SBD/October 16, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
As the NHL lockout reaches into its second month, the league has "turned to the experts on shaping public debate: Luntz Global," according to Barry Petchesky of DEADSPIN.com. Luntz Global is a market research firm founded by Frank Luntz, "one of the Republican Party's chief strategists" who has worked with the UFC and NFL in the past. Last Friday in Bethesda, Md., Luntz greeted the 30 attendees "who had been gathered to discuss how the NHL can better present its case." One participant of the "secret emergency PR focus group ... shared the documents" from the meeting, in which Luntz "tested pro-ownership messages" on the audience of hockey fans. The participant "gleaned the phrases and concepts the NHL might use going forward." The league is "eager to portray individual players as not in step with the union, claiming the majority of them don't believe or don't buy into the rhetoric" used by NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr. Petchesky: "You're going to hear a lot about 'shared sacrifice' from the NHL in the days and weeks to come." After being "asked to rate how sympathetic they were to owners vs. players, the participants were given a packet to complete." It was "clear that the group did not have a favorable impression" of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly "tested much better," as he was "seen as more 'blue collar.'" There is "almost no sympathy for Bettman and the owners for promulgating their third lockout in 18 years." That is a "perception they're desperate to change" (DEADSPIN.com, 10/15). In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted Luntz "posted a message on Twitter on Friday night looking for fans in New York to participate in a focus group next week" (NYTIMES.com, 10/15). Luntz said, "The research was no different from what I and others in my field have done for sports teams, sports leagues, and players' unions for many, many years" (CP, 10/15). Luntz Global "apparently intended to conduct another focus group Oct. 19," but the survey for that "has since been removed" (LATIMES.com, 10/15).
SAVING FACE: In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote the Deadspin report is "fascinating and frightening at the same time." Elliott: "Apparently the league is concerned that it has been losing the public relations battle and it's eager to position itself as sympathetic and willing to make sacrifices and position the players as divided and led by uncompromising executives such as Donald Fehr." The study's finding that Daly "is perceived in a far more positive light than Bettman is viewed explains why Daly has been the league's spokesman for much of the process" (LATIMES.com, 10/15). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote, "I actually read it as a positive sign that we're going to get meaningful talks on the big issues soon, as the NHL is attempting to ascertain how public opinion could weight on the players depending on the timing or contents of a League offer." Wyshynski: "Clearly, the NHL still feels like there's a chance to break the union by playing up a schism between the players and Fehr" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/15). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Sean Gordon writes some of Luntz’ focus group conclusions “are more obvious than others.” The Deadspin report indicates that “attendees broadly had a higher opinion of the owners than they did of the players at the end of the exercise.” Gordon: “Interesting that the league would go to such lengths to try and craft their spin” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/16).
UNFORTUNATE IMAGE CHOICE: DEADSPIN's Petchesky noted one of the questions in the focus group was, "Which of the following images make you miss hockey the most?" Sample images included a fight involving the late Derek Boogaard (DEADSPIN.com, 10/15). YAHOO SPORTS' Wyshynski wrote, "Perhaps, next time, the Luntz Group can find a fighting photo that doesn't feature a dead player" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/15). CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote the Boogaard "gaffe" is "just an awful oversight." The "irony is the damage that it does to the NHL's public relations perception when the entire goal of the focus group is to improve its public relations perception." The "real revelation is the NHL might be sweating it out a bit right now." Stubits: "I would be surprised if the NHLPA has not conducted one of its own." But that the league "hired the biggest name in the business and essentially did it like a shotgun wedding must say something." The "tenor of the questions makes you wonder, too" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/15).
The NHL and NHLPA are scheduled to meet today in Toronto "to try to resolve the stalemated negotiations and end the lockout," according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. If there is "no progress, the NHL likely will cancel more games this week" (USA TODAY, 10/16). NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that he "did not expect substantive discussions on the core economic issues," and he "dismissed speculation that the union would present a new offer radically different from previous ones." Fehr: "I don't know where that comes from. It's just somebody's guess." In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has "frequently criticized the union for not making new offers." But Fehr said that the "charge was inaccurate." Fehr: "The notion that because somebody repeats something innumerable times, that then makes it true, I just never believed. We made a series of proposals designed to meet some of their objections, and they chose to treat them as 'Oh, this looks more similar to your last proposal than we would have liked, so I'm not going to treat it as a new proposal'" (NYTIMES.com, 10/15). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes the NHLPA "has been working on different ideas." It "isn't ready to table a proposal, but has bounced several scenarios off the reps to see what their position is." Senators D Chris Phillips said, "I have no idea (if the NHL will table a new proposal Tuesday). I will say that we're not waiting for them to come and sit there until they accept our deal." Garrioch writes if these talks "don't go anywhere, there's a chance there could be radio silence between the two sides for a while." The NHL is "frustrated with constantly meeting to discuss secondary issues and wants to get down to brass tacks." Sources said that the players "would like the NHL to throw them a bone or two before the union tables another offer" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/16).
SHOOTING OFF: Oilers C Shawn Horcoff said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "forced the players' hand into this situation and frankly, he's (ticked) us off." Horcoff: "At the start, that first offer they gave out, that was a big, big mistake on Gary's part. ... I sit there and read Gary and Bill's comments about, 'We feel sorry for the fans.' Well, I find that really hard to believe. I think it's a blatant lie, personally. I don't feel they feel sorry for the fans at all. Gary feels like no matter what, (the fans are) going to come back and couldn't care less if they're frustrated with this" (ESPN.com, 10/15). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the NHL "cannot afford two season-long lockouts." LeBrun: "I'm telling you now that there are fans who will never return if there's no NHL this year. ... My guess since the summer has been a late-November agreement and a December puck drop." LeBrun: "My solution started the players in Year 1 with a 53-47 advantage in the percentage of hockey-related revenue, followed by 52-48 in Year 2, 51-49 in Year 3; then by Year 4, the owners finally get their much-desired 50-50 split" (ESPN.com, 10/15). In New Jersey, Andrew Gross writes the NHL "shouldn't be so arrogant in its belief that it always will be the world's best hockey league." Gross: "Perhaps a better organized, more financially stable KHL eventually could draw even in attracting the world's top players while they're in their prime -- or at least a sizable portion of them." The KHL "certainly seems to grasp the opportunity it's been given in the NHL's absence" (Bergen RECORD, 10/16).
PAY DAY COMES AND GOES: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi writes with players having missed their first pay checks yesterday, they "may have a bit more urgency as their union goes back to the bargaining table." Carchidi: "Then again, the players are scheduled to receive escrow checks this month that will pay them 8.5 percent of their 2011-12 salaries” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/16). In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes the players collectively missed out on about $130 million, or 7% "of their pay” (TORONTO STAR, 10/16). Meanwhile, SI.com’s Stu Hackel noted the NHL Lockout Clock on Sportsnet.ca “keeps a running tally of dollars forfeited by the players as the lockout rolls on.” Whatever the intent is of Sportsnet and Rogers by "publicizing those lost salaries might be, it’s really only one side of the story because, after all, the owners aren’t making money without games, either.” Hackel offers a “ballpark figure of what the owners have lost at the gate for the first 22 games not played through Sunday.” It “comes to around $25.5 million.” Hackel: “It’s a lot of money, and we’re only 22 games into the season” (SI.com, 10/15).