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.