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The National Hockey League ended a 4-month, 113-day lockout this past Sunday. The league and its players collectively agreed to put their skates back on, and glide back into business. It was about time. Failure to reach this goal would have been really embarrassing, as the league would have had to cancel yet-another season – the second since 2005.
Being a fan of any sports isn’t a casual thing. When it comes to the Ideal Spectator Sport, fan expectations are high, some of the highest in virtually any product and service category you can name. So if you want to be a success, if you want to engage your fans, you go out of your way not to disappoint them. And no matter how any league tries to “thank our fans,” strikes and lockouts have direct effects on two critical drivers of loyalty.
The first is ‘Pure Entertainment’ – and you can’t actually entertain if the team doesn’t show up to play no matter what anyone says. The second is ‘Authenticity,’ being seen as real and professional. How credible can you actually be if you don’t play, aren’t on TV, and any news is not about official scores, but about how much players are looking to score in salary increases? Nearly half the players skated off to Europe to play.
The new deal is supposed to be in line with the NFL and NBA contracts, but, unfortunately, the same can’t be said about how the NHL brand meets fan expectations. Sports fan metrics like these always correlate highly with viewership and purchase of licensed merchandise. There was, of course, nothing to view, and Modell’s reported sales related to NHL business was “off substantially.” Current league assessments – the degree to which the brand is able to meet the expectations fans hold for the Ideal Spectator Sport – collected the 1st week of January look like this:
Is the NHL drop-off surprising?
Not really. Fans may forgive, but they won’t quickly forget how they got cross-checked this season, and will have to content themselves with ticket refunds and yet-to-be-determined give-backs. As of now, fans can look forward to a 50-game season. The lockout has resulted in real financial losses, so to make up for money and time, teams will play only within their conferences, and four games each week instead of three. But no matter what happens in the next few weeks, sponsors are going to think twice when it comes to NHL sponsorships for next year.
Well, the National Hockey League may be down, but it’s not out yet. When it comes to the sport, there are a lot of professional tips out there about how to play defense. The NHL should take some time out and adapt some of them for their brand.