PR for Less Than $1
Hey hockey fans, the NHL lockout is over and as a make-good for your suffering and devotion to the sport you’ll be paid back in bumper stickers.
What? Yup, you read correctly. Here in the Boston area the Bruins are spreading the goodwill and cheer with a 58 cent spoked B, black and gold bumper sticker. This is the club’s initial idea of good PR aimed at thanking the fans for sticking around as the labor dispute/Gary Bettman-Donald Fehr ego war of attrition played out over the past four months.
I was at the Bruins’ practice facility Sunday, just hours after the NHL and NHL Players Association announced their tentative agreement to end the lockout, when just before 11 a.m. two community relations staffers from the Bruins arrived and parked themselves in the arena’s lobby as youth hockey players from various towns paraded in and out of the building. Between the staffers was a pile of Bruins’ bumper stickers.
“Yes, the lockout is over,” replied one of the staffers when asked if the NHL was back in business.
Throughout the lockout the Bruins kept their regular 11 a.m. – noon ice time at Ristuccia Arena. But on Sunday, rumor had it they were donating the sheet to the Wilmington Youth Hockey Association – another attempt at putting an icy bandage over the wound created by the labor dispute.
I’m not sure how other clubs are trying to win back fans in other hockey-mad cities, but here in Boston, where the sport has a devoted following and where Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs is one of the richest owners in the sport, a 58 cent bumper sticker is an ill public-relations attempt for a sport that squabbled over how to share $3.3 billion in revenue.
Where are the other PR stunts we’d expect as a result of such a long, dirty and grueling process? Where are reduced ticket prices, the special events for season-ticket holders, the public apologies on TV and published in local newspapers as full-length advertisements like other sports have done? Those are just a few of the elementary public and community relations initiatives that should be instituted. No one cares about a bumper sticker.
Both the league owners and players, and all their clansmen, are accomplices in this miscarriage of hockey injustice. A large part of that $3.3 billion is generated by the fans who buy tickets to games, order the NHL package on cable TV, buy NHL 2013 for Xbox, purchase team memorabilia and merchandise, but get speared with the proverbial NHL shaft when millionaires and billionaires fight over taking more of that money.
Following the canceled 2004-05 season, supporters returned to arenas around the league, greeted by a “Thank You Fans” slogan painted on the ice.
This is the third lockout in NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s 19-year tenure. In that span Bettman has canceled 2,178 regular-season games because of labor disputes. It’s quite obvious public relations isn’t one of Bettman’s strengths, nor is it one of the NHL’s, as empty slogans painted on a sheet of ice are all that are offered as an olive branch to the fans.
In the coming days and weeks it will be interesting to see the NHL’s approach to reviving its damaged brand. After three lockouts, this last one possibly alienating even the most devoted hockey fans (this one included), will those fans come back in droves to the arenas? Will they care enough to purchase the merchandise? Will kids gravitate to other sports that while suffering through their own labor disputes haven’t resorted to lengthy lockouts on the average of one every 6.3 years?
While a labor agreement is in place, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done by the NHL to repair its image and retain its fan base, and that’s more intense than handing out a simple bumper sticker.
What are your thoughts on the NHL? Will you come back, or could you care less?