Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Should the NHL take their fans' loyalty for granted?


As the NHL lockout nears the three month mark, hockey fans’ attention and dollars have been turning elsewhere. NFL and NBA – the two sports that are playing – are drawing increased attention, while hockey fans’ apathy has been rising towards the league.

Yet the NHL doesn’t seem concerned. Gary Bettman has repeatedly called hockey fans “the best fans in the world” and the league’s opinion clearly seems to be that no matter how badly the fans get mistreated, they’ll come crawling back, eager to throw their money at the league once more.

Should the NHL instead be … worried?

In a fan survey conducted by HockeyBroad.com at the start of the lockout and again last week, results indicated:
  • 78.5% of the respondents said they had been hockey fans at least 5 years; 58% said they had been fans for 16 years or more;
  • 86.2% of the respondents go to 2 or more NHL games per year;
  • 65.7% of the respondents spend $26 or more per NHL game in addition to ticket costs.

Despite these figures, 50.3% of all respondents said they currently have zero money currently tied up in the NHL, and the number of fans proactively cancelling single game or season tickets is on the rise. The number of fans who feel they’ll keep attending NHL games “no matter what” is dropping; and the longer the lockout runs, the more likely fans are to start cancelling existing tickets/ticket plans and to spend less and less money on merchandise.

One of the old school rules of marketing is the “80/20 rule", otherwise known as the Pareto Principle. What it means for business is that 80% of your sales or repeat business comes from 20% of your customers: the fans, the die-hards, the people who are dedicated to and invested in your brand. If you alienate that 20%, you need to court new customers and build new relationships to replace them: a costly, time-consuming part of business.

A lot of fans have begun attending games for junior leagues and finding they can get their “hockey fix” there, and much less expensively than the NHL. At the AHL level, you can buy a pair of on- or near-glass seats, plus parking and even some beer, for the same cost as a single seat in the 300s at the NHL level. You can attend a game in many of the junior leagues than it costs to attend a movie.

The most telling number as we head into the holiday season is that NHL fans are increasingly less willing to spend money on the NHL – the easiest and most impactful way to get the attention of the league, by hitting the bottom line.

Half the fans aren’t putting any money into tickets, but over 70% also aren’t spending money on jerseys and other league memorabilia, choosing to lock the league out of their wallets. In today's rough economy, fans are even welcoming the fact they're not spending the money on hockey, allowing them to have a little more in the bank for bills or holiday spending.

All of this will ultimately impact the NHL’s bottom line when they resume play – and it follows that the salary cap will be directly impacted, no matter how the new CBA is crafted.

Remember how the Blackhawks had to dismantle their Cup-winning team immediately after their Cup win? The cap is currently set at $70.2M for 2012-13; six teams have under $5M of cap space currently. (Over half the league has $9.2M or less cap space.) With reduced revenues this year – even if they’re prorated for a full season, and an adjustment period is built into the new CBA – means that teams like the Bruins, Wild, and Canucks – all within $2.5M of the current cap – could possibly be scrambling to rebuild their rosters in 2013-14.

It gives one of Shop.NHL.com’s ads from last year an interesting new perspective:



In the ad, a Red Wings chair is repeatedly turned away from NHL fan homes, until it finds the home that’s “just right”. In the middle of the lockout, the ad could be viewed as the league trying to still appeal to fans, but getting turned away.

Have you ever wondered why corporate juggernauts like McDonald’s, Coke, Pepsi, L’Oreal, etc., spend so much on advertising, when they are already well-established brands leading their industries? It’s because customers are fickle and easily forget – yes, even the big brands.

Perhaps you haven’t consciously thought about it, but when a product is constantly in front of you, you think about that product, and you want it, you crave it. An ad comes on your TV and suddenly you have an urge to run to the store.

Right now, the NHL isn’t really in front of anybody. It has become a fleeting footnote on newscasts across North America, because there is rarely anything fresh to report. No game scores. No hot rivalries in town. No trades, no injury reports, nothing.

Every so often, it pulls at our interest, with discussion of talks that raise fans’ hopes fleetingly, before allowing them to crash back into apathy and increasing disinterest.

Instead of building on the excitement and glory of the 2011-2012 season, the league has instead chosen to make it clear that the relationship wasn’t good enough; they want more. The NHL took all the momentum of the past five years and punched it in the face like a team enforcer, but not for reasons that the fans can cheer onward.

They’re counting on the fans to come surging back – after a reasonable period of post-lockout pouting, of course.

The truth is that the NHL will be facing an uphill battle, no matter how soon they return.

If they make a deal this week, it could mean that the season could start before Christmas. The love and good cheer of the season might help salve fans’ feelings towards the NHL – but the league shouldn’t bank on it. The longer the lockout drags on, the more fan apathy builds, and the easier it is for fans to take their time and money and look elsewhere for their entertainment.

* * * * *

 NHL Lockout - Fan Survey Responses

A total of 190 responses were evenly split between the first survey when the lockout started, and the second survey, 10 weeks later. For statistical purposes, the demographic stats have less than 4% variance between the two surveys.

STH = Season Ticket Holder (may refer to quarter, half, or full season packages


1. How long have you been a hockey fan? (Including leagues other than the NHL)

Less than 1 year
1.1%
1-3 years
9.9%
3-5 years
10.5%
5-10 years
10.5%
10-15 years
9.9%
16+ years
58.0%

2. How many NHL games do you normally attend per year? (NON-playoffs)

0-1 games
13.8%
2-3 games
25.4%
4-6 games
19.3%
7-8 games
6.6%
9-11 - single game tickets purchased
8.3%
9-11 - quarter season STH
3.3%
12-21 - single game tickets purchased
5.0%
12-21 - quarter season STH + single game tickets
5.0%
12-21 - half season STH
1.7%
22-41 - single game tickets purchased
0.0%
22-41 - half or quarter season STH + single game tickets
1.7%
22-41 - full season STH
3.3%
41+ - attend not only home games but road games as well
6.6%

3. Not including your ticket costs --- how much *on average* would you say you spend per game attended? (Parking/transit; food/drink; game programs; 50-50s; souvenirs)

Under $5
3.3%
$6-15
9.4%
$16-25
21.5%
$26-50
30.9%
$51+
34.8%

4. How much money do you currently have tied up in NHL tickets and related expenses? (including single tickets, ticket plans, and spent events such as the Winter Classic and All-Star Game; plus parking passes, hotel & flight reservations, etc.)

None
50.3%
Under $100
5.0%
$101-250
6.6%
$251-500
6.1%
$501-750
6.1%
$751-1,000
2.8%
$1,001-1,500
6.6%
$1,501-$3,000
7.7%
$3,001-$5,000
3.9%
$5,001+
4.4%

5. What percentage of your post-tax income/take-home pay is either currently tied up in NHL tickets & related expenses (hockey-related travel reservations, parking passes, etc) -- OR -- do you normally spend per year to watch NHL hockey live? (whichever is higher) Answer for your annual income bracket (row) only; round up or down to nearest full %. (Easiest way to compute this is to take the amount you spend on hockey & divide it by your annual take-home pay; the result is your percent. e.g., if you spend $500/yr on hockey and take home $20K: the result is 0.025, 2.5%)


<1%
1-3%
4-6%
7-9%
10-12%
13-15%
16-20%
21%+
$19K or less
14.4%
10.5%
1.1%
0.6%
3.3%
0.6%
0.6%
0.6%
$20-25K
5.0%
3.3%
1.7%
0.6%
2.2%
--
--
--
$26-35K
6.6%
3.3%
1.1%
0.6%
0.6%
--
--
--
$36-45K
3.9%
2.8%
2.2%
1.1%
1.1%
--
--
--
$46-60K
4.4%
3.3%
3.3%
--
--
--
--
--
$61K+
15.5%
8.3%
2.8%
4.4%
0.6%
--
--
--

6. For your money currently tied up in NHL single-game tickets and/or ticket plans, what is your current plan of action as the lockout rolls on?

Keep money in acct/apply to future purchases
9/15
12/1
Single games
14
12
Quarter/half/full season ticket holders
16
12
Winter Classic
5
2
All-Star Game
4
2
Refunds on game-by-game basis as cancelled *
Single games
28
26
Quarter/half/full season ticket holders
11
8
Winter Classic
7
4
All-Star Game * Note: ASG tickets were refunded once the game was cancelled.
6
4
Cancelling/have cancelled tickets/STHs
Single games
1
10
Quarter/half/full season ticket holders
2
5
Winter Classic
-
4
All-Star Game
-
2

7. How much of the season would the NHL have to cancel for you to be "done" with the league?


9/11
12/1
I will keep buying tickets no matter what
27.6%
21.3%
Pre-season lockout was enough for me to be done
2.3%
3.2%
25% - cancelling STHs but will buy single games
-
-
25% - not buying more
6.9%
6.4%
50% - cancelling STHs but will buy single games
2.3%
4.3%
50% - not buying more
3.4%
9.6%
75% - cancelling STHs but will buy single games
-
2.1%
75% - not buying more
1.1%
1.1%
Full season - cancelling STHs but will buy single games
-
3.2%
Full season - not buying more
4.6%
10.6%
Uncertain at this time
51.7%
38.3%

8. Whether or not you attend NHL games, do you attend any other hockey games?


9/11
12/1
No / attend NHL only
17.2%
11.7%
AHL - single game tickets
55.2%
54.3%
AHL - partial season ticket plan holder
2.3%
6.4%
AHL - full season plan holder
2.3%
2.1%
ECHL - single game tickets
23.0%
14.9%
ECHL - partial season ticket plan holder
1.1%
1.1%
ECHL - full season plan holder
1.1%
1.1%
OHL / WHL / QMJHL - single game tickets
10.3%
14.9%
OHL / WHL / QMJHL - partial season ticket plan holder
-
-
OHL / WHL / QMJHL - full season plan holder
1.1%
-
USHL / CHL - single game tickets
11.5%
8.5%
USHL / CHL - partial season ticket plan holder
-
-
USHL / CHL - full season plan holder
-
-
Other league - single-game tickets *
-
23.4%
Other league - partial season ticket plan *
-
1.1%
Other league - full season plan holder *
-
4.3%

* "Other league" choices were not on Sept survey. Added to 12/1 survey by respondent requests

9. Aside from currently not being able to attend games, are you personally otherwise affected by the lockout for any of the following reasons?

Work at a hockey arena and have had hours cut
2
Work near a hockey arena and have had hours or income affected (parking, waitstaff, bartender, souvenir shop, etc)
3
Work near a hockey arena and have been laid off / not yet re-hired for season (parking, waitstaff, bartender, souvenir shop, etc)
1

10. I am protesting the NHL lockout by ....

9/11
12/1
Not buying any NHL merchandise until play resumes
59.8%
71.3%
Not buying any tickets until play resumes
50.6%
46.8%
Boycotting other products/companies owned by NHL owners
29.9%
21.3%
Unfollowed the NHL on Twitter, Facebook, etc
21.8%
35.1%
Emailed a complaint to the NHL or filed one via NHL.com
19.5%
14.9%
Cancelling single-game tickets
17.2%
17.0%
Contacted local / favorite team to file a complaint
5.7%
8.5%
Phoned the NHL offices to file a complaint
4.6%
4.3%
Cancelling quarter/partial season tickets
2.3%
4.3%
Cancelling half-season tickets
1.1%
1.2%
Cancelling full season ticket package
1.1%
-
Cancelling my Winter Classic tickets
-
4.3%
Cancelling my All-Star Game tickets
-
1.2%

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