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Frozen Grounds: The NHL And NHLPA Public Relations War

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For NHL fans, this past week was very much up and down emotionally.


This past week was quite the eventful one for the NHL.

On Monday, it was revealed by Deadspin that the NHL was paying Luntz Global - a noted Republican market research firm - to do focus groups to determine what sort of public relations strategy they should incorporate into their overall collective bargaining agreement (CBA) strategy. The hockey side of the internet was in quite an uproar over it - particularly Puck Daddy, who mentioned that one of their posts was taken without permission for this focus groupfiasco.

Apparently, the NHL is actually concerned about what their paying customers think, after all.

Perhaps coincidentally, by Tuesday, the NHL publicly released an offer to the NHLPA. One that made much of having a 50-50 hockey related revenue (HRR) split, and starting a full 82-game season on 2 November. Many fans who had previously stated that they were done with the NHL immediately wanted the NHLPA to sign it, no matter what it looked like.

The NHLPA took a couple of days to look it over. The public relations aspect to this all had swung in favor of the NHL, when before, most fans were favoring the NHLPA. Many had speculated that if the NHLPA turned this offer down, that they would become public enemy number one in the eyes of the fans.

When the NHLPA came back to discuss things, they outdid the NHL. They came back with three scenarios for the NHL to look over. The NHLPA was interested in negotiating from what the NHL had offered, and the NHLPA gave them three different avenues from which to choose from.

The NHL chose to disregard all of them. In fact, according Sidney Crosby in the NHLPA press conference that followed this meeting last Thursday, the NHL didn't spend much time looking over the NHLPA's proposals. The NHL's press conference, with league commissioner Gary Bettman, was very grim.

Ultimately, it was all political theater for the benefit of the fans. However, there is one ray of light that came out of the entire deal. One of the NHLPA's proposals included that 50-50 HRR split. So, in the end, the NHL and the NHLPA do have something to work off of, should real negotiations occur. Phone conversations are on-going, but no formal meetings have been scheduled as of yet.

In the midst of this public PR battle between the NHL and the NHLPA, an unexpected thing happened. The City of Edmonton killed their new arena deal on Wednesday. The Katz Group, which owns the Edmonton Oilers, had been in talks with the City of Edmonton about a fully public financed arena.

Daryl Katz's little PR trip to Seattle, however, did not sit well with Edmonton. Katz wanted more from Edmonton, and was using Seattle to try to squeeze it out of them. Well, that backfired, and the city pulled the arena deal off the table.

But don't get your hopes up. Even if Katz wanted to move the team, just to be spiteful, the NHL would likely pressure him to sell it instead. Edmonton makes a lot of money for the league, and it would be horrifically bad press for a solid and storied Canadian team to leave for an unknown market, such as Seattle. And even if he refused to sell, he'd still need to get permission from the Board of Governors to move - and getting approval from them to move the Oilers isn't very likely.

On top of that, Chris Hansen has publicly mentioned the difficulties they would have in getting an NHL team to Seattle first. Their situation is set up for NBA first, with the NHL to follow. Key Arena could temporarily host an NHL team for maybe a year, on the outside maybe two, but that's probably the extent of it.

So while at first glance this seems like a great thing for Seattle, in the end, it's more of a headache for the NHL than anything else.

As for the CBA negotiations, there's still time to cobble together a deal by the 2 November start date. How likely that is, however, is questionable. It all comes down to how badly both sides want to have a full season. This coming week ought to be fairly interesting in regards to that.