When does brand image impede on good fun?
It’s just a “game (of 3 on 3) where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” Praise to Whose Line Is It Anyway for foreshadowing what could have been one of the most boisterous, all-in-good-fun fan driven games of the New Year. Instead, the 2016 NHL All Star Game actually spiraled into a Public Relations nightmare for the National Hockey League.
From a PR perspective, what the NHL has ironically done is made their brand image worse by trying to make it better. Pulling John Scott, and taking him down to the AHL, subsequently led to the loss of his status as All Star captain. All in the name of brand image. This led to the fans feeling gypped as the player they voted for would no longer be allowed to play. Although Scott was voted caption as a joke, it was all in good fun. It’s what the fans wanted. This made it difficult for fans to trust the NHL. The public felt gypped that a player they personally voted in was plucked (nearly overnight) from the roster. An examination of brand trust by Nicole Koschate-Fischer and Susanne Gartner states: “Such trust is important because it ‘…shows that the relationship between a consumer and a brand could go beyond satisfaction’ (Belaid and Behi (2011)), suggesting that this relationship is worth more than just a transaction (Hess and Story (2005)). Furthermore, brand trust positively influences important outcome variables such as brand loyalty (e.g., Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2001)), brand commitment (e.g., Chaudhuri and Holbrook (2002)), and purchase intention (e.g., Lacey (2007)).” If the fans can’t trust the league, they will be less likely to participate in the following years. They won’t be as inclined to support the organization, buy tickets, and merchandise, thus leading to franchise deterioration.
Various news outlets stated their opinions regarding the Public Relations aspect of the event. Hemal Jhaveri writes for usatoday on the website For The Win keys into this: “If the NHL had just stopped trying to control the results of something that was largely out of their hands the second the All-Star voting page went live, they’d have saved themselves a PR nightmare.”
The NHL could have been more Proactive in the fan vote. For example, if picking a certain player that fits the quota was that much of importance, and the most crucial aspect of the whole game, then that should have been stated to begin with. The organization should have been transparent in letting their fan base know exactly what they wanted. In this case: choosing a top player not a fighter. But this isn’t the case. For the fans, choosing John Scott started as a joke, all in good fun, and ended in something much bigger. As Pat Iverson of sbnation.com put it, “At some point, the joke morphed into something else: appreciation.” Voters wanted Scott to be apart of this game, as a player of the NHL, they appreciate him.
Now that this conflict has come and gone, Public Relations professionals can learn from this event. We know how it can be improved so it doesn’t happen again. What measures the NHL should take to be more proactive and clear. And most importantly, how the NHL will make sure their fan base feels reciprocated for their loyal support. As a brand they will need to regain the trust of fans. This comes in the recovery stage. Public apologies should be made, along with apologies to the appropriate parties As a fan of hockey, and a deep-rooted Chicago Blackhawks fan, I’m not going to boycott the NHL for their mistake or stop watching hockey but rather look at this through a PR lens. When you say its up to the public, then it must honestly and truly be up to the public. No changing things around for image purposes or toying with rosters. Just pure, clean, fun.
Brand Trust: Scale Development and Validation by Nicole Koschate-Fischer & Susane Gartner