Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bitter lockout hurt NHL's brand: report

Says Jets' value fell 17 per cent due to disruption

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TORONTO -- While hockey season is back in full swing after the NHL lockout, longtime Edmonton Oilers fan Edward Wright has nearly abandoned the game he once obsessed over.

Feeling jilted by months of backroom negotiations between the owners and players, Wright said he wanted to send a clear message to the hockey league. So he packed up his Oilers merchandise and shipped it off to an NHL blog in protest, asking they donate it to charity.

He also scrapped a high-priced hockey package from his local cable provider and cut back on visits to team blogs he used to frequent. As far as Wright is concerned, the NHL has lost one diehard hockey fan.

"My reaction was born from disappointment," Wright said of the battle between the league and players over hockey-related revenues that lasted for nearly four months.

"I was pretty vocal amongst my peers about the fact that I was part of the problem. I was contributing to it by going out of my way to spend more on the NHL than was really necessary."

Wright said he has become "disenchanted" with the NHL and its teams.

And he's not alone, according to a study released Wednesday that says the lockout has left many Canadian hockey fans feeling slighted by the NHL, a factor that has pulled down its overall brand value.

Consultancy firm Brand Finance, which tracks the clout of brand names in the real world, estimates the NHL will lose nearly US$328.2 million in brand value in 2013 as fans spend less money on hockey in the coming year, for an overall post-lockout NHL brand value of US$1.56 billion.

By comparison, the NFL has a brand value of US$9.13 billion, Major League Baseball US$4.41 billion and the NBA US$2.73 billion, according to Brand Finance.

Among the most valuable Canadian NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost US$26 million in brand value due to the lockout, down to US$141 million, the Montreal Canadiens US$36.2 million, down to US$126.4 million, and the Vancouver Canucks lost US$26.6 million in brand value to US$89.6 million, the report said. The report says the Winnipeg Jets' brand value shrank 17 per cent, from US$48.5 million to US$40.5 million.

Overall, Canadian teams saw nearly US$125 million shaved off their brand value.

Much of the fallout comes from casual hockey fans who have decided to look elsewhere for their entertainment, said Brand Finance managing director Edgar Baum. He said the hockey league has offered what some people deemed too few incentives to return to arenas.

"It is possible to recover (the brand value), but we're not seeing any indication that's going to happen," Baum said.

The brand-value report was coupled with a survey of Canadian hockey fans completed by its partner firm Level 5, which showed 41 per cent of casual hockey fans are feeling "more negatively about the sport" after the most recent lockout.

"The difference this time is that they are going back with a big chip on their shoulder," said David Kincaid, managing partner and CEO of Level 5.

"The chip on the shoulder becomes interesting when next year's season tickets come forward, when the indulgence of the rush back to the game is taken care of, and we're back to business as usual."

Kincaid said casual hockey fans surveyed say they plan to cut back on season tickets and branded merchandise and watch sports packages they bought from local cable and satellite providers less.

The study seems to contradict recent evidence Canadian fans are more rabid about hockey than they've been in years. When the NHL returned to the ice in mid-January, the games pulled in record viewership numbers for CBC's televised coverage.

Hockey Night in Canada delivered its best viewership numbers by a long shot last month, coming in 16 per cent higher than the previous record set in 2007.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A18

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