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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes. Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE (Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIRE)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes. Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE (Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIRE)

NHL Weekend

Marketing business as usual for NHL? Add to ...

In the New York-New Jersey corridor – the heart of NBA territory – the league may be dark due to the player lockout, but there is no sign of the NHL stepping in to shine its light on disaffected basketball fans.

The New Jersey Devils, who share the Prudential Center with the New Jersey Nets, have an advertising campaign under way through their social media outlets, as well as the traditional broadcast and print ads, but there is no mention of the NBA’s labour troubles. The pitch is: come watch the Devils play because it’s a great evening’s entertainment, not because your basketball team is shut down.

As for the New York Rangers, they’re not saying anything (just like a lot of team and league executives contacted for this story). A Rangers spokesman, citing that The Madison Square Garden Company owns both the Rangers and Knicks, said they could not comment on anything to do with the NBA lockout.

John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer and marketing boss, declined to comment. A request for comment from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went unanswered.

Across the continent, the Los Angeles Kings once again plastered downtown building billboards with pictures of their players. But the message is: the Kings are a good team worth watching, not that they are playing and the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers are not.

“We certainly don’t want to jump on labour issues, mainly because we’re friendly with all the professional sports teams in Los Angeles and we know what it’s like to go through that stuff,” said Chris McGowan, the Kings chief operating officer. “I also think it’s bad business strategy to plan for something that’s uncertain [like a lockout]

“An NBA lockout or another league’s lockout could last a year, or it could be over on Monday.”

Other NHL executives say while the topic was never formally discussed by owners, a conscious decision was made by the league and the teams not to capitalize on the problems of its corporate colleague.

Since the NHL has had its own lockout troubles in the past, and more could be ahead when the collective agreement expires in September of 2012, league executives say it wouldn’t be cricket to launch a marketing campaign trying to win over basketball fans. Besides, NHL teams like the Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Kings and Washington Capitals are owned or partly owned by the same people who own NBA teams.

“We wouldn’t want them to do that to us and they didn’t do that to us when we were out a year [in 2004-05]” said Jim Devellano, the senior vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings.

However, with 14 NHL teams in the same city as an NBA team and 10 of them sharing an arena, some marketing experts think the hockey league is missing a great chance to attract new fans.

“I think it’s a golden opportunity for hockey,” said Mike Sprouse, chief marketing officer of Internet marketing company Epic Media Group in Chicago. “I love basketball but as a sports fan I love to go to live events. The NBA lockout has been on for four to five months and I haven’t seen one piece of marketing from the NHL trying to leverage it.”

It isn’t necessary to hammer away at the fact the NBA is shut down, Devellano says.

“Everybody in Detroit knows it’s just the Lions [of the NFL]and Red Wings playing right now,” he said. “It helps us because there’s only two teams selling tickets instead of three.”

David Carter, the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute, says the NHL is still capitalizing on the NBA lockout. But it’s been done in a more subtle way than telling fans to come watch because the other guy’s theatre is closed.

For example, teams are targeting the casual fans and their families who may budget for attending three or four sports events a year. If NHL teams can land those fans for a game and show them a quality evening of entertainment, maybe they will stick to hockey in the future.

“There are also things like group events held by corporations,” Carter said. “Companies take their clients or employees to an arena for a night. They can’t trust that the NBA is operating so the NHL can go after those group outings and it’s a more subtle thing.”

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