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SPECTOR: PR front is only part of NHL war

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  • billbarrisles
    SPECTOR: PR front is only part of NHL war Spector / Special to FOXSports.com If one were to measure the current NHL lockout solely on the PR war, the league,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2005
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      SPECTOR: PR front is only part of NHL war
      Spector / Special to FOXSports.com

      If one were to measure the current NHL lockout solely on the PR war,
      the league, quite bluntly, is kicking the NHLPA's ass.

      Poll after poll taken of NHL fans show a majority favor the league
      and the team owners in this dispute, considering them "more fair and
      reasonable" than the players.

      On the league Web site is a section dedicated to CBA news containing
      up-to-date â€" if one-sided â€" coverage of the lockout. Meanwhile,
      commissioner Gary Bettman and his chief lieutenant Bill Daly have in
      recent months made the rounds of sports talks shows and meetings with
      owners and season ticket holders in several NHL cities, drumming up
      support for cost certainty.

      They've especially focussed on small markets like Edmonton, Calgary
      and Carolina, providing assurances to worried fans that cost
      certainty will save their franchises.

      The NHLPA, on the other hand, has so little coverage of the lockout
      on its Web site, one wouldn't even know there was a labor dispute
      going on. Executive director Bob Goodenow and members of the players'
      executive board have made little attempt to sway the opinion of
      hockey fans.

      It's obvious the NHLPA ceded the public relations war to the NHL a
      long time ago. The players have known since the 1992 strike and the
      1994 lockout that, regardless of the strength of their position, no
      matter the validity in their presentations, most hockey fans would
      still paint them as the bad guys.

      As noted here earlier, the NHL has been able to capitalize on the
      fans ignorance of both its' contentious history of labor negotiations
      with its players and the factors leading up to this current work
      stoppage. One has to give credit where it's due as the league has
      done a superb job of winning over the fans.

      The majority of fans who support the owners and Bettman in this
      lockout aren't stupid, but either don't know or simply don't care
      about the messy details behind this lockout. All they want is their
      hockey back, and millionaire players make an easy target for their

      Fan opinion, of course, has no bearing on the outcome of this
      lockout. Hockey fans were powerless to prevent it and powerless to
      halt its continuation. Their support of Bettman and the owners won't
      convince them to return to negotiations any more than their negative
      opinion of Bob Goodenow and the players will sway the NHLPA to accept
      a hard cap.

      So why has the league spent so much time and money to sway public
      opinion? The only reason is to minimize potential damage to its fan
      base, counting on them to return when the league finally returns to
      action, whether it's next week, next month or sometime next year.

      The court of public opinion is not where the NHL labor dispute will
      be settled, but rather by negotiation between the two sides or, in
      the most extreme scenario, in the respective labor boards in the
      United States and Canada. Having fan support will mean nothing to the
      league if it's unable to prove it's done everything it could to avoid
      an impasse before those labor boards.

      Having pledged that cost certainty will deliver a better, more
      affordable game, the NHL could be playing with fire if its cap system
      fails to achieve expectations.

      The main reason hockey fans side with the league is the belief that
      player salaries drive ticket prices, but Bettman was finally forced
      to admit last month that the league has no control over how much
      teams charge for tickets, as the prices are determined by each market.

      The league implied that it needed cost certainty to make the game
      more affordable. Should the league cap salaries but ticket prices
      remain expensive, fans will feel betrayed and consequently less
      inclined to believe the league's contention that blame rests with the

      Fan unrest could be further stoked if the quality of the NHL product
      fails to improve under cost certainty. The decline of the game over
      the past 10 years, not the rise in salaries, led to declining TV
      ratings and too many empty seats in arenas in the United States. Many
      fans complained they were being overcharged for a boring product.

      While Brendan Shanahan's recent player-management "summit" produced
      positive recommendations, the NHL's history of resistance to change
      doesn't bode well for their implementation, which in turn could
      whittle away at fan support.

      Another factor is if cost certainty fails to narrow the gap between
      big- and small-market clubs. The NHL's proposed $64 million revenue
      sharing isn't going to accomplish this.

      Without a better method of revenue sharing, little will change. Big-
      market teams will continue to make a lot of money and will
      undoubtedly find ways to spend it on high-priced players, while small-
      market clubs will continue to struggle to retain their best players,
      essentially becoming feeder systems to big-market teams.

      Small-market fans are counting on cost certainty to change this, and
      if it doesn't, the NHL could see serious erosion in support from
      those markets.

      It's been easy for the league to win the PR war this time around, but
      if cost certainty fails, it'll find it tougher to make the players
      scapegoats for its financial problem. That will make it a much harder
      sell to fans the next time the NHL and NHLPA lock horns.
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