67’s dodge anthrax scare with online fan mail

By Adam Bramburger

The heavy, cumbersome bags of letters once delivered to Ottawa 67’s players have been replaced by computer screens, inboxes, and short printouts.

The Ontario Hockey League team has invested heavily in promoting e-mail and the Internet as tools for communication between fans and the team.

It is a practice that has paid off in light of recent terrorism threats across the country.

“Our fan mail arrives pretty much in the online variety. We haven’t received any snail mail fan mail so far this year,” says Sharon Mayne-Dalke, an executive assistant who has co-ordinated fan mail for the past two seasons.

The 67’s have been gradually leaning toward using the new media in order to provide more convenient communication between the players and their fans.

The team’s captain, 21-year-old Zenon Konopka, says players really look forward to receiving mail—regardless of what form it arrives in.

“It’s pretty cool,” he says. “Sometimes you forget kids look up to you, that you’re a role model, and you always want to sign their cards or whatever you can do.”

Mayne-Dalke says promotion for the Web site during games and other public appearances has increased.

The team regularly encourages youth to interact with the players through e-mail and online communications.

An online junior fan club was started in the fall of 1999 after the 67’s won the Memorial Cup.

The E-junior fan club encourages fans 12 and under to sign-up, where they will be given access to articles written by the players, tips from coach Brian Kilrea, and notices about special functions.

A majority of the e-mail the 67’s receive isn’t actually player-specific, but is often addressed to the whole team.

Letters comment on the style of play from the past game, a popular promotion, or give words of encouragement after a loss.

When players do get specific e-mail, it is the veteran players that receive it.

Konopka, a four year veteran of the team, says he normally receives two to three letters a week, while younger players are rarely that lucky.

“I’m just a rook, so I haven’t seen any fan mail,” says forward Mark Mancari. “Even talking to the fans though is an awesome feeling to know people watch the game and admire you.”

Konopka explains the trend.

“Im my first year, I would have been lucky to get two or three letters the whole season, but as your career progresses and you become known in the city, it really helps.”

Aaron Bell, the OHL’s communications director adds that Internet communications are one of the most important vehicles for the league’s teams to reach the community.

“It’s an effective way to communicate with our fans and the media,” says Bell.

“The sites give player information, statistics, promotion information, and the opportunity to buy tickets right when the fan needs that information.”

Despite the team’s emphasis on e-mail, Mayne-Dalke says the 67’s still have a procedure they follow when receiving fan mail.

Each package is delivered unopened to the player it is addressed to, while e-mail is printed and forwarded to the appropriate people.

It is the players’ responsibility to answer the mail they are given.

She says most of the fan mail typically comes at high points in the season for the team.

“Most of our mail usually comes in the second half of the season as attendance rises, although this season crowds have regularly been above 9,000,” she says.

“Of course winning will also be a factor.”

Mayne-Dalke says operations haven’t changed at all as a result of the terrorism scares, adding that mail from players’ families or friends typically goes to land parents: Ottawa families chosen by the 67’s to billet players.

Bell agrees that nothing has changed as far as the league is concerned.

“It’s a non-issue,” he says. “Individual teams may have instructed their employees to be more cautious, but the league has not taken any action.”