It’s the most exciting two minutes in sports. At least it is for NHL fans with Twitter accounts.
When the third period ends in tied NHL playoff games, Hockey Twitter, as the community of hockey fans that interacts on the social media platform has come to be called, goes bananas.
And depending on the age and sarcasm level of the tweeter:
All of these similar tweets, numbering in the thousands per minute, summon thought, hope and a gambler’s enthusiasm as sudden death overtime beckons, accompanied by the familiar #BucciOvertimeChallenge hashtag.
Familiar at least to those on social media.
But as these platforms have skyrocketed in growth in the six years since longtime ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross started the #BucciOvertimeChallenge as a fun way for fans to predict overtime goal scorers, this phenomenon is threatening to become the early 21st century’s most lasting playoff hockey tradition.
Move over unkempt beards and vague injury reports.
What the public doesn’t see, however, is what happens on the other side of the computer screen when the #BucciOvertimeChallenge commences.
In a recent conversation with SI.com, the 50-year-old Buccigross revealed what sounds to be like a frantic scenario, which truly sounds like the most exciting two minutes in sports.
And for him, what puts him at the center of hockey’s newest, best tradition.
“Once the buzzer sounds, it becomes a flood,” Buccigross said. “I’ve been averaging around 20,000 tweets of the hashtag (per overtime game), which I would assume that’s approximately how many people are playing. I’m not sure if that’s an exact science. Obviously, the notifications at that point are flooded.
“It’s game on.”
This spring, when a whopping 18 NHL playoff games (entering May 26) have required extra time, the #BucciOvertimeChallenge has gained popularity quicker than Brent Burns or Joe Thornton can grow a beard.
You don’t have to be a math expert to figure out that 20-25 thousand fans, times 15-20 playoff overtimes per year, equals a lot of #BucciOvertimeChallenge participants.
“It’s fun,” Buccigross said. “It gives hockey a little bit of a spotlight, especially on the Twitter trending board, between whatever Rihanna had for dinner and how goofy Drake looks that night. It’s funny. I enjoy it when it’s between these real pop culture icons and here’s the old #BucciOvertimeChallenge in the middle.
“I don’t really know where it came from. I think I maybe floated it out there. When we did NHL2nite [on ESPN2] with Barry Melrose and Ray Ferraro, we would wait for games to end. While we waited, we always did the same thing. We picked a guy on each team.
“Twitter really is a good breeding ground, just to get people’s opinions or polls or ideas on things. Enough people started responding (years ago) for me to start to understand the level of response and what it really means, to realize this would be successful.
“Now, some NHL players even play. David Perron of Anaheim plays sometimes. Max Pacorietty [who no longer has a Twitter account], back in the day, played. I always like when Jonathan Quick, the Kings goalie, when he plays he always picks the two goalies. That’s my favorite.
“I’ve had fun these playoffs with Mike Modano. He kept playing, and kept playing. He was like 0-for-14 before he finally won.”
This is the fun that people sitting at their computer screens see.
Behind all of this, Buccigross puts in 20-30 hours of extra work per week to keep the #BucciOvertimeChallenge running smoothly. Among his schedule as a busy sportscaster who regularly spends days at a time on the road, this includes choosing 15 winners per night among thousands of mentions, weeding out “cheaters” and mailing out hundreds of packages with prize t-shirts to winners in a timely manner.
Cheaters being those who tweet out the correct goal scorer in the seconds after overtime ends.
“Sometimes, it’s challenging,” Buccigross said. “It’s where I’m anchoring SportsCenter or I’m watching the Raptors and Cleveland, because we’re covering the Eastern Conference Final in the NBA for SportsCenter, going live after the game. Then I’m keeping an eye on the (hockey) game on Twitter, because there isn’t a TV around.
“Like the other night, I scrolled as fast as I could to go back on my phone and I picked the first 15 people I saw. I’m giving away 15 winners a night.
“When I floated the idea of doing t-shirts and that’s where it really took off. I took a chance, I bought 1,000 t-shirts. I was really nervous about being able to sell them. Luckily they went kind of quickly. Then I got black t-shirts and I realized they sold better than white t-shirts. Who knew? You start to learn about business. Little did I know that I had started to develop a brand of overtime hockey.
“I’m completely one-man. I order the stuff, I go to Office Depot to get the envelopes. I do have Stamp.com, which is great, because I print out my labels and slap the on there. Get the product into the envelope. When I’m on the road so much, I get home, I have a big, long day.”
As much as the #BucciOvertimeChallenge is a contest, it’s also become a brand, and a bit of a business.
As the contest has gained popularity, a website has been established selling #BucciOvertimeChallenge merchandise, with proceeds being given to charity.
“From the get-go, my goal was hockey-themed or hockey-led charities,” Buccigross said. “I remember the first year, it was like $10,000 that I ended up clearing after the costs of the t-shirts and the postage. I remember I gave away like five $2,000 checks to the Mario Lemieux Foundation or the Cam Neely Foundation. The ones I knew off the top of my head.
“They aren’t tax deductible. I had a pretty big tax bill this year. To me part of the game, part of the payoff is being able to write these nice-sized checks. You feel great doing that. It’s a great feeling.”