As the National Hockey League and their teams have gotten more and more Internet savvy in recent years they have improved both the look and feel of the league and individual team web sites as well as the information they provide.
In fact, the NHL’s web site and each of the team web sites are loaded with content these days, whether it’s written news stories, videotaped interviews and features, podcasts and much, much more.
Team web sites have even been offering downloadable regular season schedules. But there was one problem…the schedules were either in Microsoft Excel format, which is not very useful for a schedule, and in a printable PDF file (requires Adobe Reader, available for Windows and Macintosh).
NHL teams also offer a downloadable version that imports the schedule information directly into Outlook, Lotus Notes or a Palm handheld device. The cool thing about this version of the schedule is that it can be updated automatically when there are changes to the schedule.
On the downside, the software needed to make use of this schedule was only available on Windows, leaving Apple Macintosh and Linux users out in the cold. Not only that, who wants to download and install yet another software application just for downloading and updating your favorite NHL team’s schedule?
Fortunately, things appears to be changing for the better.
Indeed, a spot-check of several NHL team web sites indicates that they are now providing a downloadable schedule that is in the popular iCalendar format, a standard file format for calendar data exchange.
More importantly, this version not only works with Apple’s iCal for the Mac, but it also works with Mozilla Sunbird for Windows, Mac and Linux. Perhaps even more important, this version will work with the massively popular Google Calendar, a web-based personal calendar (not platform-specific) that synchs with any Internet-capable computer, and can even synch with some cell phones (smartphones).
iPhone users have the added advantage of being able to get this schedule into the Calendar app on the iPhone when they synch their phone with iCal on the Mac, Exchange or Outlook on Windows or Google Calendar.
And the list doesn’t stop there. Other applications that can make use of this schedule include Microsoft Entourage (Mac), Novell GroupWise, PHP iCalender, Webical, Windows Calendar, Windows Live Calendar and the Zimbra Collaboration Suite.
Now I’m sure you’re asking why I’m bothering to write about this or you’re thinking that it is a slow news period for the Los Angeles Kings and the NHL, so I’m desperate for something to write about.
Believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. Well, more like a reason for it. Indeed, this is about the NHL and their teams missing out on an opportunity.
As most of us hockey-crazy people love the game and cannot imagine life without it, we are way too close to the forest to see the trees, most of the time. Indeed, we know the schedule comes out in July. We pretty much take it for granted and most of us have all the game dates memorized for at least 2-3 weeks in advance.
But looking at this from a broader perspective, making the schedules available to the widest possible audience is important. Before NHL teams started to make iCalendar format downloadable schedules available, sure…you could download the PDF version and print it out—I like to print this and post it on the bulletin board above my desk at the office so I can quickly glance at the schedule when necessary.
However, the PDF version is not something you can download to your computer and import into an electronic calendar application, such as iCal, Sunbird or Google Calendar. Indeed, only Windows users were allowed to do that and even then, only those who wanted to download and install the special software needed could do so.
In the end, the strategy the NHL and their teams were using to make their downloadable schedule available was not well thought out at all.
To be sure, ignoring Mac and Linux users was one thing and even Windows users who did not want to add the special software were left out. But the worst part of all is that by not making a standards-based downloadable schedule available, the NHL and their teams were unable to get their schedules onto thousands upon thousands of computers, handheld personal data assistants, web-based calendars and cell phones that their fans, both hard core and occasional, use many times a day and you can bet this number is far larger than the number of people who bothered to install the special software and download the schedule previously.
Although this still may not seem like a big deal, I can easily imagine that teams would have probably sold a significant number of tickets to the occasional hockey fan if they had quick, easy access to the local team’s schedule and that does not mean looking it up on a team web site, or worse, making a phone call. Sadly, far too many people were prevented from making use of this information in a way that was easy and convenient for them.
Perhaps even more glaring is that the NHL and their teams have missed out on having many thousands of Google Calendar users add the downloadable schedule to their shared calendars.
Today, millions of people use Google Calendar daily to connect and share what is happening in their lives with friends and family. Many businesses and organizations use Google Calendar as well.
What would happen if thousands of hockey fans added the iCalendar format downloadable schedule to their Google Calendar? There is significant potential for outreach and marketing here.
Indeed, the NHL, a major sports league that continues to struggle to remain relevant, missed a significant marketing opportunity for several years here. One can only hope that all NHL teams will start providing iCalendar-based downloadable schedules available each year, starting with the 2009-10 season.
For those of you who are fans of the Los Angeles Kings, they started providing an iCalendar format downloadable schedule (an .ics file) on their web site. Check it out at: 2009-10 Schedule Without Automatic Updates.
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