mail addresses, quality video from games, along with pre and post-game videos as well as things like Facebook and Twitter accounts are all great ways to engage fans and make them more likely to care about the club. Also, the Canucks have been great at rewarding fans and granting them acknowledgement on the site. If you're a Canucks fan and are on Twitter, chances are you've run into Richard Loat, aka mozy19, who has been heavily involved in Canucks social media and has been featured on the site. Looking over at the Leafs site, the only real Twitter presence are from other MLSE employees. While it's important to have a strong online presence, it's also important to understand the social media is very much a two way street. You have to be careful not to appear as though you're talking down to your audience, keeping them out of arm's reach…especially if you're the Maple Leafs, as the reputation they have is one of being a corporate machine, interested only in their fanbase's money. That's why I find MLSE's blaming video games as stealing away their fanbase to be a stupid argument. It's not because kids don't care about hockey or the Leafs. It's because 'the kids' have no real way to embrace the Leafs, even if it's to vent their spleen over how horrible they've been (misery loves company, after all.) While it may be easy to say that the Canucks have been a successful team and this sort of online love comes as a result of that I'd like to point out that the Canucks have had a ton of negative moments that would sour many fans. Getting eliminated by the Wild back in 2003, the heartbreaker series loss to the Flames in 2004, the Bertuzzi/Moore incident, missing the playoffs 2 seasons post-lockout, all things that can test the faith of most fans, yet the Canucks continue to grow and become stronger, both on the ice and online. The Leafs? Floundering, behind the times and desperately trying to catch up. I'll let you decide whether I'm talking about the Internet or the on-ice product there.