The way NHL teams communicate with their fans has changed significantly over the years. In decades past, teams would connect with fans through print publications. 25 years ago, the Canucks launched their first website — the now-defunct OrcaBay.com — allowing for a more immediate method of communication for Internet-savvy fans.
The move from print to digital was a major change for the Canucks and other NHL teams, but the sea change over the last decade or so with the rise of social media has been even more significant.
Derek Jory was there for that change. He’s been working for the Canucks as a writer and manager of their social media for the last 13 years. He got the news this week that he has been laid off, an unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic causing a lot of uncertainty for the NHL, though he’ll still be able to do freelance work for the Canucks.
Over the last decade, his writing has been the primary voice of the Canucks on social media, but when he started, social media wasn’t on his or anyone else’s radar.
“When I started, I covered the team like anybody else,” said Jory. “It was practice reports and game reports. Social media wasn’t really a thing. A couple of people had Facebook profiles when I was in journalism school, but it wasn’t anything big.
“Then my boss at the time said, ‘Hey, what’s Twitter?’ Look into this, it could be huge. So we started an account that day, it was close to Halloween.”
In fact, the very first tweet from @Canucks, which started as @VanCanucks, was on Halloween: October 31, 2008.
This is the new official Twitter of the Vancouver Canucks!— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) October 31, 2008
When the Canucks joined Twitter, just five other NHL teams had Twitter accounts, but the rest of the NHL would follow suit over the coming months. The last holdout was the Toronto Maple Leafs, joining Twitter nearly a year later on September 15, 2009.
At the time, social media was uncharted territory with no clear ideas on how best to use this more direct connection with fans. Jory, with an English degree and Journalism degree, suddenly found himself in a place for which his schooling hadn’t prepared him. Things started to click, however, when he started a separate account, @canucksgame, that would provide score updates and running commentary during games.
“That's really when I found my voice,” said Jory, “and got to understand the fans better and that our social voice had to represent the team, but it also had to represent the fans. And I enjoyed finding that balance.”
Eventually the two Twitter accounts became just one — @Canucks — and the content team grew, so Jory’s wasn’t the only voice representing the Canucks. He still wrote plenty of tweets before, during, and after games, however. He had a simple philosophy: think small.
“I write every tweet hoping to make one person’s day,” he said. “I write a story thinking that maybe ten people will read this. If I thought that every tweet I send could potentially be seen by millions of people, I don’t know that could be myself. I’ve always thought small and tried to please a couple of people, and then more people liked it, which I’m very proud of.”
One of the distinctive aspects of the @Canucks Twitter account is how they Tweet when the opposing team scores: entirely in lower case. That started with Jory.
“That was my choice,” he said. “When we score, it’s all uppercase and there’s an exclamation point for how many goals we’ve scored — if there’s four exclamation points, that’s our fourth goal of the game — but if I’m sending a tweet that the other team scored, why is it getting capitals or any love or anything? Fans aren’t happy when the other team scores, so that’s lowercase.”
While Jory said he loved cracking jokes on Twitter, the best part of the job was connecting players to the fans.
“There was just me between the players and the fans, and I have always loved that,” he said. “I think that’s what I’m most proud of for my career is being the link between the fans and the players, and providing content for the fans.”
After announcing he was laid off, Jory heard encouragement from many Canucks fans.
“Just reading stories from some of the fans, one said, ‘In 2010, you helped me get a picture with Kevin Bieksa, it was one of the best moments of my life,’” he said. “That part’s been so overwhelming.”
That immediate connection with fans is one of the biggest upsides of social media. It can also be one of the biggest pitfalls, as missteps in the moment can result in an uproar.
“I had a screwup years ago when we were on [Vancouver Island] and there were forest fires blazing across BC,” said Jory. “I tweeted out about the prospects making a fire…Next thing I know, Trevor Linden is on CBC the next morning having to apologize for that and how insensitive we were.
“The next day, the prospects go to do a water activity and I tweeted out a picture. And there was a water shortage, so then we had to apologize for that again. That wasn’t my best couple of days.”
More recently, a meme shared by the Canucks Twitter prior to the playoffs was sharply criticized by Canucks fans and the larger hockey world. The meme treated the death of George Floyd more flippantly than intended.
“The blowback from that was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced,” said Jory. “As someone who had really taken an interest in the social justice movement and never realized how racist our society is and how I grew up as part of that, with so many blind spots that I didn’t see in my life, I had been working hard to re-learn a lot and see things differently. So, I thought I was doing something good.
“Obviously I wasn’t.”
“The blowback was immediate but I learned from that,” he continued. “I’m now a member of the anti-racism coalition in Vancouver to take the next step. I needed to learn more about this and I needed to learn from the right people, so I volunteer as their head of communications to get their important social justice message out there.”
“I was wrong,” he added. “You just have to apologize and learn from it as fast as you can and then don’t make the same mistake twice.”
With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Jory still had to cover the game that night, though it was a little more difficult to joke around after that.
“You’re pretty gun shy to be clever and quirk when you trusted your gut and you were wrong,” he said.
Overall, the positive experiences over the last decade massively outweigh the negative ones. A highlight was working with Canucks photographer on the Behind the Lens photo galleries — Jeff Vinnick would take the photos, Jory would provide the captions.
“A guy I always loved working with was Sami Salo and we had a jokey relationship that whenever we were taking a picture, he would always put his hand in front of the camera,” said Jory. “He liked the attention, but pretended he didn’t like the attention. The captions were always Chuck Norris one-liners — there’s a million of those Chuck Norris jokes — but I would put in ‘Sami Salo’ instead. It was a running thing for years and he loved it.”
One of the issues for marketing hockey is that there are few big personalities in the game compared to some other sports. Sometimes, it’s the smaller things that allow a fan to connect to a player.
“Most people can’t relate to being an early-20’s NHL superstar millionaire, but they can relate to having a dog or this person reads this book or loves this TV series,” said Jory, “so I’m always trying to get those kinds of little tidbits.”
Jory has provided those tidbits for 13 years. In that time, he helped start the Canucks Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, as well as their Vine and Google Plus accounts, even if those last two didn’t stand the test of time. He’s written hundreds of stories for Canucks.com and his own blog, Fort Nucks. He’s provided social media training to dozens of Canucks prospects, which appears to have worked — when’s the last time a Canucks player courted controversy on social media?
While the future is uncertain for both the Canucks and Jory, he’s hoping he can continue to write for the Canucks once next season begins, whenever that may be.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a Canucks fan and I have been since I was 10 years old,” he said. “It was my dream to be the writer for the Canucks and then I was in that position, so every day, I felt fortunate and never took it for granted.”