Deadspin leaks NHL focus group documents

October 16, 2012, by

When I first read a text message this morning from one of my friends about a Deadspin article leaking some NHL focus group documents about the labor dispute, I thought to myself, eh…non-story. Just about every major organization that sells a product or service conducts market research (e.g., focus groups, surveys, polls, etc.)  to gauge consumer feedback.

Of course, then I logged on to Twitter and my timeline was blown up with anti-league, anti-ownership and even anti-focus group rants. I guess this is the predictable byproduct of what happens when the uniformed media tries to dissect business strategies.

Here’s what we all know. The NHL is taking a massive PR hit. However, in order for the league to protect their brand image from the relentless negative media coverage, they have to craft a response that fans can digest. By gauging fan’s opinions on the NHL and NHLPA’s labor dispute, the league will be better informed on what messaging works and what doesn’t.

For example, participants were asked questions, like “Which following statements about revenue sharing do you agree with the most?” or “Select which of the following paragraphs are the strongest and most persuasive at describing the importance of reaching a labor agreement.” Getting feedback on these statements will invariably help the league craft press-releases, marketing documents, conference calls, etc. Hardly a crime if you ask me.

Mind you, this isn’t an out of the ordinary process. Teams, leagues, networks, etc. often test advertising, PR messages, even the actual design of new products. But of course, that’s not what this story has turned into.

Instead you have player agent, Allan Walsh, doing his usual anti-Bettman schtick, you have the Toronto Star suggesting the NHL is conducting research to “vilify” Donald Fehr. Hell, even Jesse Spector weighed in on Twitter, calling Frank Luntz (the focus group moderator of all people), a “master bullshitter.” Right, like he knows…

However, if you actually read the documents that were leaked, and not the media’s slant on things, you’ll see that most fans don’t understand the minutia of labor disagreements or the math behind hockey related revenue splits. This is important for the league to understand so they can communicate effectively to their customers.

With that said, at the end of the day, the best PR the league can do is announce the lockout is over. The details of the proposals, all of the arguing, this Deadspin article, it’s all noise that no one will remember once the puck is dropped.

Hopefully both sides come to their senses and realize that the best way to market the game is to the play the game.

Categories : Around the League


  1. mikeyyy says:

    Do other leagues do focus groups when they had their lockouts or labor disputes?

    When I read something like this, the first thing I think is they are trying to do damage control. That they knew they were wrong to begin with in how they have postured this and want to come out on the upside of it.

    • The Suit says:

      @mikeyyy, according to the article this research company did focus groups for the NFL, but I’m sure the NBA would do them as well. Its a fairly common practice.

  2. Dave says:

    Ironically enough, the most progress we have seen in these negotiations was made less than 24 hours after focus-group-gate.

    • The Suit says:

      @Dave, If only the Islanders used focus groups to test those awful grey, black, blue and orange third jerseys…yuck

  3. PopsTwitTar says:

    IMO, this would have been much less of a story if it was a well-known GOP operative involved. If this was some unknown random market research company, it would be seen as good business. But since its a GOP-connected name, it is easier for people to impugn the league’s motives as solely PR spin related.

    • The Suit says:

      @PopsTwitTar, Agree, which is ridiculous since the guy also conducts research for sports, entertainment companies and a host of other product categories.

      Using his GOP clients as some sort of jab is just revealing the writers biased political views, which should have nothing to do with sports reporting.

      • PopsTwitTar says:

        @The Suit, well the NHL needs to think harder when its doing stuff like this. When you’re involved in a labor dispute, maybe you steer clear of the guy associated with an anti-union position.