NHL Faces Permanent Penalty Shot From Fans, Partners
Earlier this year, it took an inept game-ending call by replacement referees during a nationally televised “Monday Night Football” broadcast to fast-track negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association and to get the real refs back on the field later that week.
Obviously, something equally dramatic is needed to get representatives from both the NHL and the NHL Players Association into a room, then have them lock the door and not leave until their differences are resolved.
Since they have not listened to the outcry of fans — who to date have seen 625 games, about 50.8% of the schedule, canceled through Jan. 14, plus the All-Star Game and Winter Classic (both originally schedule for January) — something more drastic and wallet-wrenching is needed. Something beyond the losses cited by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has stated that the league is losing $18-$20 million a day and that players are losing $8-$10 million a day.That includes teams and arenas having to refund money to season-ticket holders, marketing partners and others.
Maybe this is it: A survey conducted this month by Level5 Strategy Group, Toronto, found that the NHL's second lockout since 2004-05 has caused "damage on all levels [that is] quite alarming." Those levels would include current fans, potential future fans, current and potential future marketing alliances and TV and other media partners.
“Think what this means to the sponsors of hockey,” Level5 CEO David Kincaid told the Toronto Globe and Mail regarding reaching the majority of fans and consumers. "You are wasting your time on them. You’ve lost them. They are not going to become even ‘neutral.’”
Level5 said the poll was conducted among 1,066 people in Canada, a third of whom said they were "passionate" about hockey, a third of whom said they were "neutral" and a third of whom said they were "uninterested." Level5 is not new to the field of sports and marketing surveys, having done them for the NFL, NBA, 3M, Rogers Communications, Canadian Tire Corp and Petro-Canada, among others.
Back in 2004-05, a lockout claimed the entire season. But league executives and partners used that to begin anew, working hard in the ensuing years to rebuild fan and marketing loyalties from the ground up. There was a renewed emphasis on being fan friendly, being at the forefront of tech and social media enhancements and creating opportunities such as the outdoor Winter Classic to create new opportunities for marketing partners.
Should hockey fans get a holiday present of a lockout resolution, the league still has a window to reclaim the 2013 portion of the season and salvage the vital post-season Stanley Cup playoffs. Back in 1994-95, a lockout was not settled until Jan. 11, and a 48-game schedule began on Jan. 20.
But according to Level5, even 40%-50% of the current season would now only be of interest to the one-third of fans who are passionate about the game. As for the rest, many already are eyeing other sports. The Super Bowl is Feb. 3. The NBA All-Star Game and events are Feb. 15-17. Pitchers and catchers begin to report for MLB Spring Training Feb. 23. The NFL Scouting Combine runs Feb. 20-26.
According to Level5's Kincaid, "If anyone thinks that the lockout can end and everyone will come back to Happy Valley, it ain't going to happen."