NHL focus group not surprising; it’s the content that’s the problem


The NHL is a business. The NHL, despite their tone deaf stance with the players, are starting to realize that their stance is hurting the bottom line – the customers are unhappy with the lack of product.

Does this mean that Bettman cares what the average individual fan thinks? Probably not. Shane Horcoff, in an interview with ESPN’s Craig Custance, had this to say regarding Bettman’s approach to the fans:

"I sit there and read Gary and Bill's comments about, 'We feel sorry for the fans.' Well, I find that really hard to believe," Horcoff said. "I think it's a blatant lie, personally. I don't feel they feel sorry for the fans at all. Gary feels like no matter what, [the fans are] going to come back and couldn't care less if they're frustrated with this. He's going to do what it takes to get the best deal and couldn't care less what they feel."

Photo credit Fox News Insider

Horcroff has a point. Most individuals feel this way. The NHL knows it, too, so they’d like to remedy this problem. The fastest way would probably to issue a press release announcing the firing of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, but that’s not happening at all. What they can do is market, market, market. Of course, their only outlets now are NHL.com and whatever Bill Daly says to the press. But why *is* it Daly that’s speaking? Why not Bettman?

Well, perhaps it’s because Daly’s more “blue collar.”

At the very least, that’s how participants viewed Daly during a focus group for the NHL which was ran by pollster Frank Luntz. You might’ve seen Luntz on Fox News, and previously a few years ago on MSNBC. He’s one of the best in the business and the NHL hired him to figure out how exactly to best spin the current situation.

Deadspin had an expose on the whole situation, and honestly, people are getting worked up about the wrong stuff. The scandal here isn’t that the league held a focus group to figure out how to turn the tide of public opinion, which was dragging Gary Bettman somewhere out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The scandal is the ham handed way that the focus group was done. In one question, the focus group is asked "Which of the following images make you miss hockey the most?" One of the images is a fight featuring Derek Boogaard in his Minnesota Wild uniform. Is it emotional manipulation to appeal to some members of the focus group? Possibly.

The last exercise was basically a list that was copied, word for word, from the Puck Daddy post  "What We Lost When The NHL Lost Opening Night.”  That, not the fact that the NHL hired a GOP pollster to help them with media spin, is the issue.

Luntz’s group should have acquired written permission before using Greg Wyshynski’s words. People need to get past the whole “it’s on a blog, so it’s ok to copy it!” thing. It’s not. At the very least, they owe Wysh an apology and an assurance that the particular exercise will be removed or credited to him in the future.

Frankly, back to the original point, who cares if a business hires someone who is known for working with large businesses (who tend to skew Republican, just like NHL owners) to run a focus group? Should the NHL’ve hired someone less experience who had no party affiliation, or who was affiliated with the Democrats? How does that help the League’s position?

I’m not defending the League, as I think that they’re about 80% at fault for this damn lockout. But from a business perspective, they’ve done nothing wrong. The knee-jerk reaction of “business is BAAAAD and ZOMFG this guy is associated with the GOP so CONSPIRACY” is getting absurd. Without the NHL, we wouldn’t have the sport and league we love so much. Nothing is proving that more than this lockout.

About Laura Astorian

Laura Astorian is the head editor for the SB Nation blog St. Louis Game Time and has been a Blues fan from childhood. She promises that any anti-Blackhawks bias will be left at the door. Maybe.