Projected attendance for 2013-14 NHL season.

We take a break from our usual posting of gloom this morning, to bring you a little doom.

In the past, the NHL has had work stoppages. There was a players’ strike, then a lockout, then a lockout, and now, a lockout. In the past, fans have come back. The 94-95 Stanley Cup was won by the New Jersey Devils after a short season, and fans were there (at least they had a season, after all). The 2004-05 season got vaporized entirely, yet fans returned. The thing being taken for granted by the league here is that the main reason they returned after the last lockout was that the product had improved. The game was faster without obstruction, the Winter Classic was introduced, and everything was peachy.

I’ve long held the belief that this lockout won’t see fans come rushing back in the same way this time. As I implied, there was something wrong with hockey, not just in the accounting departments, but on the ice last time. This time the league has shot the game out of the sky while it was flying at it’s peak. It’s like Duck Hunt, only without the laughing dog cause nothing’s funny, and the league killed it’s target. 

Today Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail highlighted a study by the market research company “Level5″ which believes the NHL is, for lack of a better term, fucked. (My phrasing, of course.) Some quick background:

Level5 is a 10-year-old company based in Toronto that has done “brand” analysis for such major enterprises as the NFL, NBA, 3M Co., Rogers Communications Inc., Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., Second Cup Ltd., BCE Inc., Petro-Canada and many others.

Its expertise lies in in-depth interviews that determine the “emotional attachment” people have to various products.

In the case of the NHL and its players, the abiding feelings of the moment are betrayal at one end of the scale and utter lack of interest at the other. If you’re looking for warm and fuzzy, get out a microscope – or, better yet, switch to curling.

Welp, bleak start. I’m sure it gets better. It’s easy to hate the NHL while the games aren’t under way, but an entirely different thing to hate (and ignore) it once the action heats up.

The research, by the way, is not done for the benefit of the league, but “as a tool that might be sold to the multiple corporate sponsors of professional hockey, in order to show what they need to tap into with hockey fans if they hope to regain their former good standing.” If hockey fans aren’t going to loathe the NHL forever, I’m guessing “tapping into” a keg per ex-season ticket holder per game would be a good place to start.

Let’s check in with Level5 CEO David Kincade, to see what he has to say about the effect of the lockout on the NHL:

“We found damage at levels we have not seen,” Kincaid says. “It’s quite alarming, really.

“If anyone thinks that the lockout can end and everyone will come back to Happy Valley, it ain’t going to happen.”

Bleak. Dark. Doom.

Well, the NHL may be in some real trouble, but how bad could it be? Hockey fans are diehard.

The company creates colour maps to highlight how fun people find brands (red!), how interested they are in them (yellow!), how inspirational they find them (orange!), and many, many other things (read Roy’s column if that interests you). Disney, he points out, has an excellent colour map.

Let’s check in on the NHLs:

A disastrous map would be the one Level5 created following the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It was the worst the company had seen – until it got around to the NHL this month.

GAHHH. What? The NHL lockout is worse than the BP oil spill? Let’s all get some toothbrushes and scrub the filth off innocent hockey fans.

The sooner the NHL gets back on the ice the better, but let’s not kid ourselves: real damage has been done. Not BP oil spill damage – c’mon, Level5, you might need to adjust a few parameters there – but significant damage that I think will greatly affect attendace upon the game’s return.

Comments (10)

  1. Wouldn’t it be in Level5′s best interest to produce an overly bleak report to try tempt companies/corporations to purchase their product/suggested solutions? While I am sure there work has to be valid due to their resume, I see it in their best interests to create a negative report.

    • In the short term that might be true, but long-term, nobody would continue to pay for their research if it turned out to be true, so I’m sure Level5 has a vested interest in being accurate. It’s not like this was results from a facebook survey.

      I agree–while I’ll likely be back when the lockout ends, I think for most fans/potential fans, all this is creating is indifference. What will the NHL (and players for that matter) if several teams end up bankrupted and on the verge of folding?

  2. Eh. Seems legit to me.

  3. This is just so sad, the first ‘official’ quotient of how much the lockout sucks. The next parsed microstat: “5th graders who shoot left consider the lockout worse that Ms. Philbin’s math class but on a par with ‘Tuesday Surprise’ in the lunchroom.”

  4. I will never again buy any NHL related merchandise…I was Christmas shopping today and saw a few items I thought my son, and myself, would like. I did not even pick it up.

    I have been a Penguins fan my whole life. This is a time with all the talent that team has that I should be very excited.

    I am disgusted. I will watch and support the team…but only verbally, not monetarily…never again.

  5. I think it may be correct. The difference really is that BP has more market competition, and, likely a shorter window to rebound once the emotions are past. Bettman and Fehr really misplayed this. Do the Owners really still believe that Bettman sitting on his toy chest with that angry look on his face screaming ‘They won’t play by my rules, therefore we’re not playing at all’ really was benefiting them? And, guess what? The players have (to this point) pretty much moved 90% of the way to the owner’s end game. This should not have surprised anybody. Doesn’t it make sense that they would have been a lot more likely to get the owners to move much more towards them on the last 10% if this was the middle of October instead of December, and the Owner’s had a lot more to lose? Wonderful game plan by Fehr. It sure looks like the player’s are going to come out way ahead here by using him!

  6. BP’s fallout will be tempered by the fact that petroleum is (currently) a universally essential commodity. At worst, BP products can be sold in their derivative form (lubricants, industrial and agricultural fuels, solvents, coatings, polymers, etc) under alternate branding.

    The NHL hasn’t the luxury of claiming an equivalent position, in the North American economy.

    The backlash that professional Hockey will suffer (with its’ already tenuous grasp on most consumers’ disposable income, during an economic downturn) will be much more profound.

    The NHL will dearly wish they were BP, after this fiasco is done.

    • BTW – What a devoted fan might consider (and, perhaps, fear) is that, once Hockey returns, Bettman (and the league, being the one-trick ponies that they all are) changes all the rules once again – Perhaps (they will reason) a three-on-three overtime (in the case of regulation ties) might entice fans?

      Perhaps the league should do away with the blue-line and offsides (altogether?) Perhaps increasing the size of the goal to the approximate dimensions of a Cadillac Esplanade’s profile…? Perhaps there should be no more checking in the neutral zone. Or, shot-blocking (within a “new” designated polygon) will be subject to penalty?

      Scoring works, right? That’s been Gary’s “fix” for everything.

      Perhaps changing the points system? A win equals 4 points, a loss equals 1, an overtime win equals 3, and an overtime loss equals 2 points…??

      The league might be enticed (by some “Brave New” marketing firm, in an effort to draw insane and undereducated new fans) to change the number of players on the ice – Reintroducing the “rover” to have six skaters?

      Beware the madness and desperation of this bunch of idiots – They will be (and have in the past been) more than willing to utterly bastardize the game, in order to accommodate an expedient agenda…

      More goals? SUUUURE! We can do that….It’ll bring in more new fans!

      Think of the craziest, ugliest, non-Hockey invention that mimics NBA, NFL or MLB play….That’s the shit they’re going to try, to “grow the game”.

      Just thinking about it makes me want to puke – The league has become an asterisk of the greatness it once was. And, it won’t end there. Trust me.

      • What a great idea and here’s my idea to “expand the shootout!” Hey, it’s great stuff, everyone now stays to the end of overtime and sort of root for the tie so they can watch a skills competition that directly affects playoff chances. Good stuff, eh? Well, why not have a shootout EVERY GAME! It’ll keep people in their seats when the home team is getting crushed 7-1 and keep those $10 beers flowing (that, from what I understand, are not HRR and therefore not part of the cap) .

        That’s right, every game have a mini-skills competition for a point. Why the fuck not!?!

  7. Some valid points by Icehound, especially re. the widespread economic fallout already in effect, and still to come, as per Level5′s prediction. I am bemused by some of his comments and Jon’s about Gary Bettman (who is only speaking for the owners) as they seem to suggest that the NHL owners are so much less at risk so they should have settled for the 57% or the so called 50% plus $300 million plus buyouts, plus, plus, plus in comparison with the NFL and NBA owners whose portion is 47-50%. Do they not all guarantee contracts according to the agreement in place, even if crowds dwindle, TV money dry up, price of air fare skyrocket ,and also make all the arrangements for (and perhaps improve) suitable venues. Why should NHL owners be happy with less, or take 4-5 years to reach the 50-50 split, only to have another work stoppage around the corner. Those of us who are old diehard Expo fans too well remember Donald Sneer and his major role in the demise of our team which would probably have won the 1994 World Series, and the disastrous effect on so many teams which required a decade or more to recover. Did any of us think that The Don would bring anything other than a similar maelstrom to the NHL?

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