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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

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The hockey world loves the blame game. The Canadian hockey world REALLY loves the blame game.

From the moment Gary Bettman awkwardly yelled Zdeno Chara’s name over the booing Vancouver faithful, plenty of scapegoats had been named. If left unchecked, I’m sure that eventually the athletic trainers and equipment managers would get their day in the ‘it’s your fault’ spotlight.

One has to ask though – what’s the point? The age-old adage of life is best when lived without regret could really benefit a lot of players and teams. But this utopian world where the past is the past and we live in the hockey future just won’t happen.

Professional hockey is so much more than a sport. It’s a business, with investors, customers, sponsors and a variety of other stakeholders. And in business, when something impacts your bottom line, you have an opinion.

Right now, Vancouver’s stock is low. Riots, poor performances and challenging free agent situations are dominating headlines. From a business and PR perspective, the blame game is going to be the most lasting challenge to the Canucks’ image.

The Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo are the centrepieces of the franchise. Each is being blamed for leaving Vancouver without a Stanley Cup. This is the same as a food producer having their product’s safety called into question. Yeah, I’ll eventually go back to eating it, as attention span and PR campaigns take their toll on my apprehension, but I’ll always wonder if the product is as good as I had originally thought.

Blame never ends with the most recent game. It takes on a historical aspect of academic proportions. The wealth of information that is now available to the common fan makes everyone an expert – and a critic. So losing Game 7 in the 2011 playoffs won’t be the sole focus. How they performed in minor and junior hockey is somehow now relevant. It’s not always fair, but that’s the reality of an informed fan base.

I see no need to delve into the details of the blame. There is plenty of that already floating around social media sites. My concern is in the impact of the blame game.

The Canucks have gone from a team with excess positive image to one with an empty tank. The overall on-ice abilities of good hockey players is being called into question by the fans that only 72 hours ago were proclaiming them as heroes. As if that isn’t enough, media then called into question the choice of some players to make themselves unavailable after the game. So the insinuation is that they aren’t just losers – they’re sore losers. Ouch! Bad optics!

And the worst part of being a team at the centre of the blame game? You don’t fully recover until you provide results. There is no PR or marketing strategy that takes away the stigma of being a team without a Stanley Cup. That only goes away when the team wins the cup. And until that happens, all the Canucks stakeholders will continue to play the blame game.

Tickets will sell, fans will continue being passionate and another stellar regular season in 2011-12 are almost guaranteed for the Canucks. But losing to Boston will continue to haunt the team – both on the ice and in the boardroom.

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