Archive for the ‘Lockout Thoughts’ Category

Despite the attempts of sports talk radio call-in programming, spouting poorly formed opinions on the current National Hockey League labor presumably reached its zenith of stupidity back in September when Canada’s Donald Trump suggested that NHL owners should simply fire all the players, sign replacements with incentive-laden contracts and be done with the matter entirely. Not to be advised by what is rational, hyperbolic commentary on the lockout – with outlooks ranging from the implementation of indentured servitude for players to guillotine sprees for the aristocratic owners – has continued to emerge, much to the detriment of the impressionable.

Thinking beyond sports, it seems that the more severe the conflict, the less likely a true victor is to emerge. In hockey, we have come to expect identifiable winners and losers. In fact, since the introduction of the shoot-out, each contest in the NHL can only result in win and lose outcomes. And so, as hockey fans turn desperate for the thrill of competition, we find ourselves taking sides in a dispute about dollars rather than goals, and aligning ourselves with negotiators in a similarly vicarious sense to how we once followed the sport.

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Somewhere, Roman Hamrlik is looking at this picture and thinking of happier times.

The NHL lockout is now in its 69th day. Hasn’t the time just flown by? As this wonderful experience drags on (and on), fans are beginning to lose patience with the entire process. For every negotiating session that comes and goes with no deal in sight it gets harder and harder to care. It’s just soul sucking at this point, it’s almost like the NHL and NHLPA are just screwing with us. “Hey, here’s some optimism. Sike! Haha, deal with it, sucker.” It’s starting to feel almost rote.

Apparently, there are some NHL players that have become disenchanted with this wonderful experience. Namely one Roman Hamrlik who has found himself to be quite the trending topic. Hamrlik gave an interview with a Czech newspaper on Wednesday, and thanks to Greg Wyshynski we didn’t have to translate it for ourselves, in which he said that he was “disgusted” with the state of the lockout and that:

“There should be voting between players. Four questions – YES or NO – then count it. If half of players say let’s play, then they should sign new CBA. If there is no season he should leave and we will find someone new. Time is our enemy.”

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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.

“A disaster.”

Pretty much.

“A nightmare.”

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. Read the rest of this entry »

(Andy Marlin, Getty Images)

I’ve been wondering since the start of the CBA negotiations why Bill Daly was the person speaking for the NHL. He’s never seemed like the ideal communicator from a PR perspective, as he occasionally comes off as condescending and can be overly blunt, flippant, or laughably obtuse at times. He’s been casually dismissive of the NHLPA and their offers, making it seem like the NHL as a whole is the same way. Frankly, I’ve felt that he often damages public perception of the NHL more than he improves it and I wondered why he was doing all the talking instead of Gary Bettman.

Then Bettman did an exclusive interview with the Winnipeg Free Press and it became eminently clear why he’s been staying out of the limelight. When he talks, ammunition for the players comes pouring out of his mouth.

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"I can't wait to voice my displeasure with my team by buying another jersey."

Remember last Thursday when we were all excited at the prospect of the NHL and NHLPA meeting? Remember when they weren’t talking to the media? That was cool. Welcome to seven days later and the mood is anything but optimistic. It’s like the entirety of the hockey world has taken up residence inside of my brain. It’s awfully crowded in here. No, Matt Stajan, you can’t have another Hot Pocket.  Anyway, we’re all feeling the doldrums of this lockout and, with doldrums, comes theorizing.

Pierre LeBrun had a column today titled “The damage this time will be permanent” in which he said the following:

Know this: It’s too late to declare anybody a winner no matter how this plays out. The buzzer has sounded. Both sides will be declared losers. The long-term damage incurred by this league and industry can’t be undone at this point. There are corporate partners who might never want to reinvest in a sport that doesn’t play every time a CBA is up. There are fans who promise that they were fooled once, but it won’t happen twice. And there are markets that won’t rebound easily, not for a while, even with a shortened season.

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Buh-bye.

After reading a column on the website Ad Age (via Hockey Gear HQ), the obvious hit me: the NHL’s take of sponsorship dollars hardly comes during the early part of the schedule, which means there was never much incentive for them to save the early part of the season, at least not from a “corporate dollars” standpoint.

Obviously missing the Winter Classic will cause a large financial hit for the league, but the rest of the major events – the All-Star Game, the playoffs, and specifically the Stanley Cup Final – could still move ahead as they normally would, meaning the NHL could still collect most of the big cheques they plan on getting every year. Even the majority of NBC’s NHL coverage doesn’t get going until January.

Hockey Gear HQ clipped some quotes from article that I thought were valuable:

For big NHL official corporate sponsors, which include Molson, Coors Light, Gatorade, Verizon and Geico, the damage so far has probably been minimal, said Jim Andrews, VP-content strategy for IEG, a sponsorship, research and consulting firm owned by WPP. “The early part of the season is not typically where they concentrate their promotional and their activation activities,” he said. “For a lot of them, it becomes a much more critical situation the longer the lockout goes.”

Again, that’s a point worth noting.

For big companies like that, what do they care about the first 30 games of the NHL season? There’s no marquee event, viewership hasn’t even started to reach their peak numbers, and things are just getting going. The NHL gets the big sponsor bucks farther down the road.

This stuff really leads me to believe that as we move closer to losing important games, the NHL will be more desperate. Man, I just keep getting more hopeful.

There are, however, a few companies that do feel the pinch. Bauer, Easton, Warrior and the like – hockey equipment companies – make their money at the start of the season, at the grassroots levels. Actually hockey players, kids (parents), buying gear.

The article continues:

But for a company like Bauer, which targets young hockey players, the early part of the season is more critical because that’s when consumers start buying gear. “It’s a much bigger loss,” Mr. Andrews said.

Because of the lockout, Bauer has withheld digital ad buys on NHL.com and NBCSports.com. Also in doubt is a regional TV ad buy originally slated to air during the Winter Classic in several big hockey markets such as Toronto, Chicago and Boston.

While those companies have had to divert their ad dollars to places like local arenas (which is I think is pretty cool), others have advertising budgets, and have to figure out where to allocate those dollars. Just another reason I’m encouraged the NHL will end the lockout soon. The silence, combined with pressures from fans and companies alike, have to be pushing the NHL to get a deal done soon.

"Gary. Sit down. Zip it. I got this." (Image: Sportsnet, CP/Chris Young)

To hell with it, let’s get our hopes up. Seriously, jump in with me, both feet. Just like it’s the only way to love, I feel like it’s time to commit to the fact that there will be NHL hockey this year. At least that way if we get burnt again we can truly justify ending the relationship for good.

Over at the National Post, excellent writer and poor defenseman (the latter are his words) Sean Fitz-Gerald wrote a story today about negotiating, and why the sudden drop-off in public rhetoric from both the NHL and NHLPA is a good thing.

He turned to experienced negotiator George Smith, now a teacher at Queen’s University in Kingston, to get some thoughts on the change, and it was his comments that pushed me over the edge (so when this all comes crashing down, Smith – and Fitz-Gerald – are who I’m yelling at first).

From that column, a few quotes. First, the best of the bunch: Read the rest of this entry »