Lockout continues

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien announced last week that he would be coaching a youth hockey team starting in November to raise money for charity.

While players have headed to Europe to wait out the lockout, NHL head coaches are left to find activities besides hockey to occupy them. To date, the NHL has lost five days and 26 regular season games. As this lockout drags on, relations between the NHL and its fans will be tested.

In the public relations war, the NHL owners have hired focus group guru and veteran Republican Party strategist Frank Luntz and Luntz Global to lead the campaign. His company has the motto “its not what you say, it’s what they hear” and gave us the terms “climate change” and “death tax” to describe global warming and the estate tax.

Luntz and his group will now attempt to recast how the public perceives the continued lack of progress in negotiations. Presently, the NHL is losing the publicity war and so Luntz conducted a focus group with 30 NHL fans.

One participant shared what was said, and one possible slogan we may see could be: “The players are not the enemy. The union is the problem.” If the perception is that the union is the villain and not in line with its players, the owners are able to escape blameless. And so the slogan, “shared sacrifice,” appears to be popular.

The idea of a shared sacrifice with the NHL owners seems laughable, but it is important to owners that fans do not stay away once hockey returns. It just might be working too, as participants left with a higher opinion of the owners when leaving the focus group.

Talks are set to begin anew and there is some semblance of hope that a deal can be reached. If the lockout continues into November, there are discussions of an All-Star exhibition tour of locked out players across Europe.

Sidney Crosby’s agent Pat Brisson organized the IMG World Stars Tour during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. The World Stars consisted of 25 to 30 players competing in 10 games over two weeks across Europe. Any talks are still in an exploratory stage, but there is a demand for hockey.

In the mean time, ESPN has begun airing KHL league games, and college hockey is about to begin. Fans can get their hockey fix from the AHL and amateur leagues, but with each day the lockout carries on, more fans will turn elsewhere to spend their time and money.