NHL/NHLPA Face PR Issues with Lockout

For the second time in eight years, the National Hockey League has locked out its players. In 2004, the lockout wiped out the whole season. At that time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sought fiscal responsibility (read: Salary Cap) and a better game. He seemed to have received it.

Teams are (apparently) better off now than they were eight years ago. Well, ok, let’s not include the Atlanta Thrashers; they picked up and left for Winnipeg and became the (new) Jets.

Here is what Commissioner Bettman said during the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals:

“During the regular season, we played to nearly 96% of capacity and attracted about 21.5 million people, and we’re at nearly 102% of capacity for the playoffs.

In the face of what remains a challenged economy, we estimate that we did $3.3 billion worth of business, which is another record for revenues for us. I can’t thank adequately our fans, business partners and broadcasters for all of their support.

In addition, we had record ad sales, record sponsorship activation, connecting our sponsors’ brands with our brands and with our fans on a deeper level than ever before. We look forward to an even brighter future in traditional and non-traditional media.”

Pretty rosy outlook, eh? Fast-forward to September. The lockout took effect on the 19th because… team owners feel they are losing too much money using the Collective Bargaining Agreement system that expired. So is the NHL a moneymaker or is the league not as strong as the commissioner has said?

This is PR issue number one for the NHL, which is coming off a season where a top five market (Los Angeles) won the Stanley Cup. The NHL must be up front and transparent. Are you losing money or is the league strong? No fuzzy math is needed, commissioner.

Should there be a sympathetic eye put towards to NHL Players Association? Just because they are locked out, doesn’t mean they are without blame. The NHLPA is already ramping up their PR, with players tweeting and saying that they want to play in front of the best fans in the world.

Sure, that’s great but if the players care for what is “best for the sport” they’ll work harder at getting a deal done. The players are winning the PR “war” now, but if this continues to stretch, the Donald Fehr-led players’ association will find less and less support.

I put the question out to folks on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday: Will the NHL and NHLPA still have a PR issue when the lockout eventually ends? Here are some of your thoughts.

Dan Carubia (via Facebook)- This is all about money, greed and power on both sides. No one wins here, but in the end TV income will be there, sales of team apparel will be profitable and fans will have interest, (especially the) Canadian cities, original six cities and a hand full of others (Philly, Pittsburgh, St. Louis).

John Trader (via Facebook)- I think that if the season is lost, there will be a PR problem. Since you are talking about a league that plays fourth fiddle to MLB, NFL and NBA and is already behind the eight ball in revenues and popularity, this will have some damaging effects. If they somehow manage to salvage part of the season, it will be less damage control. I know one thing – the two sides are far, far apart of revenue sharing discussions so bring in some firewood and warm up the cocoa – it’s going to be a long winter.

James McCusker (via Facebook)- The NHL should have learned its lessons after the last lockout, but I think the main reason this lockout is happening is the NHLPA hiring Donald Fehr as their president. When I saw he was hired, I knew there would be a work stoppage.

My feeling? The NHL will take the brunt of the PR pain. Eight years ago, fans were upset about the lockout, but understood the reasons. The players were seen as having had their way for too long. Now, the owners want some more control of fiscal responsibility, but owners are still throwing money around.

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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About JasMollica

"It's never too late to have a life and it's never too late to change one." That's something I tell students, friends, and family all the time. After living and working in New York City, I took my own advice in 2004, switched my career from the television/radio industry and got into public relations. Now, I spend my days as a PR/social media marketing consultant and get inspired daily. It's been a good ride, so far. But the car has plenty of gas left. I hope you'll join along in this guy's journey!

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Hot Topic, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. As is undoubtedly clear by now I really am clueless about hockey. I didn’t even know there was a lockout until I was in the city the other day and my hockey-loving friend and I stepped in to the NHL Store. But many of the principles about this are universal …….if no party is willing to make a Solomonic decision to keep the baby whole, everyone stands to lose. That would be a shame for a sport that brings so much pleasure (and, yep, revenue) to so many.

  2. Great post Jason, the NHL is sure in for a big PR makeover when everything finally blows over. On some issues, I side with the players but the one sticking point for me is their refusal to go below the 57% revenue sharing threshold when players in other sports like the NFL and NBA have made similar concessions because of the way the economics of pro sports has changed.

    If the players truly thought that we are “the best fans in the world” then they would try to compromise with the owners on agreeing to more of a 50/50 revenue split. Until they do, no puck drops will occur this season.

    So sad and depressed about it Jason, it’s the only sport I truly follow.

    • Here’s the thing with me as to why the NFL, despite their labor issues last summer, “get it.” The system works. Why blow up a system that gets the players a good piece and the league a good piece.

      NHL players will go overseas to play… fine. Here’s the fun part, though. They’d rather play in the NHL. So, sit down and say, let’s have a system that benefits both. You win, we win.

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