Over the weekend, NHL teams made the executive decision to close their dressing rooms to media members in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19, also referred to as coronavirus.
The Sharks joined a majority of franchises, like the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, in having players accessible for interviews only while sitting behind a podium in a group setting. Meanwhile, the visiting Colorado Avalanche kept their room at SAP Center open to media Sunday, with the following caveats: No handshakes, no knuckles, no hugs and no sitting at stalls.
Since we don’t yet know how widespread the coronavirus is, it only makes sense that every team err on the side of caution. While interviews are vital to our job as reporters, it is a small matter compared to the real-life issues at stake with the coronavirus.
Translation: I don’t blame the Sharks one bit, and don’t think it’s a big deal for right now.
But once this pandemic subsides, it brings up a topic all professional sports entities are well overdue to address: Will locker rooms remain accessible to the media as they’ve always been?
In all honesty, everybody’s job would be easier in this temporary “press conference” format.
Reporters wouldn’t have to waste hours loitering in locker rooms waiting for the athlete they need to talk to. Players wouldn’t be approached with the identical question three different times by separate people in one session. Teams would gain much better control of player obligations by facilitating as the intermediary. And media outlets who are less frequent or familiar would get the exact same access to key figures as the everyday attendees.
But none of this would make the experience better for you, the fan and customer.
Access for media members is a privilege and a lifeline. Persistent presence alone helps those outside the team gain a much greater understanding about what's going on with the club. Quick questions, informal conversations, savvy observations -- all things that regularly happen in a professional sports locker room -- usually lead to some of the best and most revealing content for fans to consume.
Personal trust and relationships are gained inside locker rooms. Not just from player to player, but from athlete to media members as well. It’s not to say that the benefit of exclusive interviews would disappear if locker rooms were closed in mass, just that they likely wouldn’t happen as often, or be nearly as compelling.
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Change is an inevitable part of the business. Especially because the model of an “open” locker room hasn’t widely been altered in the modern era.
The hope is that any future evolution can be a result of current adaptation. No sports journalists would mind if things operated a little differently in years to come, as long as the access still led to what is most important -- great quotes and content for fans.