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NHL losing PR battle during latest lockout according to Idaho State University study

October 16, 2012
ISU Marketing and Communications

An Idaho State University professor who is conducting research on the persuasive attacks against the NHL and the NHL Players Association during the most recent work stoppage says most attacks are aimed squarely at the NHL and that the league's image is being severely damaged.  

According to Jim DiSanza, the study's lead researcher, persuasive attacks occur when people accuse, blame, condemn or rebuke a person or organization for some action. The persuasive attacks aimed at the NHL attempt to increase the owners’ responsibility for the work stoppage by reminding fans that this is the third lockout in the past 18 years and by claiming that the NHL planned it as a negotiation tactic rather than as a last resort.

The NHL has also been attacked for the inconsistency apparent when they "cry poverty" on the one hand, but claim record revenues and sign free agents to massive contracts on the other. Finally, pejorative labels have been attached to league commissioner Gary Bettman, who has been referred to as "Lord Voldemort" and a "school-yard bully," and the NHL's negotiating position as a "claw-back."

"Although the NHLPA has also been attacked," said DiSanza, "the league made itself sticky to the attacks by presenting an opening offer that was so extreme. The PA's opening offer appeared to be far more conducive to compromise."

That the NHL is very concerned about its image became apparent yesterday when it was revealed that it hired political spin doctor Frank Luntz to improve its messaging during the lockout. According to DiSanza, this makes the NHL's image problem even worse and he doesn’t think fans will buy the NHL's claim that this is normal market research.

"There's an oceanic gulf between market research designed to help position your product and political research that spins your refusal to sell your product," DiSanza said. “Now that the entire spin process has been revealed, I suspect the NHL looks even worse to many fans and commentators.”

“I think the obvious image problems that they created for themselves lead to today's (Oct. 16) surprise new offer that the NHL proposed to the NHLPA," DiSanza said. "I don't think it's a coincidence that it comes on the heels of the Luntz revelation."

DiSanza was the lead author in a recently published study of the NHL's last work stoppage titled "The Puck Stops Here: The NHL's Image Repair Strategies During the 2004-2005 Lockout," (in "Restoring the Athlete's Image," Lexington Books). He says this latest study will be completed once the lockout is over.    




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