Monday, September 10, 2012

Does the NHL Have an Online Reputation Problem?

By Dave Thomas

As the NHL works its way down this week to the Sept. 15 date of a proposed lockout, one could argue the league has an online reputation problem.

Given the NHL has had a pair of work stoppages in the last 20 years (1994-95/ 2004-05), it appears highly likely that the league will reach the trifecta later this week.

If you scour social media venues such as Twitter and Facebook, it is safe to say that both the players and the owners have been taking some beatings from frustrated hockey fans. While the players generally gain the upperhand in such disputes from a PR standpoint, don’t assume that everyone is backing them 100 percent. Still, neither side stands to benefit in the realm of social networks should a work stoppage go on for a long period of time. 

As any good owner can tell you, there is a plethora of information about reputation management available on the Internet. That being said, how many businesses, be they a small local company or one that has a worldwide influence like the NHL, really understand how to properly manage their image in today’s 24/7 information age, especially when the news is not very positive?

Most fans who follow the NHL can tell you without pause the statistics of their favorite players and/or teams. Some can even break down the current labor negotiations and come up with how far apart the two sides are as far as revenue and other issues.

For instance, the league wants players to receive 46 percent of revenues, increasing their offer from 43 percent. Meantime, the National Hockey League Players’ Association wants more like last year’s 57 percent, with its brass seemingly okay to take a smaller share of new revenues over the coming three seasons, providing them with between 52 and 54 percent.

But can any of these fans truly appreciate the potential online damage that both the players and owners could end up suffering if the league is faced with a prolonged lockout?

While the National Basketball Association (NBA) survived its 2011-2012 lockout for the most part, with TNA (produced best NBA audience in its 28 years of showing games) and NBA TV joining ABC in pulling in record audiences for regular-season games, there is little doubt some fans vowed never to come back after most of the first two months of play being scrapped.

In recent comments to the media, Montreal defenseman PK Subban noted, “Nobody wants to see a lockout. I think at this point you’re more concerned about the fans and making sure that the fans don’t get hurt, because ultimately these are the people who support us.” Yes, the fans. You know, those people who fill the seats, buy the merchandise, keep the vendors working etc.

Social Media Skates Into Play

One difference between this year’s potential lockout and the last halt to play in 2004 is social media.

During the 2004-05 stoppage, fans were not going on the Twitters and Facebooks of the world to vent their frustration with owners and players. This time around, however, the NHL and its online reputation could suffer big time. Even a short lockout could keep some fans away from the ice rinks this winter, meaning lost revenues for all involved.

While both sides would lose online in a lockout this year, it is safe to say that the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman stand to take the brunt of the heat from those with keyboards in front of them.

If that’s the case, can the NHL repair its online reputation or will some fans just decide to ice their wallets this season, sending Bettman and Co. to the penalty box?

About the author: With 23 years of experience as a writer, Dave covers a wide array of topics from sports marketing to running a business.

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