Winter Classic Cancelled: how will the NHL recover?

November 2, 2012


Liz Schroyer

With another season-long lockout looming overhead, let’s take a look at how the NHL and its fans moved past the last one.

The 2004-2005 hockey season was completely wiped out in February 2005. Once an agreement was reached that summer, the NHL partnered with multiple public relations and marketing agencies and conducted the “My NHL” campaign to win back fans.

The backbone of the campaign were five 30-second commercials that aired across the United States and Canada. They featured a player gearing up before a game, with the help of a female assistant, and then playing on the ice in a blanket “NHL” jersey.

In an effort to depict the sport as a masculine battle, it belittled the true nature of the game. The commercial featured two fictional teams and used actors instead of players.

Keeping the commercials universal makes sense: the NHL risked alienated fans or teams if they selected specific players. “My NHL” is a blanket term that can mean different things to different people – the league I play for or the league I watch, the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Philadelphia Flyers.

But hockey fans don’t want to see actors pretend to play hockey; they want their stars, the team rivalries, and the intensity that makes the sport what it is. While it captured attention and built up momentum, the campaign fell short of capturing the NHL.

Fast-forward eight years to a world where anyone with a computer and Internet access has a voice via social media and the scars of the previous are still visible.

Fans are frustrated, angered and disappointed. The NHL is losing the battle of public opinion during current negotiations; a simple campaign won’t be enough to win back fans.

(Why lockouts are bad for more than just sports)

The league has already lost over $200 million this lockout, and with the cancellation of this years Winter Classic, that number will jump dramatically. Since the focus of this lockout is primarily revenue-related, the NHL is setting itself up for even more ridicule when they launch their next please-support-us-again-even-though-we-ignored-you campaign. That promotion must have intensity, creativity and edginess to it to be successful.

The sad thing though is regardless of the campaign, the die-hard fans will be back. I wish I could be as stubborn as to boycott hockey when it returns. But let’s be honest, by next fall I’ll be so desperate for hockey I’ll come running.


This was a user-submitted piece by Liz Schroyer; for more of her work check out

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