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Hockey stories of sticks and grassroots

In Feature by Peter Gearin0 Comments

Although it’s an Olympic sport played on the international stage, hockey’s best storytelling comes from its local communities.

Hockey doesn’t have a rich history of great storytelling. Although it began as an Olympic event in 1908, the sport of “field hockey” hasn’t demanded swathes of newspaper column inches or television time. Neither has it fascinated some of the world’s most majestic storytellers, the way cricket charmed Cardus and Roebuck.

This is unfortunate because hockey has its heroes, too. It’s fast moving, and its skilful competitors wield made-for-purpose sticks. It’s played all-year-round on all-weather pitches. But it has never attracted the attention of a global (or even national) audience beyond match highlights packages every four-year Olympic cycle.

Nevertheless, hockey spawns great stories. Many tell tales of triumph and persistence on local fields; of generations of families devoted to a team or town’s cause. Despite Australia’s national teams consistently being ranked among the best in the world, the sport they play is rooted in the sometimes scrubby playing fields and backyards of city suburbs and country towns, well away from the media and the crowds.

That’s why a great modern hockey story is likely to be about real people, fully committed to playing the game they love. A good example is the story of Steve and Connor Tuddenham, which has been told in a short video produced by Newsmodo for Hockey Australia. Called “Backyard Field of Dreams”, it describes the love the Tuddenhams have for hockey and the legacy being passed from father to son.

Father Steve was a handy player and sees great potential in his 14-year-old son. So to help him train, he built a training facility at their home in Moss Vale, in the NSW southern highlands. If Connor’s not practising, he’s travelling and playing in matches across the state. Mum Kristina knows the game is in Connor’s blood. “Connor doesn’t just play games, he’s practising all the time,” she says in the video. “I’m sure after this tournament he’ll be out the back playing and when it’s dark he’ll be inside playing. The house becomes a hockey field.”

The video goes on to explain that Steve is not just Connor’s father and junior coach. He is also his teammate in a second-grade senior team. “It’s absolutely awesome,” Steve says. “I’m proud with Connor up the front; just love being out there with him.”

The video, which was released as part of a content series produced by Newsmodo to celebrate National Hockey Week, has clearly resonated with the sport’s grassroots community. It quickly attracted more than 200 shares and almost 18,000 views on Facebook.

“The people become brand advocates because [the story] inspires people to take action.”Newsmodo's Rakhal Ebeli

Hockey Australia’s media and communications general manager Lawrence West says the video is in keeping with the organisation’s strategy of engaging hockey’s grassroots to help grow an audience and, eventually, its participation numbers. “It’s about acknowledging the people within our sport – celebrating hockey,” he says. “We wanted to create content that engaged new people. One of the things we know is that kind of grassroots content rates very highly with our audiences.

“That resonates for a number of reasons. Through their hockey experiences, the family – in particular, dad and his son – have bonded. It’s a real, very typical human interaction in that respect.”

Newsmodo generates a range of content for a mix of clients, including sporting organisations. Its most notable sports relationship is with Basketball Australia, for which it delivers hundreds of match previews, match reports and stories on the National Basketball League.

Newsmodo CEO Rakhal Ebeli says his content business and Hockey Australia is a good fit. “They had National Hockey Week coming up and the objective was to unearth and bring stories to life at the grassroots level,” he says. “There’s still a disconnect between the huge number of people who play the game and the exposure they felt it could have. The plan was to highlight how the game is threaded through life at the community level.”

Newsmodo put out a brief to its journalistic community to find new and interesting stories relating to hockey – especially its “people”. Ebeli says brands that use this approach make use of journalists’ storytelling skills to find stories that leave a mark on their audiences. They come to stories with fresh eyes and a determination to find new approaches and different angles.

“Those stories work well because they resonate with their own communities; Hockey Australia just didn’t know that those gems existed,” Ebeli says. “The critical part [for the hockey community] is that there’s a sense of ownership. There are great stories in that sport that they can be very proud of. The people become your brand advocates in a sense, because [the story] inspires people within the community to take action and point people to that content. They’re working for you.”

Ebeli says a vital part of the storytelling plan was using video, rather than just written words and still photos. “Especially for a sports story, it’s really just the perfect format,” he says. “Video is what we’re trying to build into all of the content bundles we deliver for all of our clients now.

“Clearly, visuals for hockey need to be number one on the priority list. It’s not like a B2B finance company. When we got the story ideas back from the journos, nearly all the ideas could’ve been best told in video.”

Hockey SA has followed the same approach by producing a series of videos under the banner “Live Love Play Hockey”. One of these, a short story on tiny teenage champion Charlie Roberts, has been viewed more than 25,000 times. (No doubt a separate video showing his stick skills that attracted 11,000 YouTube views helped build his profile.)

West says Hockey Australia is keen to pursue further story projects, and thinks they may even have the potential to attract sponsorship. “That’s only if a commercial brand can create a real relationship – not just come in and stick a logo on it,” he says. “I think down the line there’s real potential to show content like this to a commercial partner and say ‘you can be telling these stories’ and aligning with it.

“It’s a fantastic sport that has some great values at the heart of it. [It’s about] family and community.”

Links & references

Newsmodo

Hockey Australia’s Backyard Field of Dreams video

Hockey SA’s Live Love Play Hockey video, starring Charlie Roberts

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