Covid-19 forces NHL media and public relations to make changes

By Ryan Boyd

Back in July of last year, Jordan Hall, the Flyers multi-media producer for NBC Sports Philadelphia, was trying to figure out how to cover playoff hockey from his home, while also keeping his readers engaged due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“That was probably the biggest thing,” Hall said. “It was trying to find interesting storylines that would be unique to people.”

Now, a little less than seven months later, the 31-year-old beat writer is back in the building for practices and games, but with lots of new safety protocols in place.

For someone who covers the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, a typical gameday, prior to the pandemic, started with making the trek out to morning skate in Voorhees, NJ, where the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone is located.

Following their arrival at the Skate Zone, reporters would enter the building and walk up a flight of stairs before entering the media room where they would then watch the morning skate. 

An empty Philadelphia Flyers media room inside the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone. 
Photo by Zack Hill (Philadelphia Flyers’ Senior Director of Communications)

At the end of practice, the reporters would be escorted to the locker room where they would then conduct a one-on-one interview with a player, or join a scrum of reporters and fire questions. Then Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault would be interviewed in a scrum before the media would be escorted out of the locker room and back up to the media room, according to Hall. 

Following the conclusion of the morning skate, reporters would either pack up their stuff and head home, or sit there and begin writing their next piece. 

From there, they would likely head home before doing it all over again, except this time making their way to the Wells Fargo Center for the game.

Upon arrival, reporters would enter through the media entrance, pick up their credentials, and take an elevator to the top floor where the press box is. They would be seated close together, likely next to someone, and were given complimentary snacks and drinks. 

They would watch the game from their assigned seat. After the game, they would go down to the locker room where they would interview a select few players in a scrum before gathering in a room down the hall to talk with the coach. 

They would then head back upstairs and either pack up and head home, or sit in the press box and write their game recap or whatever that reporter may be working on, leaving whenever he or she chose to.

Nowadays, according to Hall, they can only arrive to the facility minutes before the morning skate gets underway as opposed to whenever they felt like it before the pandemic. A lot of people, including Hall, used to get there early and settle in. That’s not the case anymore.

“So, what happens is, on a normal game day, say they have a morning skate at like 10:30 a.m.” Hall said. “I’ll drive out to Voorhees like I normally would to go attend the morning skate. We can watch from the media room like we typically do, but there’s adjustments to it. We can watch the skate, but we can only be there like 20 minutes before it starts. I like to get to things early. I like to settle in and not feel like I’m rushing.”  

Not only that, but before entering the building, a health symptom form must be completed online. Then, after entering the facility, reporters must comply with even more protocols.  This includes the wearing of a mask at all times, getting their temperature checked, maintaining proper social distancing, and so on, according to Hall.

Most importantly, there are no in-person interactions with the players anymore. Everything is done virtually which is one of the bigger things to adapt to from a writing standpoint, Hall said.

“In terms of game to game and practice to practice coverage, these are all on Zoom, or you know, WebEx, and you’re basically given maybe one or two questions,” Hall said. “You’re raising your hand virtually, they’re calling on you, and then they go onto another reporter.”

Zack Hill (Philadelphia Flyers’ Senior Director of Communications). Photo courtesy of theintelligencer.net

As for Zack Hill, the Flyers’ senior director of communications, even being a member of the public relations staff with the Philadelphia Flyers does not guarantee face time with the players. 

“There’s just no more media player interaction,” Hill said. “Zero, unless it’s done on the video screen.”

That’s one of the biggest things Hill said he has had to adapt to since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Beforehand, after practice, I would open up the locker room,” Hill said.  “Our PR would open up the locker room to the writers and the TV and radio stations. They would come in and pick off whatever player they wanted. Everyone has their own stall and so they can just go wherever they want, whereas now, no one goes in the locker room. I’m very rarely in the locker room.”

As for the press box, that’s no longer where the media is seated inside the Wells Fargo Center, according to Hall. Instead, there are properly distanced work stations on the lower level where the press watches the game. There’s really no leaving their work station either like before, Hall said.

“I don’t leave my little table unless I’m going to the bathroom,” Hall explained. “If we want to leave and go get a drink, we have a separate station on the concourse. So I’m staying at that table.”

The Flyers must also adjust to a new routine, for safety’s sake. The NHL.com Media Site came out with protocols for COVID-19 back in December to help ensure the safety of all individuals that would be participating in the 2020-2021 NHL season. 

While not specifically pertaining to the media, things such as wearing of masks, hand washing, and proper social distancing were outlined in the criteria in hopes of keeping everyone, including the media, as safe as possible. 

Everyone these days is making adjustments due to the Covid-19 pandemic, including members of the media. For a veteran reporter like Hall, though, as long as he can be in attendance while also being safe at the same time, it’s an adjustment worth making.

“It’s safe and that’s the beauty of it,” Hall said. “We should be safe. Everyone should be safe and looking out for each other.”

Contact Ryan Boyd at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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