“The message the NHL has sent is that ‘we are stupid'”
“The message the NHL has sent is that ‘we are stupid,’” he says. The NHL cannot possibly have any other opinion, he says, because the league has previous proof – two earlier lockouts – that the league can treat its fans in a cavalier way and they will always come back.
“That is the calculation they make,” Richelieu says. “When they say ‘We have the best fans in the world’ the presumption is that the fans will come back. That is the best example of insult and marketing myopia I know.
“From a sports-marketing point of view I think the NHL is about to realize that the last word is what the fans have. It is consumer power. When the consumers decide to act, to send a message to the organization, then the organization has no other choice but to change things.”
That message, however, has yet to take full form. With each passing day that shows no signs of resolution the fans’ anger will build, Richelieu says.
He says the NHL and its players should be even more concerned about what he calls “the Superfan” than about the so-called “casual fans.” Many observers are saying the casual fans will drop off, especially in weak U.S. markets.
“When you are a Superfan,” Richelieu says, “you are so involved, because it is a love-hate relationship. You love it. You love it to the extreme. You will support it. You will buy, consume, spend. But when you are upset you hate it. What we do not know is how long this kind of ‘upset’ situation will last for the Superfans and how it will translate, because definitely the trust has been broken.
Even if the league does come back before losing the entire season, Richelieu believes there will still be significant fallout – including a change in leadership at the league level – from what has already transpired.
“It will be interesting to see what the NHL will do in order to rebuild this trust,” he says. “I don’t think they can reinvent the game again. Remember last time they just wrote on the ice, ‘Thank you, fans’? Well, that will not do.
“Both sides showed that they didn’t care about the fans, and that’s the worst part of it. Fans feel betrayed. And because the trust is broken, there is a distance now between the fans and the league, the fans and the teams. How are you going to bridge this gap?
“I strongly believe that, even in Canada, the fans will not come as strongly back as they did after the last lockout, and they will not come back in the same state of mind. They will know, in the back of their heads, that they can be cheated and betrayed by the league – and it seven years it may very well start again.
“So why should I commit that much toward a product, a team, a league that doesn’t care about me and will take me hostage again in seven years.”