Andre Richelieu’s is known as an international expert in brand management and sports marketing, and today found himself the topic of a column by Roy Macgregor of The Globe and Mail titled “Professor rips NHL for treating fans as ‘stupid.’” It’s a great read, and once again raises the question on the minds of many: when the NHL returns, will the fans do the same in decent numbers? Or even, in a decent mindset? I’ve cribbed a few choice quotes, but you should check out the whole post to get a real feel for his opinion.
For sure. On to the good stuff:
“The message the NHL has sent is that ‘we are stupid.’ The NHL cannot possibly have any other opinion, because the league has previous proof – two earlier lockouts – that the league can treat its fans in a cavalier way and they will always come back.
“That is the calculation they make. When they say ‘We have the best fans in the world’ the presumption is that the fans will come back. That is the best example of insult and marketing myopia I know.”
Ouch. If anyone else needs to google “myopia” as I did, it means shortsightedness.
“You have to take care in relationships. Even a flower – if you don’t put water on it, it will die. And this applies especially with the Superfans. If you don’t take care of them, if you don’t nurture this love that they have for your team, your sport, they give so much that they will feel betrayed. And they can react in such an extreme way that they can decide to walk away, at least for a certain period of time, and say, ‘Look, I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it. They have broken my heart and caused me to spend my disposable income on other options. Well, I will stick with that.
“There are some Superfans who are blind. But today, with $100 the price of a ticket, people might take a step back, have a cooler head and say: ‘Enough is enough.’”
I won’t bite any more of Macgregor’s column, but I do want to talk about what I think is the best point Richelieu makes here: “Look, I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it.” Isn’t that bang on?
For fans around my age – I’m 30, by the way – we’ve been through (and cognitively aware of) four work stoppages. We’ve seen that, if given the choice between worrying about the game or worrying about the money, it’s not even a debate – money, money, money. We’ve been asked to spend plenty of months without hockey when it should be on, and we’ve found other things to do. We’ve missed it, but nobody died because of its absence.
Yes, we’ve come back in the past. But after the last lockout, there were reasons to – obstruction was being stripped from the game, and we were promised a new, faster product, which was delivered. It was the best hockey we had seen in years. Then the league introduced the Winter Classic, which has become its flagship event. Hockey was awesome, and we thought it was fixed. Finally, those guys got it right.
But here we are, after watching an awesome Los Angeles Kings team win the Stanley Cup after a great playoff run in a season where the players and league all made bank, and it’s still not good enough for those greedy fucks.
People my age and older – hell, even a decade younger that’ve been through multiple lockouts – are the people who truly put money into the game. We buy the tickets and suites and 12 dollar beers. The ones they need to come back are the ones who’ve seen the worst of it. And this isn’t to say that all hockey fans aren’t affected, because they are. I’m just saying – the kids can be won back. They can possibly as cynical as the rest of us have become (give them time, though!).
So “I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it” should be words that strike fear into the heart of the league. That Macgregor column says a whopping 60% of surveyed Canadians are saying they don’t miss hockey, which as he notes, is astounding for a country obsessed with it.
I’ll be back, because hockey is part of what defines me. I can’t suddenly give myself to cricket. But for others who are learning that “hey you know what, I can function without pouring thousands into the NHL this year,” there’s no promise of their return.
The NHL thinks we’re stupid, and there’s a very real possibility they pot is sitting on the stove right now, staring the kettle in the eye, pointing a finger and yelling “BLACK.”