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SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Opinion
PR not an NHL priority; broadcaster’s sanctimony annoying
Published September 17, 2012, Page 20
Hearing that, I reached out to another sports business insider, a person who has consulted on many strategic communication issues in sports. Anonymously, he agreed that PR shouldn’t be a concern so soon in the collective-bargaining process. “The only audience that matters to the league at this point is the players union, and for the union, it’s all about reaching its own members and the board of governors. At this point in the process, public opinion is a necessary casualty. The fact is, no one can focus on what the fans think until a deal gets done.” I asked him if there was nothing to be gleaned or taken from what fans are saying or how the negotiations are being portrayed. “There is value in talking about what the fans may be interpreting from the labor dispute and how they are feeling about it, and even what the media is saying,” he said, “but from a business standpoint, it doesn’t matter yet.” While both sides in a labor dispute often bring in seasoned communications consultants to see them through the difficult times, they aren’t the ones that matter. “CBA negotiations are not driven by public relations professionals,” this insider stressed. “They are driven by the commissioners and their owners, the players and their union, and the lawyers for both sides.”
One element that has changed the landscape in collective bargaining is social media. “It has amplified everyone’s voice,” he said. “The players have a louder voice and a more direct voice to one another and to the fans. And the league has more of a direct voice to everyone.” If negotiations continue to sputter along, this could be an area to watch, as one wonders if a misstep on either side could affect any progress or the process overall. “Social media increases how much rhetoric there is and how loud it rings. Public communications are fraught with greater risk than ever before. Mistakes and misstatements never go unnoticed,” he warned.
In the end, he was frank. “Everyone knows how these stories end,” he said. “The league always wins. It always gets settled, and the fans always come back. The only thing that can change is the amount of damage along the way and the time it takes to get a deal done. Without sounding cavalier, there is always time to make things better with the fans.”
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Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.