It was expected that the National Hockey League would take a hit after the disastrous lockout that shortened the current season. Many fans spoke of boycotting an arbitrary number of games, while others bragged about sitting the whole year out only to quietly fidget back into their rightful seats at the local watering hole. Some have talked the talk, but most have not.
The brand of the NHL, however, may still be licking its wounds.
A report from Toronto’s Charlton Strategic Research Inc. suggests that the impression some fans have of the league has bounced back a fair bit since the lockout, but it’s not “all the way back” so to speak. Many sports fans are still angry at the NHL and specifically at Gary Bettman over what happened.
Another study from Level5 Strategy Group turned up similar findings a month ago. According to that research, the NHL lost about $300 million in “brand value” as a result of the lockout. That study surveyed about 2,000 fans and discovered that most people were angry at the league as a whole, not individual teams. They still held their allegiances, in other words, but were peeved at the NHL’s total brand.
“All the negative perceptions have been attached to the league; the teams have more than recovered,” said Charlton president Gord Hendren. “The team sponsors have been the real winners here and the league sponsors have been the losers…The brand of the league has been diminished. It is starting to recover, but it’s not back to 100 percent, so if you’re a sponsor and you’ve paid for that, you’re not getting your full value.”
Interestingly, the Charlton survey actually discovered that 23 percent of respondents saw the sponsors – companies like Molson and Kraft and so on – as “victims” of the NHL lockout as well. They didn’t point any fingers at any corporate responsibility.
The Charlton survey also gave people a choice in terms of how to describe the NHL by listing a number of “descriptors.” The most popular descriptor for the league was “profit-driven,” with 51 percent of respondents selecting that no-brainer of an option.
But again, the game has relatively recovered – especially in Canada. 54 percent of survey respondents named the NHL as their favourite sports league, up from the 43 percent number during the lockout and already near the 56 percent of the 2011-2012 season. In other words, sentiment is coming back around and people are favouring the NHL again.
This illustrates, more than anything, the fervor Canadians have for hockey. It would take a miracle to keep most fans away from the game and the NHL, even if they lock everyone out for four months while they fish around for more cash, continues to benefit from this greatly.