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Recognizing a hockey pioneer
Forward thinker's tenure ends in San Jose
8/18/11 - By Mike Lee -

You know times are bad when professional sports teams cannot avoid the effects of an economic downturn. That was the case for Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, parent corporation to the Sharks, who let 19 employees go on Wednesday. With unemployment numbers going from bad to worse each month, it shouldn't be surprising that the big money business of pro sports is also subject to the realities of a bad economy. Businesses, both good and bad, are forced to make tough decisions these days, but one name that was included in the SVSE cut list struck a chord.

Senior Director of Communications, Ken Arnold, was one of those let go by SVSE, along with Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kent Russell.

Two front office suits getting the axe typically isn't news worthy when players are preparing to ramp up for the regular season.

Arnold is somewhat of a pioneer in the valley, but more importantly in NHL circles. Back in 1999, as Director of Media Relations for the Sharks, Arnold had the foresight to understand that the internet was a media worthy of attention. While those in Silicon Valley may not consider that an epiphany, the NHL was still stuck in the dark ages.

The league was set in its ways, run by an old guard that had little interest in something that it feared. The internet was something that league officials didn't understand, not knowing how to control, much less leverage.

The attitude of many teams followed the lead of the NHL brass in New York and Toronto. If the value wasn't crystal clear, then they would shun it.

Then there was Arnold. Perhaps it was his emersion in technology being based in the mecca of the personal computer. Whatever it was, Arnold understood that the internet should be embraced, not shunned.

For those of you who remember the genesis of LetsgoSharks.com, it all started with a simple website called TheBottomFeeder.com. With little sign of improvement on the horizon, the Sharks were a bad hockey team in 1997. I started TheBottomFeeder.com as place to vent about the mediocrity that was Sharks hockey.

I took more than my share of shots at the club, often relying on sarcasm as a way to express my displeasure with the direction the team was headed.

Then a funny thing happened. The internet started to take off as a medium for wanna-be publishers to get their content in front of readers that were interested in what you had to say. I got religion and figured that what fans really wanted was in depth information on the Sharks.

Arnold saw it as an opportunity to get his product out to the masses. The NHL certainly had an identity issue in the United States, especially in a new market west of the Mississippi. Any news is good news so to speak.

When I saw Ken's name in David Pollak's SJ Mercury blog post (not his print story!) on Wednesday, I immediately thought back to those early days. Always a gentleman, he was someone that always made me feel welcome, be it in the locker room or in the press box.

In 1999, I decided to take TheBottomFeeder.com more mainstream, and through a NHL Publishing contact that I made through a publishing network called Rivals.com, I was given the opportunity to pitch the notion that we would be less of a pain in the ass for the Sharks and more of a legitimate media source covering the team.

I didn't have to make any concessions in how I wanted to present the product the Sharks were putting on the ice, but Arnold did make one suggestion that I took to heart.

He said that if I wanted for the website to be welcomed by the franchise, I had to steer clear of sensationalized writing. Opinion was fine, so long as the supporting facts were accurate. He knew I wasn't a professionally trained journalist. He also knew that I wasn't going to get rich publishing stories about the San Jose Sharks. What he did know was that because I was delivering content on the internet, I had instant access to a lot of potential readers.

His Communications team would welcome me, rather than kick me to the curb. He had every right to treat me like a bag of pucks based on the early writing I did on his employer. Instead, had me swing by a training camp practice back in 1999. Introducing me to Matt Bradley and Mark Smith, two Sharks rookie prospects that were trying to make their own impression with the club, I was immediately faced with the reality that there were real people that I was writing about.

As rookies, Bradley and Smith were probably as intimidated by me as I was of them. Not having any background on the two, I was forced to wing through a series of questions. I learned that day, that professional hockey players can have other interests outside the hockey rink. I learned that Smith was an aspiring musician, something that would become a bigger part of his post-hockey life.

There were no rules for me in the locker room that day, other than to act like I belonged there. Those were Arnold's ground rules. I only had to prove to him that I wasn't going to make him look like a fool for allowing a fan-site publisher into an NHL locker room.

That's the thing I take away from my first experience with Arnold. He treated me like a man, and expected nothing in return other than to prove that internet publishers could bring some value to his hockey club.

His vision eventually led to a more open attitude toward internet publishers by the league. Sites like Kuklas Korner and McKeen's took off because of the foresight of people like Ken Arnold.

There are a handful of hockey blogs that cover the Sharks these days. All of them owe a bit if gratitude to Arnold, because if it hadn't been for his willingness to open those locker room doors to guys like me, they may not be where they are today.

Over the course of the next 12 years, Arnold always said hi whenever I saw him in the locker room. Here was a guy that had the responsibility of managing a herd of rabid journalists night in and night out, but he always found time to say hello to a po-dunk internet writer. It says a lot about his character. One that the Sharks will certainly miss.



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