Each time you’re visiting a new city, a hi-tech or a non hi-tech city, if you’re a sports fan, what are you asking for before visiting the city? Your question might look like: So what is the best sports show in this city? People in New York City will tell you to attend a New York Yankees MLB (Major League Baseball) game while people in Montreal will tell you to attend a Montreal Canadiens NHL game. In most American cities, the sport of hockey ranks low in terms of popularity and brand awareness, and comes generally after (1) Football, (2) Basketball and (3) Baseball. In many American cities, the hockey team has a brand that is lower on awareness than any NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) team for the three aforementioned sports. The situation is reversed in all Canadian cities were hockey is the number 1 sport. The Bettman’s era (1993 to now) has done a lot to increase the awareness of hockey and the NHL in the US even though it still remains low. However, low brand awareness of its teams isn’t great for the NHL brand for sure, but low brand awareness added to decreasing reputation is even worse. During the past few years, every time a player received a concussion diagnostic, journalists and fans kept adding more and more negative thoughts to the table, claiming that suspensions or the game itself should be rethink. In the last week, as most of you have certainly seen, the Chara/Pacioretty incident hasn’t helped the reputation of the league at all. The incident was simply the culmination of a series of violent events were the league has been lenient. Thus, it doesn’t really take an Einstein brain to detect that there is a brand crisis hitting (or bone-crushing) the NHL these days. By the way my colleague and friend Bob Mackalski wrote a great post on the topic entitled “The unCanadian values of the NHL and Zdeno Chara” (in fact his post is a great complement of mine and vice versa). Here is the recap of the events of the last week that helped to propagate the brand crisis, instead of stopping it:
Tuesday March 8th – Zdeno Chara hits Max Pacioretty, the latter one left the game on a stretcher;
Wednesday March 9th – Max Paccioretty injury diagnostic includes a heavy concussion and a cracked neck vertebra;
Wednesday March 9th – Mike Murphy announced there is no suspension for Chara’s hit;
Friday March 11th – Gary Bettman’s contract was extended for 5 years.
The Chara/Pacioretty incident by itself is damaging the brand for sure, but the reaction of the league, as well as the announcement of Gary Bettman’s renewal is damaging the brand reputation even more. Someone’s got to take the blame, someone’s got to apologize for sure, the Montreal Canadiens organization also needs to do something since the boards stanchion that caused a part of the injury is in the Bell Center. Propositions should be put forward and prioritized. If there was a crisis for a firm operating in a competitive market and the PR professionals would have acted the way the NHL has acted, they would have been fired on the spot. Using simple free online brand monitoring sentiment analysis analytical tools (that you can also use for your own purposes) such as Tweetfeel (see Figure 1) and Twendz (see Figure 2), are indicators of a brand in need of help. These results also corroborate with the ones available on Google Insights for Search (see Figure 3). All analysis were conducted on Sunday March 13th 2011.
According to Tweetfeel, 33% of tweets on Twitter related to the NHL were positive, even without comparison basis, its hard to conclude that these results are great news.
According to Twendz, 52% of the tweets that were classified as either positive or negative (23/44), were negative. That is still low.
According to Google Insights for Search, for the March 5th to March 11th period, there is a breakout (an increase of more than 100%) in Google’s search queries for everything related to the Chara hit (Chara, Chara hit, nhl hit) in the US, not in Canada. I would especially highlight the negative branded search query “nhl hit”.
Brand Values of the Hockey Game
The old brand values of the NHL were the following: “patriotism”, “team spirit”, “respect”, “exciting plays”, and “hard work”. Nowadays, the words that are put forward are: “Fast-paced game”, “exciting plays” and “bone-crushing hits”. Simply look at a typical NHL video game to easily understand what the values of today’s NHL are. At the end of the day, its humans playing against other humans and these humans have families, not like in video games where AI (Artificial Intelligence) is in charge of everything.
Brand Values of Teams
Each team have different history and different brand values, these values may be dictated by history, the owner or the type of players forming the actual team. I remember when I went to see Game 4 of the second round of the NHL playoffs in Philadelphia in 2008, when the Montreal Canadiens eventually lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 5 games. I was awfully surprised to see that the tagline of the Philadelphia Flyers playoff round was “Vengeance now” where “bone-crushing” illegal hits that eventually caused suspensions were shown on the huge screen as well as the altercations between Ron Hextall and Chris Chelios. I am not praising for no hits and no fights, I am simply praising for common sense and respect.
Brand Values of Sponsors
Does it fit? There is the question that should always be brought forward by any brand who is planning to sponsor a NHL event. Does the values of my brand fits with the values of the NHL? Does the values of my brand fits with the values of the team I am sponsoring? If the answer is “yes”, then you know what you can do. If the answer is “no”, do like Air Canada and Via Rail.
Values of Fans
Fans are the ones buying tickets. I would be surprised that watching players getting out of the game on a stretcher is what they want to see. I would be surprised that when law firms or accounting firms are giving hockey tickets to bank employees they promote the hockey game by saying that maybe they’ll have the opportunity of seeing a player getting out of the game on a stretcher.
The Structure of the Market and Incentives
No other hockey league is competing directly against the NHL in North America. It’s a monopoly, no one is offering the same services at the same level, the only other international competitor is the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League), which is based in Russia and mostly consists of Russian players. Thus, if the NHL takes a bad decision or is poorly managed in terms of game suspensions, it’s quite hard to measure how it performs compared to a competitor, since there is no direct competitor! At the end of the day, like in any monopoly, a number of fans who loved the game are taken for granted.
To Destabilize You
Before concluding this post, I simply would like to congratulate Vancouver Canucks backup goaltender Cory Schneider for being the first NHL goaltender to score a hat-trick in a hockey game (see below).
In conclusion, the NHL is like an Arabic government, it’s a monopoly and it can be dictatorial at times, the only thing that can change mentalities is through a revolution, a revolution that needs to be more organized and more disciplined compared to what we have seen so far.
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