The NHL: Good Example of how to kill a Brand

I used to be a major hockey fan but lost interest years ago when self-indulgent players moved to the highest bidder rather than showing loyalty to their team. Gone were the days where Toronto Maple Leaf players bled Leaf blue and Montreal Canadians players made their fans proud of their team and players remained with the team for many years.

Today hockey is a business and frankly most players are not in it for the sport but for the money. Everything about sports today including hockey is about money and I blame the introduction of sports agents (show me the money!) for most of the problems with sports and I predict that they will kill the “goose that laid the golden egg” in years to come.

Fans can’t afford to go to hockey games anymore and the duplicity and ignorance at the people who run hockey is simply breathtaking.

So let me take off my hockey fan hat and talk about marketing and sponsorship something I do know about.

Clearly the NHL lockout is going to result in long-term damage from ruptured relationships with sponsors and fans. They are killing their brand and the consequences will be far reaching this time.

Since this is the NHL’s second lockout in seven years, and the potential loss of the entire season for a second time is now a possibility given the labour negotiations, there is a danger that their customers may  turn away and never come back.

As David Shoalts from the Globe points out “One of the bigger problems the NHL has will be with  its sponsors as a lot of them remember the last lockout [2004-05] and if they go through another year like that, sponsors won’t be as forgiving,” .“If there’s another year without hockey, they may ask, ‘Why am I a sponsor?’”

David Carter, the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute, states when it comes to the real damage.“[Sponsors] are about using the backdrop of sports to sell products – and controversies, which include a sport going dark,  makes them crazy. They have other avenues to reach vertical audiences and you can bet they are determining how best to retrench.

Will the sponsors come back? Don’t bet on it. Marketers have many ways to reach their customers and they don’t need hockey – a sport which is losing its luster and position in the market place.

The NHL has been trying to become a mainstream sport with the U.S. public for decades, wooing the casual fan with varying degrees of success. . Carter thinks the NHL is playing with fire and might get severely burned.

By cancelling the season both hard-core and casual fans will revisit their interest and future spending on hockey. The more disenfranchised fans become the longer it will take for the NHL to rebuild its fan bases. And this may be a very steep hill to climb.

It takes years to for sports leagues, teams and franchises to build relationships with their fans and sponsors. The NHL is taking a big risk with the second major cancellation of the season in recent years and don’t count on them ever recovering from their decision to lock out the players.

 

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About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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