NHL Lockout: Why the Players Are Winning the PR Battle This Time
NHL owners needed the lockout in 2005 because teams were losing money and player salaries were out of control, so it was easy to sympathize with the league in its PR battle with the NHLPA.
However, the PR battle in the current lockout is being dominated by the players, and it's easy to understand why.
The NHLPA has tried to convince fans that owners are to blame for the lockout because it was the owners' decision to go down this road. This is a common strategy by players in lockouts, but in this case, with a league that's stronger than ever, it's an effective one.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr mentioned this on the NHLPA's Facebook page last week:
The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners. If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort. For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock-out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner.
This is a strong message that is effective in persuading fans to side with the players in the current labor dispute.
Since the system doesn't have to be altered in a monumental way to help the league and the majority of its teams like in the 2005 lockout, it's hard for the owners to convince the public that going into a lockout was the right move, especially when the players were willing to work under the previous CBA.
When the NHL is collecting more revenue than it ever has, fans aren't going to be quick to side with billionaire owners who want to lock out the players to help their bottom line.
However, one of the biggest reasons why the NHL is losing the PR battle this time around is because of social media, where fans and players have used Twitter and Facebook to explain their situation and even insult/criticize the league, its owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman's rule that prevents owners and league employees from talking about the ongoing labor negotiations has also hurt the league in its PR battle.
Fans would probably be more likely to side with owners if they knew what these men felt about the current situation, but when the players' side is the only one that fans are hearing, the league is at a major disadvantage in the PR battle.
Speaking of Bettman, his presence alone throughout this entire process has not helped the NHL in its efforts to win the PR battle. He's not a very popular figure in the sport of hockey despite the fact that he's helped the sport in several ways.
It's almost impossible for the league to win the PR battle because Bettman is disliked by so many fans, which is evident almost every time he presents the Stanley Cup. It doesn't help that he's been the commissioner involved in the NHL's last three lockouts.
At the end of the day, fans are going to put some blame on both sides for where the process is at right now and for any regular-season games that are lost because a deal wasn't done early enough to play a full season.
However, given the fact that the owners are the ones who made the decision to enter a lockout even though the players were willing to open the 2012-13 season on time under the previous CBA, it's easier for the fans to side with the players this time.
The frustration that fans have because the league is going through a lockout again after having to cancel an entire season because of one just seven years ago also does not help the NHL in the PR battle.
Neither side's main goal is to win the PR battle, but it's important for both sides to at least make an attempt to convince fans and the media that their position is the correct one.
Thus far, the players have the upper hand in the PR battle, but it won't take long for hockey fans to stop caring about which side is right and wrong if more games have to be cancelled because the labor talks are going nowhere.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.
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