Lockout Update — Focus Groups, and a Possible 50/50 Split

Kevin Schultz

Via Deadspin, which yesterday published a lengthy look at the NHL’s new PR strategy in light of cancelled regular season games:

As the lockout claimed its first games last week, the NHL hurriedly turned to the experts on shaping public debate: Luntz Global, the multinational market research firm that proudly proclaims, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

The NHL is losing the publicity war. While most fans categorize the negotiations as the rich vs. the richer, there’s almost no sympathy for Bettman and the owners for promulgating their third lockout in 18 years. That’s a perception they’re desperate to change. While concessions will come at the bargaining table, the court of public opinion will dictate which side feels the most pressure to compromise. And, of course, when hockey does come back, the league doesn’t want fans to feel so bitter that they stay away from the game. That’s where Luntz’s research fits in. Most fans, ignorant to the ins and outs of revenue sharing and the like, just want hockey back. It’s within the league’s power to win the PR war, and portray the NHLPA as the villains behind the work stoppage.

Deadspin detailed focus group held by Luntz Global in Washington, DC earlier in the week. The focus group’s intent was to figure out how to keep fans interested in the NHL and supporting the League’s position in the lockout. The league has been losing the PR battle in the media and on the internet badly thus far and now they’re bringing in hired guns — some of the best hired guns — to help win you over.

This is what it has come down to; an all-out PR war between the League and the Players, and their attempts to smooth things over with you, the fan, while they scratch and claw at each other like angry cats. They know hockey will be back at some point and they know that you know that.

It’s kind of like some weird high school soap opera. Two bullies are fighting each other, each knowing that when they’re done with one another they’ll be turning their attention back to taking your lunch money. Right now, they’re trying to divvy up how much of your money each one will take. In between punches at each other, they’re trying to convince you to hang around and wait a minute so that when they’re done arguing, you’ll still be there.

The league comes off looking a bit desperate and like it just got ‘outed’ by Deadspin. It looks like a loss for the league, right? Well, sure. It doesn’t make them look any more trustworthy than they already did. The League doesn’t understand you, so now they’re paying people to figure you out so that they will understand you.

And today, we got the news that the League is offering a ’50/50 split’ with the Players. Is there a catch in the details that will make the League look good while not giving as much in negotiations and ’50/50′ would imply? Maybe, we’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully this is real, actual concessions and not simply PR strategy.