The niche world of hockey romance novels is getting mainstream attention after the wife of an NHL player criticized book fans who she said made comments and videos on social media about her husband being “predatory and exploitative.”
Here’s what happened when the worlds of professional sports, romance novels and TikTok collided.
First, there’s BookTok.
On TikTok, people share book recommendations and reviews under the hashtag #BookTok, and the community has become a powerful force in publishing: More than 100 authors with large followings on BookTok will bring in $760 million in sales in 2022, a 60 percent increase from 2021, according to Circana BookScan, which tracks print sales.
Romance is a big part of the BookTok universe, as is its popular hockey romance subgenre, which falls under the broader sports-romance category.
Recent hits include Anna Zabo and LA Witt’s “Scoreless Game,” a love story between two longtime friends who are players on the fictional Pittsburgh Griffins. In Sarina Bowen’s “Overnight Sensation,” an office intern for the fictional Brooklyn Bruisers moves in with a player after moving out of the condo she lives in with her father, the commissioner of the hockey league.
The success of these books has been credited with driving reader interest in ice hockey, and several professional and collegiate teams have embraced this new audience.
In Australia, where ice hockey is not particularly popular, professional teams credit BookTok with increasing game attendance and fan interest.
Sarah Bricknall, events and media manager for the Melbourne Mustangs said The Hills Shire Timesa Sydney newspaper, that 15 to 30 BookTok fans have been at every home game since the team joined TikTok in May.
How did it go wrong?
On the internet, the lines between fictional players and real-life ones can blur, especially when teams use BookTok to promote themselves.
A video posted on the Seattle Kraken’s official TikTok account that has since been archived showed Alex Wennberg, a center for the team, walking down a hallway wearing a suit with the text “when you accidentally turned into a booktok account and now that’s all you can post .”
Other posts by love fans on BookTok talked about a particular player as a stand-in for a favorite fictional hockey player or showed game footage overlaid with quotes from hockey romance books. A segment of these posts were sexually explicit, and some fans posted explicit comments on the players’ personal social media accounts.
Emily Rath, the author of “Pucking Around,” a romance best seller on Amazon, said on TikTok with some fans expressing concerns about inappropriate behavior directed at players earlier this year.
“The real hockey romance readers are here,” said Ms. Rath on TikTok. “We watched all of this in April, we’re ringing the alarm bells, we’re asking for it to stop.”
The conflict came to a head when the wife of an NHL player became involved.
The issue began attracting attention from outside the dating world in July, when Felicia Wennberg, Alex Wennberg’s wife, said some posts about her husband had gone too far.
said Ms. Wennberg on Instagram Stories that although she initially joked about some of the videos and comments, they have since “crossed the line between what it means to like someone and when it actually looks predatory and exploitative.”
Her statement described what she considered acceptable, such as positive comments about her husband’s appearance, and what she did not, such as chanting “krak my back” at players at games . He asked people to “think twice” about their posts.
In response, her Instagram account was flooded with harassing messages.
Mr. Wennberg then issued a statement on social media about “bad comments.”
“We can all make jokes and funny comments but when it gets personal and something bigger that affects our family, we have to tell you that we’ve had enough,” he wrote. “Enough with the sexual harassment, and harassment of our personality and our relationship.”
The Kraken is from then deleted its TikTok posts about BookTok.
How did TikTok creators respond?
Sexually explicit posts are made by a small slice of the BookTok community.
A creator, Kierra Lewis, made a video that Ms. Wennberg as an example of inappropriate behavior, and Ms. Lewis has posted a handful of videos response to the situation.
Ms. Lewis, who has 1.1 million followers on TikTok, was flown out of a Kraken game earlier this year after he posted videos featuring explicit comments about NHL players, including Mr. Wennberg.
He said that he privately messaged Ms. Wennberg on Instagram to apologize. said Ms. Lewis said the Kraken TikTok account unfollowed him, leaving him “confused and upset.”
In her videos addressing the controversy, Ms. Lewis of frustration with the team for backing out after it encouraged him, and with Ms. Wennberg for using one of Ms.’s posts. Lewis as an example. He defended his videos by saying that TikTok is for “entertainment.”
Ms. Lewis did not respond to a request for comment.
Kraken said in a statement that they originally contacted BookTok to connect with new audiences, but were reminded by this situation “that unintended consequences may arise.”
“It is disappointing that such a small percentage of online commenters crossed a line,” the statement said. “We consider this a learning moment for the organization and we have taken appropriate action.”